I'm going to get straight to the point, because the point  here is peaches, and as of my count taken at 2:27 p.m. on Monday, August 5, I've had two servings of said peaches.

I'm strongly considering a third.

 

5SpicePeachPlate.jpg

I should say, the peaches aren't just peaches, though peaches alone are fine, especially when it's August in Ontario and you happen to be in a place known as the buckle to the region's fruit belt. These are spiced and roasted peaches, paired in a bowl with toasted oats. And those oats aren't just plain old oats, but rather glistening and nubbly with a thin, sweet shellac studded with sesame seeds.

I started on the combination after making a slapdash of a crumble last week, with some peaches that ripened faster than we could eat them. It was a buttery crumble, and I'd let the oats get quite crisp in the process. The next morning, rooting around the fridge, I came across the scant leftovers from the night before  — a few lush chunks of peach, errant scraps of topping, and I thought to make stretch the loot and call it breakfast. I grabbed yogurt and a spoon, and in a last-second addition, I anointed the cold crumble with maple syrup spiked with Chinese Five Spice, since the blend's base of cinnamon, clove, anise and fennel makes good sense with peaches, and its touch of Sichuan peppercorn would lend its pep to the fruit's intensely honeyed flesh.  

 

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The result was so good, so exactly what I was looking for, that I became set on another go round, this time with peaches and oats expressly made for breakfast.

What I ended up with was a miserly recipe for granola, with the flakes faintly frosted and balancing the border of savoury. The sesame seeds, for which I used a mix of black and white, break up the texture of the oats, and their flavour is suprisingly, satisfactorily pronounced.

The peaches barely require a recipe, brushed with their own allotment of maple syrup, seasoned with that Five Spice and a vanilla bean, then baked in a moderately hot oven. The fruit emerges fragrant and shining, retaining its shape but supple enough to give way to a spoon.

My third helping will be with ice cream.

5SpicePeachPlate2 .jpg

FIVE SPICE ROASTED PEACHES WITH GLAZED SESAME OATS

The choice of sweeteners and fat here is up and open to debate. Honey and brown rice syrup are candidates for the liquid sugar, and natural cane sugar or even Demerara could stand in for the grainy stuff. As far as oils, I like how an olive oil brings a note of green, fruited pepperiness, but a neutral oil like grapeseed could be bulked up with coconut oil, almond oil or even sesame oil, if used judiciously. Feel free to use what interests.

A batch of oats yields more than needed for a cluster of peaches, so in 20 minutes you're well on your way to breakfast tomorrow, and possibly the next, too. The oats keep well, and also make a worthy canvas for wild blueberries, the teeny ones, almost winey in flavour, which are at the farm stands around here right now. Douse the business with milk and eat as a cereal. 

If using larger peaches, you'll need to adjust cooking time accordingly. 

FOR THE OATS

  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons golden brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup olive oil or coconut oil
  • Fine grained sea salt, maybe 1/4 teaspoon
  • 2 1/2 cups large-flake rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup flaked almonds
  • 1/4 cup sesame seeds

 

FOR THE PEACHES

  • 4 small peaches, firm but ripe, halved and stone removed
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon Chinese Five Spice Powder
  • Seeds scraped from a vanilla bean

TO SERVE

  • Yogurt, fresh ricotta or cottage cheese
  • Hemp seeds, bee pollen, optional

 

 

METHOD

Make the oats first, in fact, make them the night before, if possible. Preheat an oven to 375°F / 190°C and line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, stir together the maple syrup, golden brown sugar, olive oil, 2 tablespoons water and a good pinch of salt. In another bowl, toss together the oats, almonds, sesame seeds and another pinch of salt. Fold the oats into the syrup mixture until coated. Turn the oats out onto the prepared baking sheet, patting into an even layer. Bake in the preheated oven until the oats are golden and lightly toasted, 15 to 20 minutes. Turn the pan once during the cooking time, and flip and shuffle the oats around regularly to ensure even colour. Cool the oats on their tray for at least 20 minutes to crisp up before serving or transferring to an airtight container for later use. (Store oats at room temperature if made in advance.)

For the peaches, preheat the oven back to 375°F / 190°C if needed. Line a rimmed baking sheet or large roasting pan with parchment paper. Arrange the peaches on the pan, with space in between each. If they cuddle up too close, they'll steam, not roast. 

Grab a small bowl and mix together the maple syrup, Five Spice Powder and vanilla seeds. Brush the peaches with about half the mixture — let some collect in hollow left by the pit, but don't drown the fruit —  and place in the hot oven, keeping the rest of the maple syrup aside. Bake the peaches until they look soft and juice filled, and scorched where the skin meets the flesh, which should take around 20 to 25 minutes. If you'd like to give the fruit a proper bronzing, place them under a hot broiler for a few moments — don't dare leave them too long, or they'll burn fast enough. Remove the fruit from the oven and let stand a few minutes before serving with yogurt, a raining scatter of seeds, and the rest of the spiced maple syrup, for further gilding at the table.

Eat straight away, or at room temperature, or chilled enough that the peaches are cold, but the juices still loose and running. 

Enough for 4 servings.

5SpicePeachPlate3.jpg
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Authortara
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When I worked at a theatre company in my teens, one season there was a play that opened with Geroge Gershwin's “Rhapsody in Blue”. I fell for it at first listen, somewhere in between the flirting tumble of notes at the beginning and the arcing rise up the scale before the clarinet cascades in a sigh. It was summer, and the play was a love story. A friend of mine had a breathless crush on the production's male lead. One afternoon, the power went out in the theatre, so the show continued by candlelight.

It was all pretty romantic. 

I'm keenly aware of how strange it sounds but when I was trying describe these apple cider caramels, namely caramels spiced with chai masala, strains of "Rhapsody in Blue" kept coming to mind.

Untitled

Before I lose you entirely, it might be best to try to lay out what we have here. The recipe starts with reduced apple cider, bulked up with sugars and swirled with butter and cream. Then things perk up with a combination of spices; cinnamon, cardamom, clove, and ginger, flinty with black pepper, which taste to me how that Gershwin tune sounds.

Caramel can oftentimes be flat, all sugary heaviness, a dud. These caramels lilt; they flicker and spark. There are highs and lows, deep sweetness, prickling warmth, fragrance and flavour that rolls and develops. They're romance and drama wrapped up in brown paper, and totally worthy of infatuation.

spiced soft caramels

They are soft caramels, not the kind that stick to your teeth and threaten to pull out your molars, but yieldingly-so; they stretch only the tiniest bit when bitten, then relax, supple and dense as you chew. 

We made them by the trayful for gifts this December, in both a straightforward cinnamon version and this fussed up one. They were so popular, I'll be making them into January as well. I am not one for candy, usually, but found it easy enough to make an exception in this case (this being my other). And speaking of ease, these are a cinch as far as candy making goes; some boiling and stirring, then pouring out. Just make sure to keep an eye on the bubbling pot towards the end — when it comes to temperature the caramel will be a smidge lighter in colour than these photographs show, as the shade deepens with the addition of the spices, and even further when the candy cools. 

apple cider caramels spiced with chai masala

And for that ease, you get something stunning. A candy that's interesting yet familiar, and altogether dreamy. Candlelight not required.

Happy new year.

APPLE CIDER CARAMELS WITH CHAI MASALA

Modified slightly from Deb Perelman and her book The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook (Appetite by Random House, 2012), rewritten by me, except as noted.

Cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, clove and black pepper are fairly standard for chai masala — the mixture used, as you might gather, to flavour masala chai. I think the assortment of spices brings further complexity to the caramels, and works nicely with the apple cider. And, as it's evocative of gingersnaps and gingerbread, the blend matches well with the echoes of the holiday season. While it's not traditional in masala chai, if so inclined, seeds scraped from 1/2 a fresh vanilla bean can be added to the spiced salt.

The original caramel recipe calls for cinnamon alone, so feel free to use 1/2 teaspoon of the ground stuff if that is your preference.

Deb says: Apple cider (sometimes called sweet or “soft” cider), as I’m referring to it here, is different from both apple juice and the hard, or alcoholic, fermented apple cider. It’s a fresh, unfiltered (it has sediment), raw apple juice — the juice literally pressed from fresh apples. It’s unpasteurized, and must be refrigerated, because it’s perishable. In the Northeast, I usually find it at farm stands and some grocery stores. I occasionally find vacuum- sealed bottles called apple cider in the juice aisle, but none of the bottled varieties that I’ve tried has the same delicate apple flavor as the more perishable stuff sold in the refrigerator section.

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 cups (945 ml) apple cider
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger 
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom 
  • A good pinch ground clove
  • A few turns of freshly-ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons flaky sea salt, less of a fine-grained one
  • 8 tablespoons (115 grams or 1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
  • 1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup (110 grams) packed light brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup (80 ml) heavy cream
  • Neutral oil for the knife


METHOD

Bring the apple cider to a boil in a large saucepan over high heat. Continue to boil, stirring occasionally, until transforms into a dark, thick syrup and is reduced to about 1/2-1/3 cup in volume, which should take around 35 to 40 minutes. 

Meanwhile, set out the other ingredients, as the candy comes together pretty quickly at the end. Line the bottom and sides of an 8-inch, straight-sided metal baking pan with a cross of parchment. Set aside. In a small bowl, stir together all the spices with the sea salt. 

Once the apple cider is reduced, remove it from the heat and quickly stir in the butter, sugars and heavy cream. Return the pot to medium-high heat and let it boil until a candy thermometer reads 252°F, about 5 minutes. 

Immediately remove the caramel from the heat. Add the spiced salt mixture, and give the caramel several stirs. Pour the caramel into the prepared pan and set it aside to cool; around 2 hours at room temperature, or faster in the fridge. Once the caramel is set, use the parchment paper sling to transfer the block of candy to a cutting board. With a well-oiled knife, cut the caramel into 1-by-1-inch squares. Place the cut pieces onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and place in the fridge for 10 minutes before wrapping. Once firmed up, wrap each in pieces of parchment or wax paper, twisting or folding closed. 

The caramels will be soft at room temperature, or can be kept firm in the fridge. They'll last about two weeks, either way. 

MAKES 64 candies. 

First photo taken from my Instagram. For those who asked about the recipe, this is for you. I hope you enjoy them. xo!

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Authortara
Categoriesconfection
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