I was sitting in the front room yesterday, my head bent over a book and my back to the open window. I was preoccupied with the words on the page, and did not fully note the gaining volume of the wind through the trees. What pulled me out of my concentration was a feeling against my neck. It was raining. With that rain had come a cool that entered the house like a spirit, slipping past the windowsill and settling in.
In our part of Ontario, and from what I hear of the Northeastern United States, it has been one wet summer. In fact, we've had rain of every character.
We were prey to fierce thunderstorms. They felt dramatic and enticingly-wild at first, but gathered with such quick extremity that they more than approached threatening. Lightning lit up the sky with violent fireworks. Thunder rattled nerves and set the mind on edge. The house creaked and groaned with the impact of a thousand million blows.
There was the rain that seemed without beginning or end. It was gloomy weather, and the world seemed perpetually sodden. The rain dripped dispiritedly. Damp, dismal, dreary, and just about any other depressing (another one!) d-beginning adjective you could think of.
There came the rain that wasn't rain at all, but something in between humidity and a low-flying cloud. Wetter than fog, the air was full with suspended moisture that slicked all surfaces, both inside and out.
The moments of sunshine we've seen have been fleeting. Most days there has been rain, or the threat of impending rain, with foreboding clouds looming on the horizon, all around.
What with all of our watery forecasts, the smile that tugged at my lips that stormy afternoon might seem unexpected. But despite all the woebegone times of pressing our foreheads to the windowpanes and watching rain fall down, I still fall hard for the moments of enchantment those same rains can bring.
Take yesterday, with its unnatural midday darkness. All was loudly quiet as I moved from room to room, the constant patter of plump drops muffling most other noises. Now and again I could hear children, the little girls from down the street I think, dancing in puddles. Splashes then squeals. Their giggles sharp and joyful, cutting through the din. The street shone wet, gleaming black as the streetlights flickered on.
It was magic. And it was the perfect time for some baking.
Although fruit desserts reign supreme come summertime, I usually think of crisps as the ideal for cooler months. With their slowly-stewed bottoms and buttery crusts, they feel best suited to autumn evenings curled up by the fire. But with the rain we've had, the decidedly unfussy nature of a crisp fit in beautifully with my afternoon plans of busying myself indoors. And as that rain brought cool as its travelling companion, I didn't mind the idea of turning on the oven.
This peach crisp is gloriously uncluttered with nothing else but the essentials. Nothing taxing to muddle about with, only a layer of sweet cream cushioning plump, honeyed crescents of peach, buried beneath an oaten rubble. When baked, the fruit is exceedingly voluptuous, its flesh supple and its juices seeping out.
Each bite of golden peach was soaked heavy with the memory of sunshine. The rain doesn't seem so bad after all.
SOUR CREAM AND PEACH CRISP
My own thrown-together interpretation of a variety of sources, so I'll send credit to Deb for reminding me of the combination.
- 2/3 cup all purpose flour
- 1/3 cup whole wheat flour
- 1/3 cup old-fashioned, large flake oats (not instant)
- 1/3 cup brown sugar
- 4 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
- 1-2 teaspoons crystalized ginger, finely minced (optional)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup (1 stick, 8 tablespoons) cold, unsalted butter, cut into cubes
- 8 ounces sour cream
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 pounds peaches, cut into quarters
- Coarse or sanding sugar for sprinkling (optional)
Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C).
In a large bowl, or in the bowl of a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, combine flours, oats, brown sugar, 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, ginger and salt. Using a pastry cutter, or the mixer on its lowest speed, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles a coarse, uneven meal. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, stir the remaining 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar with the sour cream and vanilla until dissolved.
Take a few scant handfuls of the oat mixture and sprinkle it in the bottom of a 9-inch pie plate or shallow dish. Spoon over the sour cream, spreading to cover completely. Arrange the peach slices, cut side up, on top of the cream. Sprinkle the remaining oat mixture over the fruit, leaving a bit of fruit peaking out of the edges. Sprinkle with coarse sugar.
Bake in the preheated oven for 35-40 minutes, or until the cream is set, the peaches are tender and the topping is golden brown. Allow to cool on a rack for a few minutes, serving warm or cold.
Makes one 9-inch crisp.
• I used a five-grain rolled cereal instead of oats alone.
• I leave the skin on the peaches, as it helps them retain their shape and I like the prettiness of their scarlet-stained tips. If you prefer to blanch the skins and remove them, feel free to do so.
• This crisp is best when the peaches truly juicy; it is their moisture that helps set the cream into a layer akin to a custard, rather than becoming stodgy and dry. If you have any concerns, you can follow Sean's suggestion of adding a handful or two of berries (blackberries or raspberries would be particularly good).