In the quickest of updates, I wanted to point you in the direction of a story I did for the Globe and Mail this week; it's about Peach Plum Pie, which is my ideal rendition of a stone fruit dessert for this time of year. The pastry is a keeper, first and foremost, easy to make and supremely forgiving. The filling, voluptuous without too much ooze, is scented with almond and vanilla. It is a good way to ease into fall baking, and the colour from the plums—magenta in the bowl but deepening on baking, so the pie is streaked through with its blush—is a pretty spectacular goodbye to summer if I do say so myself.

Quiet Acres Farm Stand | Tara O'Brady
Peach Plum Pie for the Globe + Mail | Tara O'Brady
Peach Plum Pie for the Globe + Mail | Tara O'Brady

Also! I'm heading to Pennsylvania next month for an event! I will be hosting a brunch at Terrain's Glen Mills location, on October 4, 2015 from 10 to 11:30 AM. The menu will be inspired by recipes from my book, and I'll be demonstrating a dish, plus there'll be lots of time to chat and say hello. Ticket information and details are available on Terrain's site, and I hope you'll be able to make it. It's also the weekend of their Autumn Bounty Festival, so it should be a great time.

Back with a recipe in a few days. See you soon!

p.s. for anyone visiting locally, the farm stand photographed is Quiet Acres in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. 

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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In late April we had a frost. After an unbelievably-mild winter that required only two or three shovellings, and a spring that had us in sandals by March, the raw cold of April 29th came as a harsh surprise. 

That said, what was merely startling to us was devastating to the farms and farmers we call neighbours. The fruit trees — apple, peach, pear, plum, cherry and others — were already festooned with early blooms; the fragile flowers couldn't handle the biting, sudden freeze, and were largely wiped out

So, there's been months of waiting. Talking to friends with farms to see how they're doing, peering down the rows of orchards as we drive by, craning our necks in the hope of seeing some fruit on the branches.  

The good news is, pockets of fruit survived — the yields are low, and the season will be short I hear, but there are peaches. There were cherries too, though less than what we've come to expect.

We are thoroughly spoiled by where we live. Smack-dab in the middle of farmland, there's markets almost every day, and roadside stands full up with produce, well into autumn. We're used to the strawberry festival, the cherry festival, and the peach celebration that closes down the main street of a nearby town every August, and by September we're in the orchards, picking apples for cake. We greedily bide our time until the late-summer glut of fruit arrives, and then snatch up the harvest, flat by flat, to be preserved. 

This year, there won't be that boon. I don't know if there will be peaches for canning, there's hope, but not for certain. And so, what we have is all the more precious. I want to take grateful note, as their time is fleeting. 

We often take those days of feast for granted. We've fogotten our luck at what we have nearby.

We bought our first basket of peaches. They smelled like summer holidays, like nostalgia and growing up. They reminded of humid evenings in the backyard, of shortcakes and crumbles, and fruit eaten out of hand sitting at Mum and Dad's old picnic table, with sticky juice running down to our elbows. They made me think of how we seek out the sweetness in so many things, peaches, plums and nectarines among them, and how we find an edge of sharpness in each bite. 

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I didn't want to muss up these peaches; I wanted them for their simple peachy-ness. Pure, straight fruit, helped along maybe, but not essentially changed. That need manifested into peaches soaked in wine, perfumed by honey and vanilla. I chose not to poach the fruit exactly, rather giving them a gentle bath, in the thought that suggestion of warmth would coax a that bit more vanilla out of that pod, and bring that much more tenderness to the peaches, as if there had been an extra day of sunshine.

The fruit goes into the wine whole and unpeeled. There's rather ceremonial beauty in a peach, served whole. The peels are slipped away, like silk across shoulders, just before eating. The skins leave rosy marks on the flesh of the peaches, and also offer some protection from the simmering wine so that their centres are just barely cooked; they retain the direct sour-sweet of the farmstand, tinged with the taste of the wine. And that wine, well, as the peaches sit their flavour fully blossoms, mingling into the liquid — so that wine makes for a boozy consommé, sparkling, bracing and bright. 

I let some runny crème fraîche meander through the juices, it's twang perfect against that of the fruit. The peaches feel fresh, firm and bouncy cheeked, through-and-through fragrant. I like them very much, straight from the fridge. Their taste is clear, that of a July afternoon without cloud.

There are those moments when I look around and wish I could stop time. I wonder for a way to hold everything, as it is, still and somehow the same, to keep safe for the times ahead, for times of frost and freezing.

This is the closest I've come. 

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PEACHES SOAKED IN VANILLA WINE

The peaches require a few hours to chill, so plan with that in mind.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups (500 ml) dryish white wine
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 vanilla pod, split
  • 4 medium peaches, washed, stems removed but left whole
  • Crème fraîche, to serve

In a saucepan that will fit your peaches snugly, stir together the wine and honey. Run the blunt end of a knife across the vanilla bean to scrape out the seeds, add the seeds to the saucepan, along with the pod itself.

Bring the wine mixture to a boil over medium heat, then reduce the heat to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Allow the wine to bubble gently for a few minutes, until the honey is melted and the mixture starts to thicken just a bit. Carefully lower the peaches into the barely-simmering liquid — they should be submerged — and cook gently for 5 minutes.

Remove from the heat, flip the peaches over, and cover with a lid. Set aside to cool to room temperature, then chill the peaches for at least 8 hours, preferably overnight.

When you're ready to eat, carefully remove a peach from the liquid. Gently pinch the skin with your fingers and it should pull away from the flesh. Peel the peach and place it back in the liquid. Repeat with the remaining fruit.

Thin some crème fraîche with a bit of the wine mixture; it's nice at a pouring consistency. To serve, place a peach in a bowl, spoon over some of the wine, followed by the crème fraîche.

Serves 4, or maybe 2, depending on the day. 

Notes:

  • The peaches must be fully covered by the liquid while chilling, or they will discolour. If needed, top up with some extra wine to keep them dunked, or seal out air by pressing a piece of clingfilm against the surface of the peaches.
  • For those who prefer a thicker syrup, the wine can be further reduced after the peaches have had a chance to soak. I'd remove the fruit, boil down the liquid, then get it good and cold again before serving.
  • Any extra wine in left in the pot can be sipped, or reduced to a syrup as above and saved for eating with ice cream.
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IMG_07752a

I have been thinking about this Buttermilk Pudding Cake for quite some time. When I saw it's photo, with those carmine-coloured berries all snuggled up against a cushion of tender, melting cake, the image stuck with me. It looked like all things dreamy, served up on a spoon.

Nevertheless, with such a short ingredient list, the skeptic in me raised a singular eyebrow - something the actual me cannot do without looking oddly quizzical or slightly pained. Could such a meagre collection of ingredients really amount to a dessert that lived up to its looks?

Oh my yes. If I was not blissfully married already, I would be writing Mrs. Tara Buttermilk Pudding Cake over and over in notepads, with hearts all around. I might whittle a million pencils down to the tiniest of nubs, and my hands could cramp, but I wouldn't care. Not at all. I am head-over-heels lost over this cake.

After getting all your bits and bobs in order, this is a cake that takes all of five minutes to make (with a mixer, a little longer by hand), but tastes exponentially better than the effort it requires. After stirring and whipping the disparate components, they are folded together into a marshmallow-tender batter. It sighs and slips its way into a pan, baking gently until pouffed on top and turned luscious below.

The only gentle suggestion I might offer would be to switch the raspberries for fresh peaches, as around here, raspberries are terribly last month. We live in peach-growing country, and at present the trees are heavy with their weight. For this, you want the ample-bosomed variety, full and soft, with a velvet skin that begs you to nuzzle in close and get a bit familiar. That yielding flesh mimics the softness of the cake's custardy belly, in delicious repetition.

And now that you have been formally introduced I do believe you should give this cake a thought as well.

If you require more reason than the case I have laid before you, you could be like me, and take my unabashedly shameless excuse, disguised under a flimsy veil of altruism. First, agree to make a recipe for a loved one that requires buttermilk, then accidentally-on-purpose purchase more buttermilk than said recipe requires. Wait a few days. Finally, choose a quiet afternoon to nobly bake the aforementioned Buttermilk Pudding Cake, as you wouldn't want the excess to go to waste.

Wink, wink, nudge, nudge. Everybody wins.

On a personal note, I want to dedicate this post to the talented and breathtakingly-honestJess. She mentioned elsewhere that this dish took her fancy, and as she's been through more in her 28th year than many go through in decades, the least I could do is offer her something that might make her smile, as if to say - "We're so glad to see you on the other side."

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BUTTERMILK PUDDING CAKE WITH MAPLE SUGAR PEACHES

From Gourmet.com, with minor changes. As you can see from the telltale marks on the dishes, this cake soufflés beautifully in the oven, but collapses quickly upon its removal from the heat. For the prettiest presentation, I would take the cake straight from oven to table in its fully plumped glory, then cruelly make your guests wait as it cools.

INGREDEINTS

  • 4 medium peaches, sliced into 1/2 to 3/4-inch wedges (or thereabouts)
  • 2-3 tablespoons maple sugar or equal amounts of maple syrup
  • Softened butter for greasing the pan
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/3 cups well-shaken buttermilk
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 3 large eggs, separated
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar, divided

METHOD

In a medium bowl, gently stir together the peaches and enough maple sugar or syrup to sweeten to taste. Allow to macerate at room temperature while preparing the cake.

Preheat an oven to 350°F (175°C). Lightly butter the inside of a 1 1/2-quart shallow baking dish. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. In another mixing bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, butter, egg yolks, and 1/3 cup granulated sugar until well combined and the sugar is pretty much dissolved. Add the liquids to the flour mixture, stirring until just combined. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, either by hand or with a mixer, beat the reserved egg whites on medium speed until frothy and opaque. Increase the speed to medium high, or if by hand beat faster, and start adding the remaining sugar a tablespoons at a time, beating well to incorporate each addition. Continue whipping the egg whites until they just hold a stiff peak. Do not over beat.

Working quickly but gently, stir about one-third of the egg whites into the prepared batter. Once almost combined, add another third of whites, this time folding the batter over the whites to incorporate thoroughly. Repeat with the last of the whites.

Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish, place this dish in a larger dish or roasting pan, and pour hot water from a recently-boiled kettle in the larger pan until it comes halfway up the sides of the smaller. Bake the cake in this water bath in the preheated oven for 4- to 50 minutes, until puffed and golden. Remove from the oven and allow to cool 5 to 10 minutes before serving with the peaches alongside.

Serves 6, but I would really think 4, greedily, is the way to go. Sharing is difficult with this one.

Notes:

• I used Brien's superfine maple sugar, which has lighter taste than others I have tried, with an understated sweetness rather than that throat-warming hit associated with maple syrup. I further preferred maple sugar over syrup as it seemed to draw more juices out of the peaches, and thickened those juices only slightly.

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.

INGREDIENTS

  • 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)

METHOD

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.

Notes:

• 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).