We are staring down the last week of school and we are all too ready for the holiday.

The other night, at the end of the longest day, I realized how much I'm looking forward to this season. Not just for the days at the pool, the road trips planned, and ice cream cones promised after dinner. There's also the need to feel the exuberance of it somehow. It's a feeling I've had before. And, it feels good to feel it again, as things seemed slightly offset lately. Like when the printing plates don't line up exactly right so whatever you're reading has a shadow aura hovering slightly to one side. You can see what things are supposed to look like, but can't quite trick your eyes into seeing them right.

And so, here's to summer, and to Strawberry Rhubarb Almond Crumble — it has a trick in the crumble that changes the game entirely. It's a recipe to keep for when stone fruits are around. Happy days, pals. Talk again soon.

 

STRAWBERRY RHUBARB ALMOND CRUMBLE

The first of many Always Good Recipes from Tara O'Brady and Nikole Herriott. 

Recipe HERE

When leafing through The Violet Bakery Cookbook by Claire Ptak last week, I kept coming back to the page for her cinnamon buns. 

no yeast cinnamon buns from Violet Bakery | Tara O'Brady + Seven Spoons

If you've been around here for a while, you might know that one of my favourite breakfast pastries are sugar buns (Tartine Bakery's morning bun made with a whole-wheat variation on Nigella Lawson's Danish dough, and laced with almond and orange). Besides bostocks, they are usually my holiday morning go-to, and it is rare that I stray from that habit.

However (!), Ptak's recipe is made without yeast; the dough gets its rise from baking powder instead, like the cousin of a scone or sweet biscuit. That was enough to intrigue. Plus they were pretty; perfectly golden arabesques dusted with sugar. Total lookers. So curiosity got the better of me.

You make the dough in a stand mixer, crumbling up cold butter into the dry ingredients, then adding milk until a dough curls up around the paddle. Simple. The dough rolls out smooth and supple, twirls back up into an impressive swirl, then bakes into delicate layers with just a touch of elasticity for some chew. 

The cinnamon swirl is backed up in spice by some cardamom in the dough and the combo comes off friskier than either on their own. It's exactly right. And, if you can find Ceylon cinnamon, this is the time to use it. 

It's Thanksgiving coming up, and we are going apple picking sometime this week — I'm toying with the idea of a second go with these for the holiday weekend, this time wafer thin slices of sautéed apples and blitzed almonds wrapped up in the coil. I think that might be a good idea. Still, I didn't want to hold out on you on the recipe, so here they are. 

Happy start of the week, talk soon.


VIOLET BAKERY'S CINNAMON BUNS (yeast free)

"Of course a soft yeasty bun can be a wonderful thing, but at Violet we have never had enough space to work with yeasted bread doughs. They take up more room and need larger machines. I came up with these yeast-free buns in my home kitchen by looking back through the cookbooks of the 1950s, when everything was about how to make things more quickly. Quick breads, as breads leavened with baking powder or baking soda are called, were an alternative to the time-consuming yeast or sourdough breads. Truly, they are something altogether different. They both have their place on the table. This recipe can also be made ahead then frozen in the muffin tin until ready to bake."

— from The Violet Bakery Cookbook by Claire Ptak (Ten Speed Press, 2015)

Makes 12 buns

FOR THE FILLING

  • 75g (1/3 cup) unsalted butter
  • 250g (1 cup plus 2 tablespoons) light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

FOR THE CINNAMON BUNS

  • 560g (4 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
  • 2 tablespoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground cardamom
  • 240g (1 cup plus 1 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes)
  • 300g (1 1/4 cups) cold milk
  • sugar, for dipping
  • butter, for greasing the pan

METHOD

Preheat the oven to 200°C/390°F (180°C/355°F convection).

Butter a 12-cup deep muffin pan.

First, prepare the feeling. Melt the butter and leave in a warm place so that it remains liquid. Mixed together the light brown sugar and cinnamon until no lumps remain, then set aside.

Now make the dough. In the bowl of a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, combine all the dry ingredients with the cubes of butter and mix until you have a coarse meal. Slowly pour into cold milk while the mixer is running, until dough forms into a ball and comes away from the bowl. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and leave to rest for a few minutes. Fold the dough gently over itself once or twice to pull it all together let the dough rest a second time, for 10 minutes.

Clear a large surface, dust lightly with more flour, and roll out the dough into a large rectangle until almost 5mm (1/8 inch) thick. Brush the surface of the dough with the melted butter and, before the butter hardens, sprinkle the cinnamon sugar on to the butter. You want a good, slightly thick layer.

Now roll the long side, keeping it neat and tidy. Gently tug the dough toward you to get a taut roll while rolling away from you in a spiral. Once it’s all rolled up, gently squeeze the roll to ensure it’s the same sickness throughout. Use a sharp knife to cut the roll crosswise into 12 even slices. Take a slice of the cinnamon roll, peel back about 5 cm (2 inches) of the loose end of the pastry and fold back under the roll too loosely cover the bottom of the roll. Place in the muffin pan, flap side down. Repeat with remaining slices.

Bake the buns for 25 minutes. As soon as they're out of the oven, flip them over onto a wire cooling rack so that they don't stick to the tray. Dip each cinnamon bun into a bowl of sugar and serve right away.

NOTES FROM TARA:

  • There seems to be an error in the volume conversion in the book for this entry — the flour is listed as 560g or 1 1/2 cups, but that weight is actually about 4 1/2 cups and I've changed the recipe to reflect that.

Posted
Authortara
18 CommentsPost a comment
IMG_62342

I won't keep you long because there are strawberries to be eaten and the clock is already tick-tock ticking.

I'll begin with credit where credit is due. What we have here is a recipe from Jamie Oliver, and it's a winner. You take strawberries, lop of their tops so that they're hulled neatly and stand on end like a berried mountain range. You slice a few knobs of stem ginger and pop them in the dish, along with some of their syrup. Then squish out the seeds of a plump vanilla bean over the fruit and toss in the pod after. Last, there's a slosh of Pimm's (No. 1), the gin-based liqueur synonymous with British summer.

I'll stop here for a moment, because the mention of Pimm's makes me weak in the knees. I first came to know it over the summer job that took me through high school. I worked for a theatre company, plays not movies, and each season there was an event that had Pimm's Cup as its signature drink. I can't think of Pimm's without thinking of those wickedly-hot days - the heavy scent of gin, cucumbers and lemon, miles of glasses lined up in rows, full of ice and looking like the most refreshing drink that there ever was.

No. 1 is sunshine and hot shoulders, and the best of those years.

Anyway, back to today, and back to that dish of berries. Tucked under the hottest broiler you can muster, their attentive peaks get lazy in the heat, slouching down and slumping over. They'll be warmed through but not cooked, only enough that the strawberries turn juicy and plush. The preserved ginger has the assertive heat and deep-bellied hum of the June sun, while the suggestion of citrus brought by the Pimm's rings all the high notes.

It's up and down and all around like a roller coaster at the fair. Which is to say, these might be the strawberries to end all strawberries.

I used local fruit, the kind that for 11 months of the year you convince yourself you've imagined in an fit of idealized fancy. And then, blessed be, it is summer and here they are. Fruit ruby to its centre, fragrant in a way that reminds of roses and honey jumbled up together. They are beautiful, yes, but in their irregularity. Nubbled, bumpy - one in our punnet bore a distinct resemblance to a miniature turban squash.

They're strawberries out of Enid Blyton. Rustic and brave - and left whole they have more oomph than is usually attributed to cooked fruit. Good enough that I may have been stingy in my dinner portion one evening, just to leave that much more room for dessert.

But that's just between you and me.

Now, don't dally, off you go while the strawberries are around. See you soon.

melt

GRILLED STRAWBERRIES WITH PIMM'S 

The strawberries are served with softened ice cream, and make sure yours is soft as you want it to further melt into the juices at the bottom of the dish - its texture should match that of the fruit. On top of that is some mashed cookie rubble, and like the crust to a fruit pie it gives foundation to the softness of berry and cream. Finally some mint, which in coincidence always grew beside the strawberries in my childhood garden. Its flavour rubs off unto the berries and seeps into the ice cream very nicely.

Stem ginger in syrup is young, tender ginger that has been peeled then preserved in a sugar syrup.

Recipe, via jamieoliver.com

Notes:

  • I used crushed gingersnaps instead of the shortbread from the recipe - they have a true crunch, rather than the crumble of shortbread, which was what we were looking for. It hardly needs explanation that their flavour boosted and brought a layer of brightness to that of the stem ginger beneath.
Posted
Authortara
Categoriesdessert, summer
44 CommentsPost a comment

Most often an optimist, my moments of pessimism sometimes pay off. Last week, not even an hour after we talked about melting snow and bare earth, it snowed. I just knew that would happen.

That night, we shoveled the driveway.

Then, starting two days later, it snowed for three days straight. We cleared and shoveled often. We almost broke a shovel.

With the romantic fancy of my burgeoning hope for spring, I'd be blameless in muttering a sailor's curse or three as I tromped up and down and back and forth across our driveway and up the garden path. Maybe it is the madness of midwinter, but I have, shockingly, embraced the snow.

And shoveling. I really like the shoveling.

I volunteer to shovel. Trippingly pulling my boots on, and with the words only halfway out of my mouth, I'm out the door. I try to wait until after dinner, so everyone's fed and happy; when the darkness has settled in and all the streetlights are on.

In that quiet, the scene that greets me is especially beautiful. The languid wind of our street, the glow of porches lit in rows, a car rolling slowly past with its wheels crunching the snow the plows haven't cleared yet.

Tethered to our house with the task of shoveling, it's a snow globe existence; a world contained by how far I can see around the bend of the road.

There is a deep satisfaction in the feel of a blade cleaving through the weight of snowdrift, the metallic scratch of the shovel against the pavement. There is a thought of productivity and industry, a chest-puffing pride in getting a job done.

And yet, moving back and forth across the drive, the pattern of my footsteps is simultaneously meditative. The imagined dome of my small world condenses my thoughts and clears out the rubbish. I come back inside, cheeks flushed and arms tired, my mind full of a hundred new ideas.

I'm an odd duck, I know. But it makes me happy and I always sleep well after.

Yes, I really do like shoveling. Not something I'd ever thought I'd say.

And, while we're on the subject of likes, I really like cakes made with tangerines and almonds. It's a like I think you'll find easy to understand.

I made this cake as an interpretation of Nigella Lawson's Clementine Cake from her book How to Eat, which as it happens is an interpretation of Claudia Roden's orange and almond cake.

It's made without flour; at its most simple the recipe only requires fruit, nuts, eggs, sugar and baking powder. I've fussed up the cake because of the ingredients I had, and appreciated the effect of those additions. Neither version disappoints though, so either way you're set.

It reminds me of marmalade, with the pith and peel used to their fullest. It is modestly sweet with a sourness you feel on your teeth. That devastating bitterness humming underneath the waxy fat of the ground nuts.

The exterior bakes to a glossily sticky bronze, with a blond crumb underneath. The scent of almonds and citrus is remarkable, smelling as you'd imagine wintertime should.

To eat this is to swallow the March sun, a beam of brightness on a snowy day. Or, if you're like me, it's just what you want when you come in from an evening of shovelling.

TANGERINE ALMOND CAKE

Adapted from Nigella Lawson. I use skin-on, raw almonds for colour and texture. Blanched almonds or pre-ground meal can be used as well.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 pound tangerines, around 4 medium, washed well
  • 1-2 tablespoons orange flower water (optional)
  • Butter for greasing a pan
  • 9 ounces raw almonds, see note
  • 6 eggs
  • 8 ounces granulated sugar
  • Seeds scraped from half a vanilla bean
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

METHOD

Place the tangerines in a medium pot. Pour over the orange flower water if using, then fill the pot with cold water until the fruit is covered. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to maintain a simmer. Cook until the tangerines are quite tender, around 2 hours. Drain the fruit and set aside to cool.

Over a large bowl to catch the juice, split each tangerine in half horizontally, and pick out any seeds. Put the flesh, peel and pith to the bowl, and discard the seeds.

Preheat an oven to 375°F (190°C). Lightly butter an 8-inch springform pan, then line with parchment paper on the bottom and sides (with a collar of paper extending a little past the rim of the pan).

In the bowl of a food processor with the blade attached, grind the almonds to a fairly even meal. Add the tangerines, and process to a thick purée. Bits of nut and tangerine skin will still be visible.

In the large bowl used for the juices earlier, beat the eggs until blended but not frothy. Stir in the sugar and vanilla bean seeds, then the baking powder and salt. Fold in the fruit mixture.

Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake in the preheated oven until a cake tester inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean and the cake is pulling away from the sides of the pan, around 1 hour. If the cake is browning too quickly towards the end of baking, tent with foil. Remove from the oven and cool, still in its tin, on a wire rack.

Makes one 8-inch cake that's even better after a day.

One morning last weekend, Saturday morning to be exact, some unexpected news changed our plans for the day. It was nothing thing earth-shatteringly important, only an errand that would take us away from what we'd planned to do, and where we'd planned to do it.

The agenda was tinkered and 20 minutes later, we were out and about. Once arrived at our destination, the errand took only minutes and were left at loose ends. We had gone too far afield to revisit earlier plans, so now what to do?

We agreed upon a secondary plan, but then that fell through due to circumstances beyond our control. Back to the car and the drawing board.

In the end, all was well, and as of two o'clock in the afternoon, we were walking in the winter sunshine along the bustling main of a nearby village. Fed and full, warm despite the cold - which is surprising, as I'm usually the first to complain of a chill - stretching our legs after lunch at the pub.

We strolled to the bookshop, one where the books are piled high on every available surface, including the floor. I got lost a few times, behind student editions of Kim and Anna Karenina, and between rows of Penguin classics dressed in their multi-colour jackets, with that cummerbund of cream around each of their middles.

Next to the teashop. A wall of teas in glass jars faces you as you enter, a brass bell above the door merrily announces your entry. Everything inside is tiny and twee in a way that's very Alice in Wonderland, but charmingly so. It's a place I've been before, with Mom most memorably, most enjoyably for their High Tea.

The Mad Hatter himself would surely approve of the party the ladies of the shop lay out, a balancing act of treats perched on dainty plates, fragrant teas steeping in individual pots, silver spoons and sugar cubes. Most memorable and most enjoyable of all though, are their scones.

A cream scone by the most classic definition, palest white and with only its edge tinged with tan. Buttery, of course, but it is the sweetness of the cream that comes through most clearly. They are dense without heaviness, which I realize makes no sense, but it is the only way I can think to describe what it is like to bite into one of those lovelies.

In my humble opinion, it is the simplest thing that is the nicest thing about their scones, and that is their sugary top. Fresh and hot out of the oven, the scones are covered in flurries of granulated sugar. It sticks, but doesn't melt, bestowing each and every scone with their own glistening crown.

On Saturday, stuffed as we were, we weren't stopping for scones. And a shame it was. Such the shame that scones were not far from my thoughts for the hours after our departure from the shop. But, all was not lost. Scones, those ethereal scones, were still a possibility.

Through my unabashed cross-examination of the staff I have come to know some of the super-extremely-absolutely-top-secret details of their recipe. From there I have read and baked and cut and compared and tasted my way into a home version that visits at least outskirts of the realm of deliciousness in which their scones reside.

And, since you've all been so kind and embraced our project with more enthusiasm than we could have hoped for, I would so like to bake you some scones, and set a nice table with a pot of Devon cream and a jar of blackcurrant jam. We'd use my Grandmother's china.

Everything the best I could do, because as far as I'm concerned, you're just about the nicest thing, too.

SUGARED CREAM SCONES

The closest I've come to approximating the scones from the tea shop in the village we visited. Since I don't know your schedule, and we've not set a date for our tea, I'll share with you my recipe in the interim.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2-3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, see note
  • 6 tablespoons (3 ounces, 3/4 stick) cold unsalted butter
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream, very cold
  • Preheat an oven to 425°F (220°C).

METHOD

Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Whisk to combine, then chill in the freezer while you proceed.

Cut the butter into small dice, then chill it as well.

Line a standard baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly flour a work surface. Locate the knife of your choice. Assemble a food processor fitted with the metal blade, or get out a large bowl, a pastry cutter and spatula.

Put the dry ingredients into the bowl of the food processor, pulse a few times to lighten. If doing by hand, whisk or fork the flour mixture to aerate. In the processor, remove the cover and evenly distribute the cubed butter over the flour mixture. Replace the cover, and use short, quick pulses to bring the mixture to something that resembles an uneven meal. If by hand, toss the butter into the flour, then use a pastry cutter or two knives to cut the butter into irregular, pea-sized chunks.

With the processor, add about half of the heavy cream then pulse a few times. Add three-quarters of what's left, and pulse maybe three times more. Remove the cover and take a look - the dough should be crumbly and light, but if you pick up some and squeeze it in your hand, it should stick together. If it does, stop. If it doesn't, keep adding a few drops of cream, pulsing once or twice, then checking again. Don't worry if you don't use all the cream.

If working by hand, it is much the same process, but using a spatula to fold and turn the dough to incorporate the liquid. Again, judicious is best with the cream, you don't want a soggy dough.

Turn the dough out onto the floured work surface and knead, gently and lightly, until the dough is fully together; you should still see dots of butter here and there. Pat the dough out into a rough round, and dust with a bit of flour. Divide the dough into three, and shape each ball of dough into a 4" round about 3/4"-1" thick. Cut each round into four wedges, and place on the prepared baking sheet.

Bake the scones in the preheated oven until lightly golden at the edges and dry on their cut sides, around 12-15 minutes. The tops should be puffed and they will feel light for their size. Remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack set over another baking sheet. Sprinkle liberally with sugar and cool for at least 5 minutes before serving.

Makes 12 smallish scones.

Notes:

• If you are serving the scones with something tart like a lemon curd, I would advise using 1/2 teaspoon salt. However, when paired with a heavier, sweeter accompaniment like devon cream and jam, I'm more generous in my measurement.

• Wanting some extra prettiness, I rolled the dough out with a pin and used a floured, fluted cutter to shape them. But, since scones are often finicky if over-handled, I usually use a 4-inch springform to form my them. I dust it with flour, then pat the dough into the pan, gently pushing it even. Pop it out, cut it into four and it's done. The springform gives the scones high, straight sides that cook evenly, and using a mold cuts down the handling and stretching of the dough.

Posted
Authortara
31 CommentsPost a comment
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."

IMG_07942A

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).