“That’s it. This is the last time I turn on the oven in this house,” I said to my husband. We’re planning on moving at the end of July, and I was sweating in our kitchen. Again.
“Yeah, right,” Danny said.
He totally called it. Because I have a problem: I love roasting dinner and baking dessert in the oven, even if it’s not quite the season for it. Despite my better judgment, I’ve kept turning on the oven, which is probably as old as me and emits nearly as much hot air into the whole kitchen as it does to the food cooking inside it. I’ve continued to turn the dial up, fanning myself with pot holders for the sake of za’atar roast chicken and potatoes, broiled tofu to top a weeknight salad and, most importantly and recently, crumbly peach pie bars.
Stone fruits — peaches, plums, cherries and apricots — are one of the best parts of summer. Eating one is a fragrant and brief respite from the punishing heat of Florida this time of year. Not as cooling as watermelon, but stone fruits are brimming with juice and flavor. They’re even better if you warm them up. If your fruit is somewhat less than ripe, roasting is the way to go to draw out its sweetness. This pie bar recipe will play well with any of these stone fruits, too.
Pie, of course, is one obvious way to go when it comes to peaches and cherries, but that requires a bit of planning and waiting. More often I find myself turning to pie-like things: crumbles, crisps, galettes and the so-called pie bars, which require less effort, precision and experience to execute.
The peaches, which get juicier by the second after getting tossed with sugar, submit to the oven and after an hour melt into a sort of peachy caramel sandwiched between layers of buttery shortbread. I added a big pinch of minced thyme to the peach and sugar mixture for an extra hit of flavor. I wouldn’t run to the store just to get thyme for this recipe, but the light herbal flavor makes the bars a little more special.
You’ll want to check on the bars at about the 40-minute mark and cover them loosely with foil if the top crumble layer is browning too quickly. The bars can bake as long as 1 hour and 10 minutes, but it depends on your oven. And if you’re like me, you know your oven well.
peach pie bars
These are for lazy people who love pie. Bars will keep in the refrigerator, wrapped in plastic or in an airtight container, for up to three days. To butter the pan, I use the paper wrapped around a stick of butter; you’ll use a stick and then some for the crust, and that wrapper will do the trick. I added a bit of fresh thyme, which complements the sweet peaches and makes these bars extra special.
Makes 16 bars.
For the crust:
1 stick plus 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for pan
1 cup sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon coarse salt
For the filling:
1 ¼ pounds peaches (3 ½ cups, or about 4 peaches), pitted and diced into 1/2-inch pieces
½ cup light brown sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon coarse salt
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme (optional)
Heat oven to 375°F. Butter an 8- by 8- by 2-inch square cake pan. Line cake pan with parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on two sides; butter parchment.
To make the crust, beat butter with sugar in a bowl until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. If using an electric mixer, use the paddle attachment. Scrape down bowl. Add flour and salt; beat until dough forms clumps but does not completely hold together. Press about 2 ½ cups of the flour mixture into bottom and 1 inch up sides of prepared pan.
To make the filling, stir together peaches, sugar, flour, lemon juice, salt and thyme in a bowl. Pour peach mixture over prepared dough in pan. Crumble remaining flour mixture evenly over the peach mixture, pinching pieces of the dough to create clumps. Bake in center of oven until bars are bubbling in the center and crust is golden, about 1 hour. If the crumble layer is browning too quickly, cover it loosely with aluminum foil.
Let bars cool in pan for about 20 minutes, preferably on a wire rack. If you try to pull them out of the pan right away and they’re still hot, the bars will start to break apart. Grab on to the parchment hanging over the side of the pan with both hands, and lift bars out of the cake pan. Let cool completely on a wire rack, about 1 hour. Use a sharp knife to cut into 2-inch squares.
(Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart Living.)