Monday, September 1, 2014

Blueberry, Nectarine & Bourbon Crisp // End of Summer (weeks 52 & 53)

It is the last weekend of summer and I just got around to making my first crisp. Terrible form on my part, all around. The summer here was mild, accented by warm, sun-drenched afternoons and cool, often breezy nights. As a result, our local fruit was near perfect. The wild blackberries and raspberries were bursting with sugar and packed a satisfying tart-punch. The peaches have been swollen with sweet juice, hidden behind a perfect veil of yellow and red ombre skin. I've been stockpiling fruit every week during my farmers' market trips, and assembling proud, colorful displays of overflowing wooden bowls on our kitchen island, which we dipped into throughout each day. It's been a little bit of a food lover's version of heaven over here.

With fruit so perfect, crisps seem like the obvious choice. Crisps are champions of ripe fruit, supporters of all seed-bearing rounds that fall from trees. Plus, as every half-decent baker knows, they are impossibly simple to make, mimicking the easy going nature of the season. And yet, here we are. But how? 

Maybe the reason is because we've done next to zilch in the entertaining department this summer. Usually, even when we're impossibly busy, summer is a time when we open our door (and our kitchen) to many friends and family to host what feels like an endless revolving door of barbecues, low-key summer dinner parties, and late night booze-fests accented by cured meats and bubbling, fresh-from-the-oven summery sweets.

This summer was a decidedly lazy one. I can't remember a single time that we hosted dinner, instead opting to check into some neighborhood haunts for indulgent, on-the-fly lunch dates, and passing up opportunities to invite friends to our place to enjoy our outdoor space for quiet nights home alone together with a stack of food and travel magazines and a cold bottle of rosé (which I now aptly refer to exclusively as "summer water," in case you were wondering).

A few nights ago, close friends opened their door to us for an end-of-the-season crab boil. Since Jay and I just recently returned from Charleston (more on that trip and the magic that is Pappy Van Winkle bourbon in another post), our fridge is looking a little sad. Luckily, hidden at the back of the bottom shelf were a few leftover nectarines from our road trip cooler, a pint of blueberries that somehow miraculously survived our absence and a depressing, singular stick of butter tucked beside a shriveled  nub of forgotten ginger root.

I modeled this crisp after a recipe post on Food52, which offered a sort of guide for making the perfect crisp. This time around, I added a generous splash of booze and some brown sugar to the fruit before baking, and then allowed it to macerate for a bit, which produced a final crisp made from incredibly soft, bourbon-kissed fruit. When it came time to make the actual crumble, Jay hovered beside me to "encourage" me to properly incorporate the butter and the dry ingredients in such a way to create a perfect, airy, crumbly topper. Although it physically pains me to admit when he is right, he had a few good pointers. In the past, I've often worked the butter into the dry ingredients so much that it has turned almost grainy, kind of like the consistency of clumpy sand. However, it turns out that it is much better to squeeze the ingredients in your palm (as opposed to sort of breaking up the butter into tiny, pea-sized balls) and then breaking the mixture into larger clumps. Also, although crisps are typically celebrated as the lazy man's dessert, it seems I've been too lazy with mine, often breaking apart the butter, giving those pea-sized rounds a good mix in the dry ingredients and calling it a day. This time, I spent a good five or six full minutes squeezing those ingredients, which ultimately (once again, this part pains me) means Jay wins this round: his advice did in fact lead to a much better dessert.

I'll be back in a few days with a recap on our end-of-summer pop-ups, life at the shop, and a boatload of early autumn recipes (as well as those weekly roundups I promised a while back…don't judge). Until then…

Blueberry, Nectarine & Bourbon Crisp

- 1 pint fresh blueberries
- 2-3 ripe, large nectarines (or other stone fruit) sliced into wedges
- 1/4 cup good bourbon
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1 cup cold butter, cut into small cubes
- 1 cup flour
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup old-fashioned oats
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a medium-sized bowl, mix the fruit, the bourbon and the brown sugar until the fruit is well-coated. Set aside and allow to macerate for at least ten minutes.

In another medium-sized bowl, add the butter, flour, sugar, oats and cinnamon. Squeeze all ingredients through your palms until the mixture is well-incorporated and breaks apart into large pieces (see details in the above post).

Add the fruit and any liquid to the bottom of a cake pan. Add the crumble mixture to the top of the fruit. Do not press the crumble down; instead, generously pile it on top of the fruit until all the fruit is totally covered. Bake for 40 minutes or until the crumble mixture is a nice, golden brown. Carefully remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before serving.

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