Just after my husband, Mike, was born, his parents bought 40 acres of a retired peach orchard in rural Missouri, with a plan to live off the land and build a more pastoral sort of lifestyle for their children. And while that peach orchard may have been retired from the yearly grind of farming, it still put out a crop of peaches every summer. And that's what my husband ate, as a baby and as a toddler: bite after bite of tangy yellow summer peaches. This early diet clearly left an impression. Peaches? He can't get enough of them.
"I think I fed you some homemade applesauce, but it was mostly a lot of peaches," his mother, Elaine, said. "Peaches, peaches, and more peaches!"
But this early diet didn't inhibit his love of peaches; if anything, it deeply embedded an avidity towards peaches that outstrips most other food enthusiasms. So when the first ripe round of tiny fuzzy peaches came into my local market, I decided to find some way to mark the occasion.
A pie? A crumble? How about something more like a cookie? These bars have a firm, buttery base, heaped with peaches, whose skins were so tangerine and rosy I didn't want to peel them off. I left them on for color and didn't chop them too finely, then topped the whole thing with an oat and pecan crumble, nutty and toasted. There's plenty of butter, but not a whole lot of sugar in the bars, so the final grace note is a drizzle of lemon glaze to punch up the peaches' own sweetness.
They're sweet and buttery, chewy and a little crumbly, with a jammy filling of sweet summer peaches. They're better than baby food, perhaps — but nothing, at least in my household, is considered as fine as a good, ripe peach.
Peach & Pecan Oat Crumble Bars
For the base dough:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature for 1 hour
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
For the peach filling:
2 pounds peaches, unpeeled (about 8 peaches)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
For the pecan oat topping
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened at room temperature for 1 hour, divided
1 cup old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup pecans, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
For the glaze:
3 tablespoons lemon juice, from 1 lemon
1/2 to 1 cup powdered sugar
Heat the oven to 350°F and lightly grease a 9x13-inch baking dish.
In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl, using a hand mixer) cream the butter with the brown sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy. Turn off the mixer and add in the flour, salt, ginger, and cinnamon. Mix in the dry ingredients on low speed, just until the dough is soft and has pulled together. Press the dough firmly into the bottom of the prepared baking pan and refrigerate while preparing the filling and topping.
Roughly chop the peaches into 1/2-inch pieces and toss with the sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Set aside.
Wipe out the mixer bowl and mix 1/4 cup softened butter with the oats, flour, pecans, cinnamon, and salt until soft and crumbly. Melt the remaining 1/4 cup butter and set aside to cool.
Spread the chopped peaches over the chilled dough base. Evenly crumble the topping over the peaches, and drizzle with the melted butter. Bake for 45 minutes or until the topping is lightly browned.
Whisk together the lemon juice with enough powdered sugar to make a thin glaze. Drizzle over the bars.
Cool (or chill) for at least an hour before slicing and serving. I do recommend chilling these; they will stay fresh (and slice more cleanly) for about 5 days when stored well-covered in the fridge.
(Images: Faith Durand)