Peach Blackberry Buckle

Hello, friends! I'm back from California, my tote fully stocked with edible goodies and pictures galore. I'll be spending some time this weekend sorting through the 1,171 pictures I took for highlights beautiful or mouthwatering enough to share with you all. My fuel for the picture-perusing is a generous helping of this crisp, and while the post on NorCal technically should come first, this can't wait.

Within hours of landing in DC, I was at the supermarket, loading up on groceries. They say you shouldn't shop while hungry. Not only was I ravenous, I was desperate to get back in the kitchen: having spent the weekend before our trip in New York, and the 3 days before that emptying out our fridge in preparation for the time away, I hadn't cooked in nearly 2 weeks. Needless to say, I left the grocery store armed with more groceries than one gal can reasonably carry.

Among my haul was a bag of peaches so juicy and ripe, they practically begged to be eaten. A couple came with me as a work snack, but the weekend rolled around, the farmers' market had gorgeous, jewel-like blackberries on special, and before you knew it, a plan was hatched for peach blackberry crumble. Also? The weather in DC right now is the winter of summer -- a mere 80 degrees! -- which means our house is cool enough that the oven may be turned on without igniting a (literal?metaphorical?) fire. Halleluyah.

Sweet, supple peaches and tart, bursting blackberries are meant for each other, whether in pie, in ice cream, or here, in a humble buckle. The topping can be made in countless different ways; I like adding oats (when we have them in the house) for a more rustic texture, and some chopped nuts in the filling can have the same effect. As long as you adhere to the basic ratio of dry ingredients to sugar to butter, you can vary the recipe as you like. In this version, I used some ground almonds in place of oats, and I added chopped pistachios for texture.

Small secret: I didn't have quite enough peaches, so I used 2 frozen apricots in place of the peach I lacked. It won't shock you that the result was, you know, delicious. The whole point of the buckle/crumble/crisp family is to not sweat the details. It's summer, people. Don't we sweat enough already?

If anyone's looking for me, tell them I'll be sitting cross-legged on the couch, computer on my lap, with a bowl of this buckle in one hand and a deep spoon in the other. Popeye needs his spinach, and I need my buckle. Vaca pictures coming soon.

Peach Blackberry Buckle

2 1/2 lbs. peaches, halved, pitted, and sliced 1 pint blackberries, rinsed 3 tablespoons flour 1/3 cup sugar 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter, softened 1/4 cup brown sugar 1/2 cup granulated sugar 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/2 to 1 cup flour, depending on other additions Add any of the following to the flour, for a total of 1 1/4 cups dry ingredients:

1/2 cup oats 1/2 cup almond flour 1/4 cup chopped nuts

Preheat oven to 350.

In medium bowl, mix fruit, 3 tablespoons flour, 1/3 cup sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla until combined. Set aside.

In separate bowl, combine butter, salt, remaining sugar and flour, and other ingredients you wish to add, and use a fork to mash together until butter is fully incorporated. If you're being nitpicky, you can mix the dry ingredients first and then add the butter, so everything is evenly distributed. I'd rather chance it; this is summer, prime time to be lazy.

Pour fruit and accumulated juices into a wide shallow serving dish (8x13 pan, 8, 9, or 10-inch round pan, or 8x8 square pan all work). Sprinkle crumb topping over fruit. Bake for 50 minutes, until juices are bubbling and topping is golden brown. Let cool for at least 20 minutes before serving; this is important because it lets the juices settle and thicken, so you won't wind up with peach-blackberry soup (appealing as that sounds). Serve warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, if desired.

Sour Cherry Almond Torte

Remember last week when I gushed about the beginning of sour cherry season? Well, the gushing continues. I've gone through 3 pounds of cherries so far, and while I know that's not very much for folks making 12 jars of jam, the cherry pits are accumulating rapidly. Sour cherries have made their way into 5 or 6 different recipes, and I'm just getting started.

Yes, there was jam. Thick, gooey jam that, after just a quick stint in the fridge, got much firmer than I expected it to! And there are pickled sour cherries. Well -- there will be pickled sour cherries. They need to sit for a couple days. But in the meantime, I'm feeding my sour cherry craving with slices of this sour cherry almond torte.

Last week, I told you all about how handpies are the perfect way to skirt the soggy-bottom-crust issue. This torte is an equally good alternative. may be even better. The crust, made with part almond flour, is reminiscent of linzer torte. It's rich and flavorful, but not too sweet. It's a bit more crumbly than pie crust -- and, admittedly, a bit harder to work with -- but sweet and tangy cherries sandwiched between two layers of this crust is like a grown-up, more sophisticated thumbprint cookie.

I hope you didn't bolt at my mention of a challenging crust. If you're not up for fighting with dough, there're a couple ways to make it more friendly. There's no way around rolling out the first half, for the bottom crust, but a good hour or so in the fridge will make the dough less tacky, and with a generous sprinkling of flour on the workspace, it'll roll out pretty easily. For the top crust, lots of options: you can make a normal top crust, or you can slice the dough into strips and make a lattice -- though, like I said, this isn't the easiest dough, so you may want to save lattice crusts for another time. Me? I just rolled out the second half of the dough on a floured workspace, and used a scalloped cookie cutter to create pretty shapes that I overlapped slightly on top of the cherry filling. Easier than lattice, but just as elegant.

Speaking of elegant, after sitting on my hands for 2 hours waiting for the torte to cool, I finally got up to remove it from its shell....and turned the whole darned thing over itself onto the table. My resulting torte was the work of a true klutz, but no less delicious all the same.

Sour Cherry Almond Torte heavily adapted from an old Gourmet recipe

For the crust: 1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter 2 cups flour 2/3 cup almond flour 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar 1 large egg, lightly beaten 1 teaspoon vanilla 1/2 teaspoon salt 2 teaspoons lemon zest

For the filling: 2 pounds fresh sour cherries, pitted 3 tablespoons unsalted butter 3/4 cup sugar 3 tablespoons cornstarch 2 teaspoons lemon juice

In the bowl of a food processor or stand mixer, beat together butter and 1/3 cup sugar at medium speed until pale and fluffy. Beat or mix egg into butter mixture, then add vanilla, beating well. Reduce speed to low and mix in flour, almond flour, salt, and zest until mixture just comes together to form a dough.

Halve dough and form each half into a disk. Wrap disks in plastic and chill until firm, at least 1 hour, more if the weather is warm.

Meanwhile, make the filling: heat 3 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium heat until foam subsides, then add cherries with any juices and the sugar and simmer, stirring, until sugar is dissolved. (Cherries will exude juices.) Transfer a couple tablespoons of the cherry liquid into a small bowl, and add cornstarch, whisking to form a thick paste. Continue to simmer the cherry mixture until cherries are tender but not falling apart, about 8 minutes. Then stir cornstarch mixture into simmering filling and boil, stirring frequently, 2 minutes. Transfer filling to a bowl and put in fridge.

Put a large baking sheet in middle of oven and preheat oven to 375°F.

While cherries are cooling, remove one piece of dough from fridge and roll out between 2 sheets of floured wax paper into a 12-inch disk. Remove top sheet of paper and invert dough into 9-inch tart pan. Trim overhanging dough so edge of crust lies flush with edge of tart pan. Bake shell about 15 minutes (no need to weigh it down; it will puff slightly, but when you add the filling it’ll shrink back into pan), then remove and set on counter. Spread cooled filling evenly in tart shell.

Roll out second half of dough on a floured workspace without wax paper, and use a cookie cutter to cut scalloped circles (or other fun shapes) out of the dough. Top the cherry filling with dough cut-outs in an overlapping pattern. Sprinkle remaining tablespoon sugar over top layer of dough.

Transfer torte in tart pan onto baking sheet in oven until pastry is golden and filling is bubbling, about 1 hour. Cool completely in pan on a rack, 1 1/2 to 2 hours, to allow juices to thicken. Serve warm or at room temperature. A scoop of vanilla ice cream would really put it over the edge.

Jam-Filled Hand Pies

Pies are finicky, finicky things. Taming bursting, juicy berries into a perfect pie is the ultimate challenge of summer, and getting that bottom crust to stay crispy requires nothing short of a miracle. I've tried everything: I paint the inside of the bottom crust with egg before adding the fruit, I've drained the fruit, tossed it with extra flour, with cornstarch, with tapioca, with playdough, and still -- apple pies are fine, but the piece of dough resting beneath those juicy rasp/straw/blue/blackberries just gets suffocated by all that juice.

If you're reading my pie confession and think, "don't give up just yet!," that's great. I'm ready for help. Have any advice for making the perfect berry pie? Don't hesitate to share it in the comments. (Mrs. Wheelbarrow, I'm looking at you -- I know you're canning pie filling, and I'd love your tips!) But amid this pie nay-saying, don't for a second think I've given up on crusty summer fruit desserts. Au contraire, mon frere! I have moved on to smaller but better things. Hand pies are the way of the future.

No more soggy bottom crusts, no more fretting over runny filling. Hand pies eliminate the guesswork. Their top and bottom crusts stay equally flaky and crispy; their innards, made here with jam, are sure to be perfectly thick without any of that cornstarch flavor. And I shouldn't forget to mention that hand pies are perfectly portioned, so no more ruining that first slice of pie.

Flavors are limited only by your imagination. I used some of last year's butterscotch peach preserves to fill half of my batch, and Amanda Hesser's strawberry-chile preserves to fill the other. If I'd made the sour cherry jam one day earlier, we'd be having sour cherry hand pies, too. Maybe next year week.

Jam-Filled Hand Pies

For the crust:

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 2 tablespoons sugar 1 teaspoon salt 2 sticks unsalted butter, very cold, cut into small pieces

1 1/2 cups jam(s) 1 egg, for brushing turbinado sugar, for sprinkling

Put all ingredients in a mixing bowl or a food processor. If using a processor, pulse 6-8 times, until butter is in pea-sized pieces. If mixing manually, use either a pastry cutter, a fork, or your fingers (that's what I used) to break the butter into the flour, stopping when the butter is in pea-sized pieces. Sprinkle 1/2 cup ice cold water over the flour-butter mixture, and use a stiff spatula to fold together. It really should be moist enough, but if it's not, add a couple more tablespoons water, just until the dough comes together. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate about 30 minutes, until no longer soft.

Preheat oven to 375. On lightly floured surface, roll out half the dough to about 1/4-inch thick. slice into 4" x 6" rectangles. With the short end of a rectangle facing you, spread 1 1/2 tablespoons of jam horizontally, a bit more than halfway past the center, leaving a 1/2-inch border on either side. You're going to fold the long half over itself, so spread jam such that after folding the tart in half, you'll have jam running throughout the tart. Use the tines of a fork to seal the edges of each tart. Brush the tops with egg, sprinkle with sugar, and make three small diagonal incisions on each tart.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper, and place finished tarts on the sheet about 1/2 inch apart. Bake 25 minutes, until tops are a light golden brown and pastry no longer feels raw or soft. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.

Vanilla Custard Strawberry Tart

I find it hard to put a finger on what makes vanilla so special. It's the girl next door to chocolate's cheerleader popularity, the "best supporting actor" to every winning cake. Vanilla is so subtle, so modest, it's easy to take it for granted. Well, don't.

Since spring produce is in abundance, I've been playing around with fruit. You've seen me make my new favorite staple, rhubarb curd, and I've also whipped rhubarb into a lovely puree with thyme, inspired by yet another recipe on food52. But last week, the season's first strawberries cropped up, so I shifted gears. I love strawberry season: it rings in the months of shortcake and jam (I made fantastic preserved strawberries with guajillo chilies, based on Amanda's recipe on Food52). But when the whole market smells like strawberries, it'd be a sin not to serve at least some of the crop fresh and unadulterated. So I made a tart to showcase the sweet tartness of the early berries.

Since my rhubarb curd took home a win on Food52, I've been playing around with curds and custards, endlessly entertained by the ability of simple egg yolks to take on so many different forms and textures. I saw a recipe by Karen DeMasco (who is quickly becoming my dessert sensei) for a strawberry lemon curd tart, and decided to riff on the concept. First, I used a cornmeal tart crust (the leftover second half of the dough from this recipe). Second, instead of making straightforward lemon curd, which I find can overpower the gently tart strawberries, I made a vanilla curd, perfumed with a whisper of lemon zest and a drop or two of juice. The curd came out lovely, an ideal contrast to the strawberries. Topped with unsweetened whipped cream, it truly couldn't have been better.

No promises, but I think I've shaken my curd hang-up, for now. Have I passed along the bug?

Vanilla Custard Strawberry Tart

1/2 a recipe of the tart crust used here 1/2 cup whole milk 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar 3 large eggs 3 egg yolks 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt 1 tablespoon lemon juice zest of one lemon 1 teaspoon vanilla seeds and pulp of one vanilla bean (reserve scraped bean for another use) 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, at room temperature

2 pounds (2 pints) fresh strawberries, hulled, rinsed, and halved (quartered if large)

Make crust according to the instructions shared here. On floured parchment paper, roll out dough to a 10-inch round. Transfer dough, on parchment, to refrigerator to chill 10 minutes. Then remove dough and transfer into an 8-inch tart pan, using the excess dough to patch any tears. Gently tuck dough into the crevices of the tart pan, and trim excess so that edge of dough is flush with edge of tart pan. Line with parchment or tin foil, fill with pie weights or beans or rice, and par-bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes, until the edges begin to turn golden. Remove the weights and foil or parchment lining, and bake 20 minutes more, until brown but not burned.

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, bring about 2 inches of water to a boil. In a medium heatproof bowl, whisk together milk, sugar, eggs, egg yolks, salt, lemon juice, lemon zest, vanilla, and vanilla bean pulp. Set the bowl over the saucepan and continue whisking as mixture heats up. After about 10 minutes of stirring, the mixture will have become thick enough that the mixing spoon or whisk will leave a trail. At this point, remove the bowl from the heat and let the curd cool slightly, about 5 minutes. Then whisk in butter, one tab at a time, until it has melted into the curd and the mixture is smooth.

Strain the curd through a fine-mesh sieve into the tart crust; use an offset spatula to smooth the top of the curd and distribute it evenly. Arrange the strawberries in concentric circles over the curd, starting on the outer rim and working your way inward. If not serving immediately, cover tart lightly with plastic wrap and keep in the refrigerator. Remove the outer ring of the tart pan to serve, and plate with a dollop of unsweetened whipped cream.