Earlier this summer, when strawberries were at their peak, I had a spectacular culinary failure. I had dreamed of making a sweet tart with layers of strawberries and tarragon spiked pastry cream, finished with a balsamic syrup. I baked a nice crust, I had ripe, red strawberries, and although it made a mess and made me cough with its acidic smell and splatter, I made a nice-ish balsamic syrup reduction. The problem? The pastry cream. It was thick and chalky and a huge disappointment, making me feel like I’d wasted the other ingredients and effort.
So when I saw peaches still available at my local produce stand months later, I yearned to make another sweet and nutty tart but feared the pastry cream making process. Yet peaches need to be paired with something creamy, no? Well, I suppose they don’t need to, but it just isn’t a luxurious feeling dessert without some. I’d had recent success with making a crumble bar, so I knew what direction the crust should take and then it occurred to me– why not get the same creamy layer but even better, slightly tangy flavor with a shortcut from creme fraiche rather than make a pastry cream? After all, creme fraiche worked so nicely in this crostata and in this pie.
So I put together my crumble crust and sliced up my peaches. The peaches were tossed in a mixture of cinnamon, light brown sugar, and a dab of almond extract. I let the peaches macerate for a bit then added the juice to my creme fraiche to sweeten it slightly. That mixture was then spread on the slightly cooled, shortbread-like crust before shingling the peach slices in a hopefully pretty pattern. Topped with more crumble crust and baked, once cooled, and cut into, I had bars with delicious layers of buttery, sweet shortbread, firm peach slices, nutty crumble topping, but best of all– a melting layer of custardy, tangy creme fraiche. My one regret was not thinking of making these earlier with more flavorful peaches, but that regret will be easily remedied first thing next July when I revisit these crumble bars again… and again… and again…
- 1 cup almond slices, toasted
- 2 sticks unsalted butter, cold and cut into 1 inch pieces.
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt plus a pinch, divided
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
- 3 medium, ripe peaches, sliced into 1/4 inch thick slices
- 1/4 cup light brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon almond extract
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 8 oz creme fraiche
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. In a food processor fitted with a steel blade, add the flour, sugar, baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Pulse a few times to combine. Add the cold butter pieces and pulse until mixture is crumbly and has the consistency of grated parmesan cheese. Add the egg and vanilla and pulse until distributed.
In a 13 x 9 baking pan, add half of the shortbread crust mixture and pat into a uniform crust. Refrigerate the rest until ready to use. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden. Cool on a wire rack for about 15 minutes while you assemble the filling mixture.
In a large bowl, toss the peach slices with brown sugar, cinnamon, almond extract, and pinch of salt. Let this sit for 15 minutes then strain the peaches from the exuded juices, mixing about 2 tablespoons of the juice into the creme fraiche. Spread the creme fraiche and juice mixture on top of the slightly cooled crust. Top with slices of peaches, making an even single layer. Mix almonds into remaining crust mixture then sprinkle on top of peaches. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until top crust mixture is golden. Let cool completely to room temperature before slicing into 2 x 2 inch squares. Yields 24 crumble bars.