Saturday, July 30, 2011

Nectarine and Almond Crisp

A twist on the always-popular fruit crisps, this one is perfect as we enter August when this fruit is ripe and plentiful here in the Midwest of the USA.  As blueberries are also ripe now, nectarines are often paired with blueberries at this time of the year and I encourage you to try that classic combination as well.  Peaches also make great crisps, but for one reason I'll discuss below, nectarines are preferred.

Partially Covered Crisp
I'm sort of a crisp fanatic.  Nothing is really easier than putting a crisp together for dessert that will feed a crowd.  I suppose the most famous is the apple crisp, and I make most of these desserts without a recipe.  If you make them often, you'll do this too knowing just the right combination of spices and how to put the ingredients together quickly for your crumb topping.

The issue with any fruit recipe (crisp or pie) is determining how juicy the fruit is.  This is really important for a pie as you don't want the fruit to slide out of the crust when serving.  It's less of an issue with a crisp as you spoon it into the serving dishes, or make it in individual ramekins.  With all fruit recipes, let the fruit rest coated in the sugar seasoning while you prepare the topping.  You'll soon see how much juice you will have to deal with and can increase or decrease the amount of thickening you add to the fruit to accommodate the amount of juice.  The more juice that exudes from the fruit, the more thickener you will need to add to the recipe.

Most classic crisp recipes call for a crumb topping made with rolled oats and brown sugar. Together with the tender, juicy fruit and berries, it makes a homey,  country dessert that reminds us of mom, fruit orchards and the smells of late summer.  However, in this recipe, which I found in Bon Appetit Desserts and subsequently modified, the topping contains no rolled oats, and the classic cinnamon is replaced by cardamom.  As this spice isn't always easy to find, I've given you the cinnamon substitute amounts as well.  Additionally, in this recipe an almond paste is used to provide a nutty flavor which pairs perfectly with this fruit.

Nectarines and peaches actually come from the same tree.  Early Asian botanists noticed that nectarines sometimes appeared on a peach tree, or vice versa. As peach trees were crossed, they sometimes produced nectarines. Once genetics became more fully understood, they realized that the difference between a peach and a nectarine was actually a recessive gene which determines whether or not the resulting fruit will be fuzzy. If both parent trees pass on a copy of this gene to a seedling, the result will be a nectarine. Otherwise, a peach and a nectarine are genetically identical.  So unlike peaches, nectarines do not need to be peeled before baking.  Anyone that has peeled peaches through the blanching method knows this can be time consuming and sometimes difficult if the fruit is not very ripe.  As such, nectarines are preferable to peaches for crisps.   However, like peaches nectarines come in two basic varieties, free stone and cling.  Now you would think your produce provider would clearly mark these, but sadly this is not the case.  While you can easily know what most canned fruits are in this regard, I find it very difficult to determine if I'm buying cling or free stone nectarines (or peaches.)  As the name suggests, you want free stone fruit so it easily peels away from the pit.  However, even with a cling fruit, you can pretty simply cut the stone out of the fruit and continue on with the recipe.

3 pounds  nectarines
1/2 cup  apricot preserves -- slightly warmed
1/4 cup  brown sugar, packed -- light/golden preferred
1 tablespoon  flour
1 tablespoon  potato starch -- or other thickener
1 teaspoon  cinnamon -- or  1/2 tsp cardamom
1/2 teaspoon  ground ginger

3/4 cup  all-purpose flour
1/4 cup  brown sugar, packed -- light/golden preferred
1 teaspoon  cinnamon -- or 3/4 tsp cardamom
1/2 teaspoon  ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon  salt
1/3 cup  almond paste -- crumbled
6 tablespoons  butter -- chilled and cut into small cubes
1 1/2 cups  sliced almonds

Preheat the oven to 375F and butter (or spray with food release) an 11 x 7 x 2 inch glass baking dishing. 

Nectarines do not need to be peeled for this recipe.  Simply wash, pit and slice in half, then slice each half into four pieces.  With the nectarines in a mixing bowl add apricot preserves, brown sugar, flour, potato starch, cinnamon and ginger.  Toss gently until nectarines are evenly coated. 

Let sit on the bowl while you prepare the topping.

Topping can be made using either a pastry cutter or a food processor.  Blend the flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger and salt.  Cut in the almond paste (if using the processor, pulse to cut the paste into the flour) until fine crumbs form.  Add the butter and cut in.  You should now have a granular crumb topping.  Gently fold in the sliced almonds.

Check the nectarine mixture and determine if there is a significant amount of juice in the bowl.  If so, add some additional thickener and stir.  Turn the mixture into your prepared baking dish and sprinkling with the topping.

Bake for 30-35 minutes until the nectarines are tender and juices are bubbling.  Allow to cool for 2 hours before serving slightly warm or at room temperature.  I most always serve my crisps with ice cream in the summer time, and poured cream in the winter.

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