What to do with pounds of peaches?

This peach baluchon preserves the golden taste of summer. BY JACK CLEMONS
August 25, 2014

You catch their fragrance before you ever see them; the lush scent of perfectly ripe peaches draws you toward them. Walking through Lloyd’s Market in Lewes, you find bright-red baskets at every turn, filled to the brim with golden and rose-tinted beauties. All of the farmers markets, roadside stands and supermarket chains are offering these signature summer fruits sourced from local orchards.

Of course, without any self-control, we bring home pounds and pounds, freezing some for future smoothies, slicing them on breakfast cereal or just eating them as the juice runs down our arms and drips off our elbows. We’ve baked a few into tarts and traditional cobblers, which prompted me to look into the history of fruit desserts.

All of the oddly named treats are simply a variation on a pie: crust and filling. They range from grunts and slumps to buckles and crumbles, each with a specific twist. Cobblers are a deep-dish delight of sliced fruit baked beneath a drop-biscuit or batter topping, easiest of all to assemble. Crisps and crumbles are similar, but instead of biscuit dough, their topping is a crumbly mixture of flour, rolled oats or cookie crumbs mixed with nuts and butter.

Grunts and slumps are more like pudding, where the fruit is cooked into a dumpling-textured mixture on the top of the stove, typically served warm. Buckles are cakes with berries mixed into the batter and topped with streusel. Finally, you have the dessert in the photo, something altogether different and called a baluchon (French for valise or satchel).

These begin with sheets of puff pastry (which I have never attempted to make, instead turning always to the box from Pepperidge Farm in the grocer’s freezer). Because the peaches in this dish were so perfectly ripe, their flavor deserved to take center stage, so we opted to wrap them in a lighter-textured pastry than the denser biscuit-topped cobbler, hence puff pastry.

While the frozen pastry defrosted, the first step was to whisk together a crème pâtissière or confectioner’s custard. This is made from milk or cream and egg yolks cooked with a thickening agent such as flour or cornstarch. The custard is typically flavored with vanilla, and the consistency can vary from a thin pouring sauce (known as crème anglaise) to the thick filling found in creampuffs, eclairs and these baluchons.

Since peaches and almonds have such a flavor affinity, I replaced the vanilla bean with almond extract in the crème. It comes together very quickly and can easily over-thicken, so be sure to watch carefully as you combine the milk with the egg yolk and cornstarch. This recipe is not very sweet, again to give the peachy sweetness a chance to shine.

An egg wash and dusting of cinnamon sugar on the pastry gives a slight crunch and delicate crust. Delicious as a light dessert or as a breakfast pastry, these lovely peach baluchons are a satchel filled with summer flavor.

Crème Pâtissière

1 C half & half
2 t almond extract
3 egg yolks
1/4 C sugar
1/4 C cornstarch
1 T butter

Place half & half in a saucepan over medium-high heat; stir in almond extract and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, beat together egg yolks, sugar and cornstarch until completely smooth. When half & half begins to boil, remove from heat and add egg mixture, whisking constantly. Add butter and stir to combine. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, making sure the wrap touches the surface of the crème (this will prevent a film from forming). Refrigerate until cool.

Peach Baluchon

crème pâtissière
2 sheets frozen puff pastry
4 peaches
2 T cream
1 egg yolk
1 T sugar
1/2 t cinnamon

Defrost puff pastry according to package directions. Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper; set aside. Pit, peel and thinly slice the peaches; set aside. Unroll pastry sheets and cut each into 4 squares. Place a large dollop of  crème pâtissière in the center of each square. Arrange peach slices on top and bring up the four corners of pastry to meet in the center. Whisk together cream and egg yolk; brush pastry with egg wash. Stir together sugar and cinnamon; generously sprinkle over the pastry. Bake until puffed and golden, about 20 minutes. Yield: 8 servings.

Easy Peach Cobbler

1/2 C butter
4 C peeled, sliced peaches
1 C sugar
2 T lemon juice
1 C flour
1 C sugar
1 T baking powder
1/4 t salt
1 t cinnamon
1/2 t nutmeg
1 C milk

Preheat oven to 350 F. Place butter in 13-by-9-inch baking pan and place in oven to melt. Place the peaches in a microwave-safe bowl and sprinkle with 1 C sugar. Add lemon juice and stir to combine. Microwave on high for 1 minute to melt the sugar; set aside. In a mixing bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Add milk and stir until blended. Pour the batter into the pan, spreading it evenly over the melted butter. Pour the peaches over the batter as evenly as possible - do not stir. Bake until firm and golden, about 55 minutes. Serve warm. Yield: 8 servings.