Thursday, June 26, 2008

Peach Squares

Two qualities define a great peach square: intense peach flavor and enough sturdiness to allow the squares to be eaten out of hand. How do you make easy, flavorful peach squares with just the right texture? Here's what we discovered.

Test Kitchen Discoveries

Use frozen rather than fresh peaches. Not only are frozen peaches more convenient than fresh (no peeling, pitting, or chopping), but the quality is also more consistent. To concentrate the peach flavor, remove as much excess moisture as possible from the peaches. Chop them first in a food processor and then cook them down in a skillet with peach preserves. A simple streusel filling can serve as both crust and topping if a little more brown sugar is added to the portion reserved for the topping.

STEP BY STEP: How to Make Peach Squares

One mixture is used for both the crust and the topping.

1. Sprinkle the flour, sugar, and nut mixture over the pan and press down firmly, using the flat bottom of a measuring cup to form an even layer.

2. After the crust has been baked, layer the hot peach filling into the pan, then pinch the remaining streusel (the crust mixturewith more brown sugar added) into dime-sized pieces and sprinkle it over the peach filling.

Peach Squares
Makes 24

Although any brand of frozen peaches or peach preserves will work, the test kitchen prefers Whole Foods 365 frozen peaches and Smucker's preserves.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 3/4 cups sliced almonds
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar plus 1 tablespoon
Table salt
12 tablespoons cold unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 1/2 pounds frozen peaches , partially thawed
1/2 cup peach preserves
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Line 13 by 9-inch baking pan with aluminum foil, allowing excess to overhang pan edges. Spray pan with cooking spray. Process flour, 11/4 cups almonds, granulated sugar, 1/3 cup brown sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in food processor until combined, about 5 seconds. Add butter and pulse mixture until it resembles coarse meal (some pea-sized pieces of butter will remain), about twenty 1-second pulses.

2. Transfer 1/2 cup flour mixture to small bowl and set aside. Press remaining flour mixture firmly and evenly into bottom of prepared baking pan (see photo 1). Bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, toss remaining 1 tablespoon brown sugar with reserved flour mixture. Set aside.

3. While crust is baking, remove blade from food processor and wipe out workbowl. Pulse peaches and preserves in food processor until mixture has 1/4-inch chunks, about five 1-second pulses (if larger chunks remain, scrape down sides and pulse 2 more times). Cook peach mixture in large nonstick skillet over high heat until thickened and jam-like, about 10 minutes. Off heat, add pinch salt, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Pour mixture over hot crust.

4. Using fingers, pinch reserved flour mixture to create dime-sized clumps (see photo 2) and sprinkle over peaches. Sprinkle remaining 1/2 cup almonds over top and bake until almonds are golden brown, about 20 minutes. Cool to room temperature, at least 2 hours. Using foil overhang, lift from pan and cut into 24 squares. Squares are best served on day they are baked because the crust can become soggy with time. (See below for reheating instructions.)

To Reheat
To revive, simply place leftover squares side by side (with no spaces in between the squares) on a baking sheet and heat in a 350-degree oven until the bottoms are crisp, 10 to 12 minutes. Allow to cool back to room temperature before eating.

Recipe from an America's Test Kitchen e-mail newsletter.

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