- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 31, 2004

In Amherst, Mass., we don’t have to look at the calendar to know that Labor Day is on its way. In early September, thousands of students in cars, vans and U-Hauls fill the roads leading into our town, which has three colleges: the University of Massachusetts, Hampshire College and Amherst College.

I’ve decided to invite two couples to a Sunday supper, and, because it’s a busy time, the menu will be simple. Chickens marinated in lemon juice, fruity olive oil and lots of crushed pepper, grilled until charred outside but tender and juicy beneath, will anchor the menu.

Side dishes will include a vibrant salad made with heirloom tomatoes in red, orange, green and yellow hues dressed in a balsamic vinaigrette, plus corn on the cob brushed with herb butter.

A scrumptious crisp made with fresh peaches baked under a crunchy topping of chopped pecans and toffee bits will end our meal.

The dessert is a recipe I’ve been fine-tuning for the past few weeks. Crisps and crumbles have a traditional top layer made with butter, flour, sugar and nuts (and sometimes oats).

To this list, I added toffee bits (readily available in most supermarkets) and found that they provided extra texture and a delicious hint of caramel flavor.

My new topping worked beautifully as a cover for sweetened peaches. Served warm with an indulgent garnish of softly whipped cream, this crisp would make a fine dessert for any Labor Day celebration.

Peach toffee pecan crisp

The crisp can be made 4 hours ahead; leave at cool room temperature. Reheat in 350-degree oven 15 minutes or until heated through.

FILLING:

2½ pounds ripe but not soft peaches

6 tablespoons light brown sugar

1/4 cup flour

1½ teaspoons grated lemon zest (yellow portion of the rind)

TOPPING:

3/4 cup chopped pecans

½ cup flour

½ cup toffee bits (see note)

6 tablespoons light brown sugar

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and diced, plus a little extra for greasing the baking dish

1 cup heavy or whipping cream

2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar, plus a little extra for garnish

6 mint sprigs for garnish, optional

Butter a shallow, 2-quart oven-to-table baking dish.

To make the filling, bring a large saucepan filled 3/4 full of water to a boil and drop in several peaches at a time for 20 to 30 seconds.

Remove them with a slotted spoon to a bowl of cold water to cool a few seconds. Then, with a sharp knife, peel peaches and discard skins. Slice peaches into ½-inch-thick wedges. You should get about 6 cups.

In a large bowl, mix together brown sugar, 1/4 cup flour and lemon zest. Add peaches and toss to coat well. Spoon peaches into prepared dish.

To make the topping, in a medium bowl, mix together pecans, ½ cup flour, toffee bits, brown sugar and butter. Rub together using your fingertips until mixture resembles pea-sized clumps. Scatter topping evenly over peaches. Bake on center rack of preheated 350-degree oven until peaches are tender and bubbling and topping is golden brown and crisp, 30 to 35 minutes. Remove and cool 10 minutes.

Whip cream until firm but not stiff. Then beat in confectioners’ sugar. Place cream in a serving bowl. Dust crisp with a little extra confectioners’ sugar. Serve each portion warm, garnished with a dollop of whipped cream and a mint sprig, if desired. Makes 6 servings.

Note: Hershey’s Skor brand Bits o Brickle works well in this recipe. Do not use chocolate-coated toffee bits.

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