Big Sur, apparently, is a region in California famous for outstanding natural beauty. Not many people live there, but many people go to visit and explore where the Santa Lucia Mountains meet the Pacific Ocean. I did not know any of this until about ten minutes ago, but it does sound like an outdoorsy kind of place, doesn’t it? Some people are drawn to places like that. “Why did you climb that mountain?” I might ask them, and they’d reply “Because it’s there.” Fair enough, I’d think. “And was there anything good to eat?”
I don’t climb mountains just because they’re there. I don’t climb them at all. But occasionally a recipe gets published online and it immediately gets a reputation for being delicious, but not worth making as written. Some are too technical, like Heston Blumenthal’s Black Forest Cake (edit: six months later, I actually attempted this), or Dominique Ansel’s cronut and I read them, like science journals, and forget them. Some need too many ingredients, like almost anything by Yotam Ottolenghi, and I think, maybe one day we’ll go to his restaurant, and forget them. Some use far too many processes, but can be made from basic ingredients and baked at home, and I am drawn to these, yes I am. One such recipe was for chocolate babka, the first thing I ever made from Deb Perelman’s amazing Smitten Kitchen blog. Another was Big Sur Bakery’s Brown Butter Peach Bars, which were featured in a preview of the bakery cookbook in the New York Times, and received so much online feedback that they were too complicated, that they were pulled from the cookbook before publication, and so the recipe only exists online.
A couple of bloggers have made them, and had good results. But who has time to make these things? was the general consensus. Well, until a week ago I was unemployed, and wanting to bake something to share with our Bible study group as we start a new year of studies at church. I only started at about 3, and they were ready to bring to church at 6, including baking and cooling time (except for making the jam, which I made a few weeks previously and kept in the fridge). So don’t let the browning of the butter put you off – it’s really very do-able, and I’ve written up a slightly streamlined version of the recipe, which I adapted to use UK measurements (grams instead of cups), fewer dishes, less sugar (and replacing white/icing sugar with brown), and without the orange (following blogger comments that the flavour was overwhelming). I also used nectarines instead of peaches, because we happened to have some that weren’t good to eat – the flavour was amazing, and not-great peaches and nectarines do make seriously great jam.
So, was it worth climbing the mountain of this recipe? I’d definitely make them again – they were dreamy, custard and fruit and buttery biscuit base combining in a balanced, but nuanced way – and the wonderful nutty flavour of the browned butter makes this something very special.