With one foot in summer and the other in fall, September holds my favorite time of year in its hands with warm days and cool nights, the smells of backyard fires and and turning leaves and fresh apple pie drifting through its days. (If you don’t believe me that turning leaves have a smell, you haven’t lived through fall in the Midwest.) September is when the air conditioner is shut off for good and the furnace is not quite yet needed, when it’s perfectly comfortable to grill and yet not odd to make a pot of soup. It’s the last of peaches. Juicy, yellow pears. Caramel apples. Iced tea at lunch. An evening mug of warm apple cider. September almost redeems the unmercifully bitter cold of January. Almost.
September is what I missed most when I lived in Arizona and Florida. September is blue skies and sunshine that’s still warm. It’s watching the trees transform into colors worthy of watercolors, decked in beauty that makes prom dresses and fireworks and rainbows blush in shame. (If you have ever walked the campus of Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin in the fall, there was one perfect tree by the Music-Drama Center that put on the best display of autumnal color I have ever seen. I lived for it every fall I was there. Somehow it made the walk to class and rehearsals and practice sessions a little bit better.)
Right after Labor Day I was craving peach pie and peach cheesecake like nobody’s business. The state of peaches and nectarines this summer was not pleasant, as every batch I bought seemed to be dry and mealy and go straight from hard to bad with no delicious ripe moment to be found. Or maybe it happened at midnight. When I was sleeping. It was sad. Anyway, I thought I could perhaps eek out a bit of good from the peaches I had. I couldn’t decide what to make — pie or cheesecake, and a friend of mine suggested combining the two using a recipe she had for a taffy apple cheesecake pie as “inspiration”. Using that inspiration and a tweaked idea from an online recipe for apple streusel cheesecake bars turned into a dessert that has a little bit of everything (cookie, pie, cheesecake, streusel). It’s a treat that takes summer and fall flavors and layers them together like an autumn outfit. I think it might simply be September in my mouth.
For the record, I think this would also be simply delicious using apples, throwing it more into the beginning of October. But that’s another week for another story. 🙂
First I made a batch of homemade peach pie filling.
Homemade Peach Pie Filling
- 4 large, ripe peaches, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- dash salt
- 1 Tbsp cornstarch
- 2 Tbsp water
In a medium saucepan, cook peaches, sugar, lemon juice, and salt over medium heat until peaches are tender, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. In a small bowl, stir cornstarch into water until smooth; add to peach mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until mixture is thickened. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.
Then I made a cookie crust, using a recipe for Molasses Spice Cookies from my America’s Test Kitchen cookbook. The recipe for the cookies follows. In the words of Christopher Kimball, (in my opinion, at least) they are phenomenonal. Complete the recipe through#3 for the dessert.
Molasses Spice Cookies
from America’s Test Kitchen
- 1/3 cup (2 1/3 oz) granulated sugar, plus 1/2 cup for coating
- 2 1/4 cups (11 1/4 oz) unbleacedh all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- 1/2 tsp ground cloves
- 1/4 tsp ground allspice
- 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
- 1/4 tsp table salt
- 12 Tbsp (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
- 1/3 cup packed (2 1/3 oz) dark brown sugar (I’ve used light brown sugar, too, and it’ll work)
- 1 large egg yolk
- 1 tsp vanilla exract
- 1/2 cup light or dark molasses
- Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 375 degrees. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. Place 1/2 cup of the granulated sugar in a shallow baking dish or pie plate; set aside.
- Whisk the flour, baking soda, spices, and salt together in a medium bowl; set aside.
- In a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, brown sugar, and remaining 1/3 cup granulated sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Decrease the speed to medium-low and add the egg yolk and vaniilla; increase the speed to medium and beat until incorporated, about 20 seconds. Decrease the speed to medium-low and add the molasses; beat until fully incorporated, about 20 seconds, scraping down the bowl once with a rubber spatula (stop the mixer to do this). Decrease the speed to low and add the flour mixture; beat until just incorporated, about 30 seconds, scraping down the bowl once. Give the dough a final stir to ensure that no flour pockets remain. The dough will be soft.
- Divide the dough into 22 portions, each about 1 tablespoon, and roll them between your hands into balls about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter (wetting your hands slightly helps control the stickiness). Working in batches, drop five dough balls into the baking dish with the sugar and toss to coat. Set the dough balls on the prepared baking sheets, spacing them about 2 inches apart. Repeat with the remaining dough.
- Bake one sheet at a time, rotating the baking sheets halfway through the baking time, until the cookies are browned, still puffy, and the edges have begun to set but the centers are still soft (cookies will look raw between the cracks and seem underdone), about 11 minutes. Do not overbake.
- Cool the cookies on the baking sheets for 5 minutes, using a wide metal spatula, transfer the cookies to a wire rack and cool to room temperature.
Then I began to assemble the dessert in layers–cookie, cheesecake, pie filling, streusel topping.
- 1 recipe Molasses Spice Cookies, as above
- 3 large ripe peaches, peeled – 1 chopped, 2 thinly sliced
- 2 (8 oz) packages cream cheese (reduced fat works), softened
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1 large egg
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 recipe homemade peach pie filling (you can use canned here, if desired)
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- 1/2 cup (8 Tbsp) firm butter or margarine, cubed
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease bottom and sides of 9×13″ baking dish. Press cookie dough into bottom of dish. Bake for 10-12 minutes.
- Meanwhile, beat cream cheese, sugar, egg, and vanilla together in medium bowl. Stir in chopped peach. Spread cream cheese mixture evenly over cookie crust.
- Spoon pie filling over cream cheese mixture and spread evenly.
- Lay peach slices in single layer over pie filling.
- Using pastry cutter or fingers, combine flour, brown sugar, and cinnamon in medium bowl until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Sprinkle over top of peaches.
- Bake for 35-40 minutes or until top is golden brown.
- Cool slightly. Refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight. Cut into squares (or slices, depending on how big you want them–I cut into 24) and serve.