The last week has been beautiful in Shanghai – the grey haze has finally lifted. Bright blue skies and just the right temperature. So I haven’t really had the self discipline to write much.

But right now I’m inside, and sitting on hold with an airline. Right this moment, their background music is driving me batty, and I have every intention of holding that against them for the amount of time they keep me on hold. When I’m on hold through Skype, listening to this crappy music that I can’t mute, lest I miss the real human being on the other end of the line, I can actually watch the seconds tick away.

You’ve always known instinctively that when the machine answers and a recording says “your call will be answered in 5-10 minutes!” that they’re lying to you. But now I have proof. Ticking proof. [The call just dropped after 19 minutes. Seriously?]. So I figured I’d take advantage of this time that I’m inside and in front of a computer to tell you about these absolutely perfect little brown bettys that we made.

This dessert is completely the lazy man’s version of a fruit pie. Crust? Not so much. Sandwich bread? Yeah, just a little. It’s unfussy and quick, and at the end you have something that tastes like it would have taken much longer.

Traditionally, these are made with apples, but peach season just started here and it’s really hard to turn away from a beautiful fresh peach, so I improvised. You should do the same with what ever you like best, and whatever’s in season – just add another flavor that complements your fruit well. Apples and cinnamon, peaches and cardamom, strawberries and brown butter, rhubarb (actually a vegetable disguised as a fruit) and almonds – really, whatever strikes your fancy.

Peach and Cardamom Little Brown Bettys
Adapted from Gourmet, April 2009


3/4 stick unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
6 slices brioche, or any good white sandwich bread, crusts removed
3 peaches
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cardamom, freshly ground if possible


1. Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Lightly butter muffin cups with some of melted butter, then sprinkle with granulated sugar.

2. Roll bread slices with a rolling pin to flatten, or just smoosh it out with the heel of your hand. Brush both sides with some of remaining melted butter, then gently fit into muffin cups. I found the best way to do this was to hold the bread like a diamond instead of a square, and then push two of the corners into the middle. Once in the muffin pan, you can smooth the two corners against the side of the muffin tin, for a perfect fit without risking tearing the bread.

3. Rub the skin off of the peaches and cut into 1/2-inch pieces. Stir together with brown sugar and cardamom. Coat with remaining melted butter. Heap peach mixture into cups, pressing gently. The fruit will bake down a lot, so do make sure you add enough in each cup.

4. Cover pan with foil and bake 30 minutes. Uncover and bake until apples are tender, about 20 minutes more. Let stand 5 minutes before removing from pan. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Critic’s Comments

“I think what was really interesting is that it was just a piece of sandwich bread, and after the baking it came out like a cohesive tart. It was a great summer snack, but it made me want more pie.”