the messy baker

the messy baker//wanderaven

The Messy Bakerby Charmian Christie

I'm not really inclined to make cobblers and crisps.

I like the challenge of bread baking, and I love to find a good cake recipe that results in a moist, light crumb.

But I typically fail at (or am disappointed in, at least) cobblers and crisps. This is because the topping is almost always a combination of flour, brown sugar, spices, and butter. I always have difficulty with getting that mixture just right; usually it results in pieces that are too big, with lumps of brown sugar or flour, or too crumbly and small, so that it doesn't crisp or is essentially just a floury layer.

Also, most fruit at the height of its season is best rinsed off and eaten out of hand.

the messy baker//wanderaven

But when Rodale gave me the chance to check out this new cookbook and I saw the recipe for Extra-Crispy Peach and Blueberry Crisp, sitting right there next to my local red haven peaches, I was intrigued by its premise.

Christie has us use panko breadcrumbs, instead of trying to get the right consistency with some flour. They, perhaps, don't make for such a lovely texture visually, but they are certainly a great, reliable variation.

Extra-Crispy Peach and Blueberry Crisp 

from The Messy Baker by Charmian Christie


1/2 cup lightly packed brown sugar

1 tablespoon cornstarch

peel of 1 orange

3 cups pitted, peeled, and chopped peaches

4 cups blueberries

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract


1 1/2 cups pank bread crumbs

1/2 cup lightly packed brown sugar

1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/3 cup melted unsalted butter

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. To make the filling: In a small bowl, mix the brown sugar, cornstarch, and orange peel together until evenly combined.
  3. In a large bowl, place the peaches and blueberries. Sprinkle with the vanilla and toss gently to evenly distribute the fruit. Sprinkle the sugar mixture and toss gently to coat evenly. Spoon into an 8"X8" glass baking dish. Level with the back of the spoon.
  4. To make the topping: In a medium bowl, toss the panko, brown sugar, hazelnuts, and salt until well combined. Pour the butter over the crumbs and toss to coat well. Spoon the crumbs evenly over thr fruit. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the fruit is bubbling and the topping is crispy. Allow to cool for 30 to 45 minutes before serving. The crisp can be served warm or at room temperature. Eat as is or topped with Chantilly Cream, ice cream, cream anglaise, or creme fraiche.
the messy baker//wanderaven
the messy baker//wanderaven

I loved the topping on this crisp and the entire thing was not-too-sweet, which highlighted the fruit. Well, mostly the blueberries, that is. I used four large peaches to one punnet of blueberries, and although we could see the peaches, and taste them if we singled a chunk out, they were completely overwhelmed by the blueberries. I would like to re-try this recipe but with only peaches, and I suspect that would be quite tasty.

extra-crispy peach and blueberry crisp (from the messy baker)//wanderaven

As for the book itself:

Really quite fantastic. I love the conversational tone, including the introductions for each recipe. These are not strictly sweet or dessert recipes (as one might rightly anticipate in a cookbook called The Messy Baker), but also include savory recipes with baking components. I also made some delicious empanadas from the book, which I will also post about.

I have a tendency to sort of skim over the beginning pages in a cookbook, to get to the meat of the thing: recipes! but I paid closer attention to this one, since I knew I was going to review it. Christie includes a couple pages in the beginning with "The Messy Manifesto", rules for using her book and making her recipes. She advises patience, and gives the solution to keys associated with each recipe:

Ready in an hour or less: These recipes can be out of the oven in 60 minutes or less.

Done in Stages: You can make these recipes in short stages over time.

Lazy Sunday Afternoon:  These recipes take a bit longer but are worth the time.

Also included is the suggestion to set out ingredients before starting (I love to do this) and reading the recipe - all of the recipe - first (which I desperately need to take to heart). Christie also, later in the book, advises, "Toasting brings out the flavor of nuts and adds crispness. If a recipe calls for toasted nuts and you choose to skip this step, the baked goods won't be as crunchy or flavorful."  This woman has claimed my heart.