peach cheesecake cookie bars

Oh, sweet, sweet, beautiful peaches. South Carolina’s gold, the southeastern United States’ pride, a symbol of Southern charm and grace (although, dare I say, that I believe California is the US’ number one peach producer, with Georgia actually being third behind SC). Regional competition and rivalry aside, peaches are probably the fruit that I anticipate the most when summer settles in (oo, strawberries. Hmm. Argh, and then there’s blueberries. Okay, okay, I can’t decide). The pretty fuzz, the sound of the pit being removed from the fruit, the gentle transition of red to orange to yellow in the center. Mm. Mm, mm, mm.

On the fourth of July, my husband and I spent the day at his parents’ house, swimming and doing a lot of eating. Somehow we ended up with these peach cheesecake cookie bars, peach cobbler, peach drinks, and peach ice cream. I think somewhere in there we had some meat and perhaps a vegetable, but those were scarfed down rather quickly while we kept our eyes on that dessert table. These bars are kind of a combination of several desserts: the bottom crust is like a shortbread, the middle cheesecake layer being the star of the show, and the top gives it almost a pie taste with an oatmeal cinnamon crumble.

peach cheesecake cookie bars
prep time: 25 minutes cook time: 35 minutes yield: 12 servings
cookie crust
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1/3 cup unrefined sugar
pinch of salt
1 3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tbsp cold water

peach cheesecake filling
10 oz cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup unrefined sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 peaches, peeled and pitted and cut into 1/2 inch cubes

oatmeal crumble topping
1 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup old-fashioned oats
dash of ground cinnamon
1 stick unsalted butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 350º. For the cookie crust, cream the butter, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Gradually add the flour a little at a time, mixing after each addition, and rubbing the last bit of flour in with your hands to make it crumbly. Add the cold water and bring together. Press the mixture evenly into the bottom and slightly up the sides in a greased square baking pan and chill in the freezer for 5 minutes. Bake for 15 minutes and remove to let cool.
While the crust in cooking, prepare the oatmeal topping. In a large bowl, combine the brown sugar, flour, oats, and cinnamon and then toss with the melted butter. Rub together with your fingers until the mixture becomes crumbly.
For the cheesecake filling, combine the cream cheese and sugar in a bowl and beat with a mixer until smooth. Mix in the egg and vanilla until just incorporated. By hand, fold in the peach cubes, being careful not to overmix.
Lower the heat in the oven to 325º. Pour the cheesecake mixture into the prepared cookie crust and spread evenly. Crumble the oatmeal topping over the cheesecake filling and bake for about 35 minutes until the pan looks set when given a shake and the top looks dry.
Let cool completely and then chill in the refrigerator before cutting into squares.

My sister has a very successful peach tree in her side yard and it explodes these cute, little peaches out of its branches relatively quickly every summer. I mean, the tree can’t even hold these babies. Its limbs drag the ground and hang out into the road and cars swerve around it trying to protect its heavy-set beauty. Okay, cars don’t really swerve and crash or anything. My sister isn’t evading the law. She maintains the tree pretty well. The point is, peach trees love this climate, the soil here, and are so good at pumping out food. It’s so cool. Agriculture is a beautiful thing.