Updated: Jun 5
Last summer, my partner Erin and I went on a week-long camping trip to Maine, just the two of us. We'd planned on hiking the West Highland Way in Scotland, but due to COVID, that trip was cancelled and a new journey was born. After a brief bout of disappointment, we leaned into the new, closer-to-home adventure until it held its own and was perfect in its own right, practically sparkling with its own magic.
For the last couple of years, we've been slowly reading our way through our favorite book of love letters between Rachel Carson and her beloved Dorothy Freeman. We planned this trip as a pilgrimage of sorts, to visit the place where Rachel and Dorothy first met, where they listened to veeries and hermit thrushes together, where they found a magical kind of love, and where Rachel was inspired to write some of her most influential books.
May 30, 1955
"Tonight, my Beloved, I heard veeries singing on Southport--in West Southport--on the Dogfish Head Road--but best of all--and can you believe this?--at the juncture of the road where we turn to go sharply around the corner to the Dream House... can you imagine how I felt, darling...You must know the warm glow that spread over me, but you must also know the dull ache too because you aren't here to share it. Oh how I pray they'll stay until you come."
Just like Rachel and Dorothy, we spent our time slowly walking trail after trail, touching all the moss, photographing all the wild flowers, listening for all the hermit thrushes and veeries. We allowed ourselves to go so wonderfully slowly that time seemed to expand around us.
More practically speaking, we ate really, really well on our camping to Maine. We brainstormed all the meals ahead of time (one of my Very Favorite Things to Do) until a master list was created. At camp, we'd spend long, leisurely hours concocting them. Usually, Erin would make coffee while I'd cook breakfast (and madly type recipe notes with sticky fingers), and then (wonder of wonders) she'd do the washing up.
One of the best breakfasts I made was this marvelous concoction of Caramelized Peach & Ricotta Brioche Buns. I dreamed it up because peaches were in season, Erin is a ricotta fiend, and who doesn't love browned-butter toasted brioche? So this recipe! It's wicked good and wicked simple. Read on for more.
Caramelized Peach & Ricotta Brioche Buns
This recipe is a speedy, yet sophisticated and delicious summery breakfast or dessert. It involves toasting lightly sweet brioche buns in browned butter, and cooking peach slices until they turn golden. They're then layered together in a messy pile, with a smear of creamy, cooling ricotta cheese between them.
Different recipes for different bike tours
If you're on the road for a long time, this recipe can be tricky--it can be difficult to carry something as fresh and ephemeral as ricotta cheese when you don't have a refrigerator! However, should you find yourself at the right store at the right time (it does happen), you can easily make this recipe. If you can't manage to get fresh ricotta right before you need it, simply leave it out: buttery brioche with caramelized peaches would be amazing, too!
If you're going on a short overnight trip close to home, when there's little time for fresh foods to spoil, you should have no trouble making this recipe. The same goes for those who are on long tours but who are staying in a town for a few days, with easy access to local shops.
Bike Camp Cooking Techniques Used
When you learn cooking methods in addition to recipes, you'll find it much easier to "wing it" when you're on the road. This recipe uses two of my favorite tried-and-true cooking techniques.
When it comes to eating bread products on tour, the pan-toasting technique can add a ton of flavor to what otherwise might become boring. Basically, this involves "toasting" bread with a small amount of butter or oil in a nonstick frying pan until the bread develops a little color.
While I recommend this for any and all bread, it makes the biggest difference when all you have is bread that's battered from being in your panniers, or verging on overly dry / stale. It'll be a huge improvement!
After pan-toasting, add salt and garlic powder for a simple garlic bread, cinnamon and sugar for a sweet treat, or keep it simple and eat it as-is.
Fruit-caramelizing involves sautéing fruit in a little butter until it browns, giving it a deeper, more complex flavor than it would have otherwise. This method works well with many fruits: peaches, apricots, nectarines, plums, pears, bananas, etc.
If you caramelize good fruit, you're in for a warm, delicious alternative to simply eating it fresh. If you caramelize fruit that would otherwise be slightly mediocre, like an apricot that's too hard, or a peach that got bruised in your pannier, you'll render them edible. Delicious, even!
Use caramelized fruit on pancakes, in crêpes (I've got the best recipe in my cookbook!), with yogurt, on pan-toasted bread, etc. Let your imagination run wild!
Whether due to food sensitivities or availabilities, you'll likely need to make some ingredient substitutions at some point. Here are some ideas of how to make that happen in this recipe.
If you’re vegan, you could use vegan cream cheese, vegan ricotta, or just leave it off. Use vegan butter, or more practically (since I have a hunch that vegan butter would melt super quickly in your panniers), light olive oil.
If you can’t find ricotta, you could use cream cheese, brie (though it would change the intended flavor quite a bit), Greek yogurt, or cottage cheese. Or, just leave out the creamy layer.
If you’re gluten-free, use GF baked goods.
If you can't find brioche buns, no worries! I originally wanted to make this recipe using croissants, but I couldn't find any when it came time to make it. You could substitute croissants, brioche bread slices, regular bread slices, or just about any neutral / sweet baked good that will hold up to pan-toasting.
If you don’t have butter, you can use light olive oil. The bread won’t taste buttery, but instead it will have a slight flavor of donuts or fritters, both of which are fried in hot oil.
If you don't have peaches, you could try this with another fruit like apricots, plums, or nectarines.
What to do with leftovers
Depending on how many people (if any) you're touring with, and depending on the quantity of food you've purchased, you may wind up with leftovers. This can be tricky when you don't have a refrigerator! That's okay, though--good meals tend to tumble from one into the next, and learning to get creative about utilizing any leftover food will help build your culinary prowess.
Leftover ricotta can be used at lunch-- add chopped garlic, herbs, spices, cucumber, or tomatoes. Spread on a piece of bread, or plop onto some couscous! The possibilities are endless.
Leftover buns can be pan-toasted, and sprinkled with garlic powder and salt for a savory garlic-bread-like treat.
Leftover peaches can be eaten plain. Or, you can turn them into jam, as I recommend in my cookbook. Or, you could add some lime juice, salt, onion, and minced jalapenos for a tasty peach salsa. Heck, you could go nuts and add some cilantro, too!
Caramelized Peach & Ricotta Brioche Buns: the recipe
Breakfast, dessert, snack time!
Always read the entire recipe before beginning. I know you're hungry, but just do it.
Always check your fuel level first. In this particular case, it wouldn't be the end of the world if you ran out of fuel, but it's a good habit to get into.
Get all of your ingredients ready before lighting your stove.
2 small brioche buns per person
(I used small, fancy brioche hamburger buns, but you could also use a single, large croissant per person, or a slice or two of brioche or challah.)
1-2 peaches per person (two if there are bad spots you'll be cutting off)
(I find that yellow peaches work slightly better here than white peaches)
1 tablespoon butter per person
(divided: half for the buns, half for the peaches)
1-3 teaspoons of sugar per person
(or just sprinkle, sprinkle, sprinkle, winging it)
a pinch or two of salt per person
Leftover peaches can be eaten plain. Or, you can turn them into jam, as I recommend in my cookbook. Or, you could add some lime juice, salt, onion, and minced jalapeños for a tasty peach salsa. Heck, you could go nuts and add some cilantro, too!
First, prepare your ingredients:
Get out the buns, peaches, butter, sugar, salt, and ricotta. Slice the buns in half, and set them aside. A large cooking pot works nicely for this. Then, on a cutting board, cut the peaches into wedges, discarding any bad spots. Add half of the butter to a nonstick frying pan.
Now, get cooking! Prime and light your stove, and turn it to a low flame.
Holding the pan a couple inches above the stove, swirl it around until the butter melts. Then, add the buns cut-side down to the pool of butter, and cook, again holding them a couple inches above the stove, moving the pan around so each bun gets some heat.
After a minute or so, peek at the buns. When golden, or just, slightly brownish, remove the buns and place them back in your large cooking pot. Continue until all buns are toasted.
Add the rest of the butter to the pan, and melt it the same way you did before. Then, off the heat, add the peaches to the pan. Sprinkle liberally with sugar, and add a pinch or two of salt. Carefully give them a stir, taking care not to push any peaches overboard.
Set the pan on the stove to cook, always keeping a hand ready so you can lift and maneuver it, making sure all peaches get some heat. As the peaches cook, the juices will start to come out, and then peaches will soften. Eventually, the juices will thicken again, and the peaches will start to caramelize. Rotate them gently with a spatula or spork so you can see the undersides, and flip them when they're brown.
Try not to fuss with them or stir them, or you'll end up with peach sauce. (Which wouldn't be bad, either). There’s no way to mess this up— if you get nervous before the peaches get truly brown, take them off the heat. They’ll still be good. If you can, wait until the peaches really become dark. If you burn them, call it “peach brûlée” and eat them anyway. They’ll still be good.
When the peaches are done to your liking, take them off the heat, and turn off the stove.
Now, assemble your messy buns: blop a couple tablespoons of ricotta onto each toasted bun half, and spoon peaches evenly over them. Revel in the towers of deliciousness. Happy summer!