Sunday, August 21, 2005

Peach pie with a flaky pastry crust

When I was in high school, my stepmother took me to a friend's orchard that grew O'Henry peaches; we loaded up with crates full of fresh, tree-ripened peaches, and I've never been the same since. While I love to eat a good ripe peach, my absolute favorite way to eat peaches is in homemade pies. I baked my SO's mom a peach pie today, so it's this week's end-of-the-week recipe blogging post.

As I've said before, a critical part of a homemade pie is the crust: it's relatively easy to make with practice, and is well worth the effort. The flaky pastry crust I make is similar to the ones I included with the pear pie and plum galette recipes, though in this version I describe how to make the dough by hand (without a food processor). I usually make my pie crust doughs by hand, but if you prefer the food processor method just use frozen butter and follow the directions in the other recipes.

Flaky pastry crust
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter, cold (not frozen), unsalted (reduce the salt added above if using salted butter)
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon ice-cold water (plus a bit extra)

Peach filling
5 cups peeled, pitted, and sliced peaches (~2 1/2 pounds whole peaches)
1/2 cup sugar (up to 3/4 cup if the peaches aren't very sweet)
1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) cornstarch
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon salt

Assembly ingredients
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Cool water (enough to moisten the edge of the crust)
Milk (enough to moisten the top of the crust)
Granulated sugar (~2 teaspoons)

To make the crust:
1) Put the flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl and mix. I typically use a pastry blender to do this, though a fork or whisk also work.
2) Cut the butter into approximately tablespoon-sized pieces, and add to the flour mixture. Use a pastry blender, fork, knives, or your fingers to cut the butter into the flour, stopping when the largest chunks of butter are pea-sized and most of the butter is in very small pieces. Be careful not to melt the butter.
3) Add the ice water and cut the water into the dough with a spatula (or table knife) until the dough starts to hold together. If there is still a lot of dry dough in the bowl, add another tablespoon or two of extra water (I usually end up adding about an extra tablespoon).
4) Compress the dough together with your hands, divide it in half, and pat each half into a disk. If the dough is relatively warm and sticky, wrap it in plastic wrap and put it in the fridge for a short period (~15 minutes) until it is firmer, though I find the dough is usually cool enough to roll right away.
5) Use a floured rolling pin on a well-floured work surface to roll half the dough into a circle approximately 14 inches wide (or a few inches wider than your pan). Rolling the dough takes a bit of practice to do well, though I've found that even when I have apparently fatal flaws, they're rarely apparent in the final pie. If the dough develops holes or cracks, you can usually moisten (with water) another piece of dough, press it on top of the crack, dust it with flour, and then continue rolling the crust as normal. I'll slip a rimless baking sheet underneath the dough every now and then, adding some flour underneath the crust, to prevent it from sticking to the countertop. Joy of Cooking has a very useful section on rolling pie crust if you've never done it before.
6) Transfer the rolled-out pie crust into your pie pan (I use my rimless baking sheet to do this; you can also roll the dough around the rolling pin and then roll the dough out into the pan) and trim the crust so it overhangs the edge of the pan by ~1". Cover the pan with plastic wrap, and put into the fridge.
7) Roll out the second half of your pie crust (again to ~3-4 inches wider than your pan), place on a cookie sheet or other large, flat surface, cover with plastic wrap, and put it in the fridge.

To make the filling:
1) Remove the skin and pit from the peaches, and then slice into 1/4 to 1/2" thick slices. The easiest way to remove the skin is to place whole peaches into a pot of boiling water for 1 minute; once removed from the water and cooled, the skin often peels off in very large pieces. If the skin doesn't come off easily even after a short boil, I use a paring knife to slice off the skin.
2) Mix the sliced peaches, sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice, and salt in a large bowl. Let stand at room temperature for approximately 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Assembling the pie:
0) Preheat the oven to 425F.
1) If the pie crust has been in the fridge for a while, I like to take it out a few minutes before assembly to allow the dough to soften a bit.
2) Pour the pie filling into the pie pan that's been lined with pie crust.
3) Cut the 2 tablespoons of butter into small pieces and sprinkle them over the pie filling.
4) Moisten the edges of the pie crust in the pan with cool water (I use a 1-inch brush to do this), and then slide the top crust onto the pie pan.
5) My pie crusts are usually rolled out far too wide for the pan, so at this point I take a pair of scissors and trim both the top and bottom crusts so they overhang the edge of the pan by approximately 1/2 to 3/4 inch.
6) Seal the pie crust. There are many ways to do this, so use whatever technique you know. Personally, I take the overhanging pie crust, press the top and bottom pieces together, and then fold them under the pie crust that is resting on the edge of the pan. I then trim off any large clumps of dough overhanging the edge (with scissors), use a fork to crimp the edge, and then use scissors to trim off any remaining bulging pieces of dough.
7) Cut vent holes in the top of the pie, brush the top of the crust with milk, and then sprinkle with some granulated sugar (~2 teaspoons).
8) Put the pie into the preheated oven. Bake at 425F for 30 minutes, then slide a baking sheet underneath the pie (to catch drips), reduce the heat to 350F, and cook for about another 30 minutes. The pie is done when the crust is nicely browned and thick juices are bubbling out of the top. If the crust is getting overly browned before the pie is done, cover it loosely with a piece of foil.
9) Let the pie cool on a cooling rack until it is close to room temperature.

When buying peaches, make sure they're as ripe as possible (they should smell peachy, and ideally be somewhat soft), and try to get freestone peaches - they're much easier to slice. If your peaches aren't ripe when you buy them, place them in a paper bag at room temperature to hasten ripening.

While this recipe looks long and complicated typed out, it can be done relatively quickly with practice (having a cooking partner can also help). The dough can also be made ahead of time and refrigerated or frozen.

The ingredient amounts in the pie filling are relatively flexible; increase or decrease them to suit your tastes. The runniness of the filling will, at least partially, depend on the amount of cornstarch you add, so if you want a runnier filling add less.

Brushing the top of the pie with milk makes the crust brown more. You can use this to create painted effects by brushing only a portion of the top crust with milk; coordinating the milk-brushed patterns and vent holes so they make a single image can be fun.

We make this pie in a 9-inch pie pan (9-inch diameter at the top, 7-inch diameter at the bottom).

This recipe is based on two recipes from Rombauer et al. (1997).

Rombauer, I. S., M. R. Becker, and E. Becker. 1997. Joy of Cooking. Scribner, NY.

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