Thursday, August 23, 2007

Peach Pie

Peach pie is one of those lovely little treats that remind me why I love food. Not that I needed reminding. When the crust is flaky and delicate, the peaches are sweet and fresh, and the ice cream is vanilla and nearby, everything seems to come together to create the perfect blend of flavors in your mouth. Maybe I like it so much because I can remember eating my mom's peach pies so many times the first 18 years of my life, or maybe my mom made it so much because she knew it was a good thing, too.

Good pie starts with a good crust, which may seem difficult to come by, but is not that difficult to accomplish. I could probably write for three days on all my experiments with pie crust and not cover half of the information out there, but I'll save you the trouble and just include the good stuff. Crust is important. If you aren't going to make a good crust, then don't waste your time - make a cobbler. Cobbler topping recipes are even easier than pie crust recipes, and clearly your goal is to get to the filling anyhow. Still, you should reconsider.

I like an all-butter crust. The flavor is unbeatable, and if you can get it really flaky, it is one of the finest pastries around. Some people prefer to use part vegetable shortening with their butter crust to make rolling it out easier, but when this recipe is done right, the all-butter crust rolls out quickly and smoothly. I've tried using a pastry cutter, forks, fingers, and a food processor, but my favorite method (by far) is from Sherry Yard in The Secrets of Baking, which is where this crust recipe originates. (I highly recommend the entire book, though!) Please, do not use salted butter in this recipe. It will not produce the same quality in flavor.

By the way, if you need to purchase a stand mixer for this recipe, I recommend KitchenAid, and you should get it here.

Pie Dough
adapted from The Secrets of Baking by Sherry Yard

1/2 lb. (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter
2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
2 T. sugar
1 t. salt (table, or finely ground Kosher)
1/2 c. ice water
1/2 t. white wine vinegar

Cut the butter into 1" pieces and place in the freezer for 15 minutes (no more).

In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, mix the flour and sugar. This lightens the flour to make the dough more tender. Add the butter and salt. Mix on low speed for at least 30 seconds and no more than 2 minutes, until most of the butter is about the size of walnut halves. Stop the machine and pinch all the large pieces of butter flat. Be careful not to just mash the pieces; the goal is to create flat, flaky layers in your dough.

Combine the ice water and vinegar, then add the liquid all at once to the flour mixture. Blend for no more than 15 seconds, until much of it is just coming together.
Spread out two sheets of plastic wrap. Bring the dough together just a bit with your hands, just enough so that it's not all crumbs, but do not work it much at this point, as working the dough while it's slightly warm from this process will damage the layers of flakiness and cause the dough to be tough. Divide the dough a little unevenly into two lumps and wrap each in plastic. Refrigerate for at least 15 minutes. If you refrigerate it an hour or more, let it set at room temperature for a few minutes before rolling out. Also, before you remove it from the plastic, make sure each lump of dough is shaped into a nice round, semi-flat disc. This will help you in the rolling-out process.

Peach Pie

For the filling, you'll want between 4 and 8 cups of peeled, sliced peaches, depending on how big your pie pan is. If it's a 9" deep dish pan, as most of mine are, use about 8 cups of peaches. For a small pie pan, especially a shallow one, you may need as little as 4 cups. Unlike apple pies, you can't just mound up the fruit before baking, as it will run over. And also unlike apple pies, peach pies are better without additional flavorings, as long as you have good, ripe fruit. Save the cinnamon for your apple pies, and leave the almond extract out (unless you're my mom, in which case you have the good sense to do whatever you want). For each cup of sliced peaches, add 1/4 c. of sugar and 1 1/2 T. of flour or 1 1/4 T. cornstarch (I prefer cornstarch by far with peach pie, as it requires a generous amount of thickening agent). This should make the pie sweet enough and thick enough not to run all over the place, even if slightly warm.
Now that your filling is ready, it's time to roll out the dough. First, preheat the oven to 425°. I highly recommend using a French rolling pin, as it's more easily controlled and lightweight enough to avoid mashing the dough, which is not what you want. Lightly flour a work surface, then dust both sides of your disc with flour. Begin rolling out your dough, taking turns which direction your are rolling. You should go in all directions, and you should dust the top of your dough with flour and turn it over once or twice during this process, so that it doesn't stick to the work surface or get unwanted clumps of flour in spots underneath. Feel free to use lots of flour while rolling out your dough; just be sure it's evenly used across the circle. Your bottom dough should be plenty large; the recipe should provide you with enough dough to ensure you can roll it slightly beyond what you need, so you can estimate the amount you need for the bottom, sides, and crimping the edges.
Gently place this dough in the bottom of the pie pan, then roll out the top so that it extends about an inch and a half beyond the edge of the pie pan. Use a paring knife and cut the edges of the crust all the way around just an inch or so beyond the pan, leaving a little more in especially thin sections (if you have any of those). Press the edges together, then turn the crust underneath and crimp using your thumbs and forefingers. Cut slits into the top to let the steam to escape.
Place the extra pieces of rolled dough that you cut off the edges in a small pan (I used nonstick), and dust with cinnamon and sugar. Bake alongside the pie for the first 10 minutes, or thereabouts, and remove from the oven to eat while you wait for the pie to bake.

Place the prepared pie in the oven and bake at 425° for 30 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 350° and bake for an additional 25-45 minutes, until the filling is bubbling near the center, as can be seen through the slits. If the crust is browning too much, cover with aluminum foil to slow it down (I do this when I turn the oven temperature down), but remove the foil during the last 5 minutes or so to make sure the crust is crisp and not steamed.

If everything went well (and I'm sure it did!), you should have a very flaky crust and one fantastic pie. Let it cool on a cooling rack nearly to room temperature, then serve with vanilla ice cream.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The picture of the crust pieces does not do justice to their flakiness. It was unbelievable--the most exquisite pastry I have ever seen this side of the Atlantic.

This was seriously the best pie I have eaten in my life, and with Rachel around, I have eaten a fair number of good pies.