Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Goodbye, Summer! (And Peach Pie)

It was a brief summer here in Chicago and a busy one at that, but I still managed to fit in a few trips to Pat's family's lake house in Michigan. The house is in Union Pier, a little over an hour's drive from the city, which makes for an easy weekend escape. Union Pier is a cute little town with a great muffin spot and a solid farmers' market within walking distance from the house. I always try and hit up the farmers' market while I'm there. They have high-quality fresh produce and some homemade jams that are to die for.

One of my Michigan trips landed on the weekend before a "Diversity Potluck" at work. The idea was for everyone to bring a dish inspired by their heritage, so what better for me to make than a Georgia peach pie? Well, technically it was a Michigan peach pie, since I bought the peaches at the market in Union Pier. Same same but different, right?

I had actually never made a peach pie (or had a lot of peach pie growing up, for that matter), so I scoured the internet for recipes. I eventually landed on the recipe from Smitten Kitchen, as her recipes rarely fail me. This one was no exception- a traditional peach pie with a buttery, flaky crust and a filling that showcased the peaches with subtle hints of cinnamon and almond (the latter was my own addition).

It was not an easy recipe- it was time consuming and I didn't truly get it right until the second time around. But baking pies from scratch isn't easy. Making pie crusts is a skill- a skill that takes a lot of practice and is never really perfect. But, if you're in the market to start (or continue) learning, read on. Practice and don't get too frustrated along the way. If your first two pies are failures, try another two, you're bound to hit your stride at some point. And when you get it right, it will be amazing.

Beautiful peaches from the Union Pier, MI farmers' market

Bon appetit!

Peach Pie
Makes 1 8-inch pie
2 1/2 c all purpose flour
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, cold, cut into small pieces
1/2 c ice water

Roughly 3 1/2 lbs ripe peaches (about 6 large, 7 medium or 8 small)
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
A few drops of almond extract 
1/4 c sugar (use 1/3 c if your peaches are less sweet/ripe)
1/4 c light brown sugar (ditto with above)
3 tbsp cornstarch
1/8 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp salt
Pinch of nutmeg

To finish
1 tbsp of milk, cream or water
1 tbsp regular or coarse sugar

To make the pie dough, whisk together flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor (preferable), or in the bottom of a large, wide bowl. If using a food processor, add small pieces of butter and pulse several times to blend, until the pieces of butter are the size of small peas. If using a bowl, do the same using a pastry blender, two forks or your fingertips to blend.

The butter and dry ingredient mixture before adding water

Add the ice water and either pulse the mixture several times until a craggy mass forms or gently stir in the ice water with a rubber spatula, mixing it until a craggy mass forms. Get your hands in the bowl and knead it just two or three times to form a ball. Divide dough in half. Wrap each half in plastic wrap and flatten a bit, like a disc. Chill in fridge for at least an hour or up to two days. Slip plastic-wrapped dough into a freezer bag and freeze for up to 1 to 2 months. To defrost, leave in fridge for 1 day.

To make the filling, first peel the peaches. You have two options here: 1) Poach the peaches in hot water to loosen the skins, or 2) Peel the peaches without poaching first. The former is a better option for firmer peaches and the latter is a better option for softer peaches that may have some brown spots that you'll want to cut out anyway.

For option 1, bring a large saucepan of water to boil. Prepare an ice bath. Make a small x at the bottom of each peach. Once water is boiling, lower peaches, as many as you can fit at once, into saucepan and poach for two minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to ice bath for one minute to cool. Transfer peaches to cutting board and peel the skins.

For option 2, use a pairing knife or a peeler and peel away.

Next, halve and pit the peaches, then cut into about 1/3-inch thick slices. You’ll want 6 cups; it’s okay if you go a little over. Add to a large bowl and toss with lemon juice and almond extract. In a small dish, stir together sugars, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and cornstarch until evenly mixed. Add to peaches and toss to evenly coat.

Now preheat the oven to 425 F and assemble your pie. Flour the heck out of your counter, unwrap your first dough and put it in the middle. Flour that too. Be generous. Start rolling your dough by pressing down lightly with the pin and moving it from the center out. You’re not going to get it all flat in one roll or even twenty; be patient and it will crack less. Roll it a few times in one direction, lift it up and rotate it a quarter-turn. Continue the process, roll a couple of times, lift the dough and rotate it. Re-flour the counter and the top of the dough as needed. You should be leaving no bits of dough on the counter and none should be stuck to your pin. If at any point, the dough starts to get sticky or soft, it’s warming up and will only become more difficult to work with. Transfer it back to the fridge for a few minutes (or even the freezer, but for just a minute) to let it cool, then resume your rolling process.

Once your dough is a 12- to 13-inch circle, transfer pie dough to a standard pie dish. I like to transfer my crust in one fell swoop, but you can also fold the crust to transfer and then unfold once you have it in the pie dish. Then trim the overhang to one inch.

Scoop filling into bottom pie dough, including any accumulated juices (they contain the thickener too, also: tastiness). Roll out your top pie dough using the same procedure, until it is 12 to 13 inches in diameter. If you’d like to make a regular lidded pie, use it as is, cutting some decorative vents in the pie lid before baking. To make a lattice-top pie, cut the pie dough into strips anywhere from 1/2 to 1-inch wide with a pastry wheel, pizza wheel or knife. Arrange every other strip across your pie filling in one direction, spacing the strips evenly. Fold back every other strip gently on itself and add the longest remaining strip in the other direction. Fold the strips back down, repeat with the other strips until a full lattice-top is formed. Trim the lattice so that there is no overhang. Then gently fold the rim of the bottom crust over the lattice strips and crimp decoratively.

Brush crush with milk, cream or water and sprinkle lightly with sugar.

Bake the pie for about 20 minutes, until the crust is set and beginning to brown. Reduce oven temperature to 375 F and bake pie for another 30 to 40 minutes, until filling is bubbling all over and the crust is a nice golden brown. If the pie lid browns too quickly at any point in the baking process, you can cover it with foil for the remaining baking time to prevent further browning.

Finally, cool the pie for three hours at room temperature before serving. Hard, I know, but trust me, it will be better once it has cooled and fully thickened. Pie can be stored at room temperature or in the fridge; from the fridge, it will be even thicker.

Source: adapted from Smitten Kitchen

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