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Peaches are the essence of summer. They are the sticky sweet syrup dripping down your arm when you bite into one at a roadside farm stand. They are canning jars full of bright, orange slices that you know will feel like a warm sunny day in December. But most of all, they are pies and crumbles and cobblers fresh from the oven on a hot summer night.
I don’t do a lot of baking but I can be counted on for some version of a peach pie every August. When my son was younger, he spent a couple of weeks at a hockey school in Penticton each summer, usually in August. We turned hockey camp into family vacation most years. Usually we camped but after a season of hurricane force winds we decided to stay in a great little Bed and Breakfast in nearby Summerland. This particular place, along with the regular B & B style service had a completely self-contained one-bedroom suite. It was perfect… a big barbecue out back on the deck overlooking the lake, and a fully equipped kitchen. I know most people don’t think about baking while they are on vacation, but it allowed us to make a pie with the peaches we bought that afternoon. A little peach salsa with the barbecued chicken for dinner, some sliced peaches on the pancakes at breakfast, and best of all, a big slice of fresh, hot peach pie for dessert. I don’t think I’ve ever had a pie so tasty or satisfying as that year in Summerland.
That’s not to say it was the best pie I’ve every made or the best pie I’ve ever had, it was just so unexpected. It was not something I thought I would be able to do while I was there, it was just a brilliant bit of serendipity when I opened the cupboard looking for a saucepan and found a pie plate. If we had come up earlier, during cherry season, baking a pie wouldn’t have entered my mind, but after driving past the farm stands from Keremeos to Penticton, smelling all those beautiful ripe peaches, there was little else I could think of. A pie plate in the cupboard was all I needed to fulfill the craving.
Peach pie is not rocket science. I know there are lots of variations on the classic, with basil, with nuts, with cinnamon, with ginger, with whatever, but I want to the taste the fruit and nothing else. Peaches in the peak of their season really don’t need embellishment. So my pie, or crumble or cobbler, or compote is nothing more than fruit, sugar, a bit of lemon zest, a pinch of salt and a bit of flour to thicken it all. My favourite pie crust is Martha Stewarts Pate Sucree. It is delicate, slightly sweet and oh so buttery… the perfect compliment to the sweet peaches.
Pate Sucrée (Sweet Pastry)
makes two 8-10 inch crusts
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1/2 pound cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
- 2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
- 4 tablespoons ice water
- Put the flour, sugar and butter in a bowl and cut together until the mixture resembles coarse meal. You will see small pieces of butter throughout the mixture. They will be of various sizes ranging from a grain for corneal to a grain of oatmeal, a few will be larger and that’s okay. To cut ingredients together, use two knives, drawing the knives across one another, or use the pastry blender that I’ve sent you.
- Slowly add the egg yolks and ice water, mixing/tossing together with a fork just until dough holds together. Test the dough by squeezing a small amount together. If it is crumbly add a bit more water. What you do after you add the eggs and water is what will make the crust either tender or tough. Do not work the dough anymore than you absolutely have to.
- Turn dough onto two large pieces of plastic wrap. Grasping the ends of the plastic wrap with your hands, press the dough into a flat circle disc. Wrap the dough in the plastic and chill for at least an hour. Resting the dough is important. It will roll out easier and be less elastic, which will make a better dough.
- The key to a tender flakey crust is to not handle the dough with your hands or to over work it. Pastry is flakey when the small pieces of butter melt in the layers of the crust and leave air spaces. Your hands will warm up the butter so there are fewer individual pieces of butter to create the air pockets. The same with over working the dough. The more homogenous the dough the less it will develop layers of crust and air.
- On a lightly floured board, roll dough into circle about 2 inches larger in diameter than the pie plate. Carefully fold the dough in half and place in pie plate. Trim dough so that it overhangs plate by 1/2 inch. Fold overhang underneath itself to create a double layer of dough our perimeter. Pinch with fingers to create a decorative border that stands above rim. Do not press it down over edge of plate.
- Fill the crust and bake.
Note: You can make the dough a day or two before and let it rest in the fridge.
It sounds complicated but it’s really very easy. The key is to not do too much. Bad pie crust is always because it’s been over worked.
But what I like best, even better than Martha’s pastry is a simple crumble. The oatmeal gives is a savouriness that you just can’t beat. And, it is fast, simple and essentially fool proof.
- 1 cup butter
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 ½ cups flour
- 1 ½ cups oatmeal (quick oats)
- 1 tsp baking soda
- Cut the butter, sugar, flour and baking soda together in a food processor. Turn into a bowl to mix in oatmeal to keep the oats whole.
- Squeeze into small lumps and spread over fruit mixture.
- This makes enough for a generously topped 9” x 13” baking pan.
I made crumble this year and hope to squeeze in a blackberry crumble before the season is over. I love it in all its simplicity. No embellishment required nor desired. You could have some ice cream with it if you wanted to… I guess.
In which our hero seeks the forgiveness of her colleagues and readers for wildly tardy blog post.
Augh! I love apple pie, and I love making apple pie and I was really looking forward to this day! Sadly, however, I ended up working very very late last night and, in the course of that work, completely forgot about my blog until this morning. So terrible. That is why you have to make do with the picture of Apple Blackberry pie (above) instead of true Apple Pie – because, funny about that, I’m at work and I don’t tend to keep pictures of my creations at work. This was just a fluke.
In any event, this post will be short (unusual for me). It goes like this:
Apple Pie is the quintessential American dessert. As the saying goes, “American as Apple Pie.” Of course, as with many patriotic sayings, there may be some hyperbole involved. Check out this link for an interesting discussion on the history of apple pie and whether Americans have any exclusive claim to the dish.
I believe that the best apple pie is a deep dish apple crumble pie. That’s the apple pie I like to make. I will share the recipe with you with the caveat that I’ve been making it for many many years which means that I long ago stopped measuring anything (if I ever did). First of all, the pastry. I follow the recipe, generally, on the back of the Fluffo box. I told you about this in a previous post.
1. Use tart apples of the firm flesh variety – granny smith, gravenstein, mutsu, pink lady, fiesta, paula red.
2. Peel them and slice them paper thin. You can even cut the paper thin slices in half.
3. Toss in a bowl with lots of cinnamon, some brown sugar, some lemon juice, some nutmeg, some cornstarch or flour and some heavy cream.
4. Roll out your pastry and place in a deep dish pie plate, making nice fluted edges if you want.
5. Dump your apple mixture into the pastry. Dot the apples with pats of butter.
6. Top with crumble topping which you make using equal parts brown sugar, whole oats, flour and butter (usually I use one cup of each) that you mash up with your fingers.
7. Slide the whole mess into a large brown paper grocery bag. Staple the end closed and put in a pre-heated 425 degree oven. Trust me – the paper won’t burn. If you don’t believe me, look here for an account from the Elegant Farmer regarding “the best pie in America”. It’s a paper bag pie.
8. Bake for 15 minutes at 425 and then turn the heat down to 350 and bake for around an hour (unless you have disregarded my direction about the deep dish pie plate and are using a standard pie plate – what’s the point? – in which case, you might have a finished pie in 35 – 40 minutes).
9. Carefully slice open the paper bag – watch out for escaping steam – to check that your pastry is nicely browned.
10. Eat pie.
As an additional treat – you can make the same basic pie recipe but add fresh berries to the apple mixture (which necessitates an increase in the amount of flour or cornstarch you use) to obtain yourself a mixed apple berry pie such as the Apple Blackberry Pie in the picture here. I think my all time greatest triumph in pie-making came in the form of an Apple Raspberry Pie that several people described as, “the best pie I have ever had”. So I recommend mixing berries with the apples.