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Thursday, August 20, 2015

Peachy Keen Pie

Summer is slowly ending, and the fruits of our summer labors are waning. Peaches, tomatoes, etc., are all nearing the end of their season. The true end will be marked by Samhain, of course, but with Lammas passing, it's reminded me that autumn is coming, and so now is the time to enjoy the fruits of our labor.

I live my life seasonally, as per my religion, and as per my career. Being a chef has taught me, more than anything, that food is the biggest untapped power we have. The abundance in our country is just absurd, so we don't necessarily have to think about seasonality. We have strawberries in winter, for Goddess' sake. Fortunately, many of us are becoming more and more aware of seasonality, locality, and just being more in tune with the way the world works.

One of my favorite summer crops is peaches. I went a little crazy at the Overland Park Farmers' Market and bought too many peaches. I know, I know, how can someone have too many peaches? You really can't, but I sort of did; I made that fatal error of shopping hungry, despite the Wiener Wagon's best efforts.

I spent $15 on peaches. I only meant to buy the little $5 baskets, but then I realized that I was probably going to eat half of those on the way home, so it would be best to buy more. Next thing I knew, I was leaving the farmers' market with more peaches than anyone should have, and by the time I had gotten home, I was practically slathered in peach juice.

After I crawled out of the shower, I knew I needed to do something with the rest of these peaches. Sure, I could eat them, but I probably shouldn't, at this point. I considered making preserves, but then I realized that I didn't have any free jars, and would have to go out and buy some if I wanted to do that. Once I realized that I still had half a case of puff pastry in my freezer(leftover from the millefeuille), I couldn't think of a better thing to make than a pie. Besides, this gives me an excuse to use the designated pastry station in my new kitchen!

Don't you just love the color?
Peach pie says "summer" to me like no other, and it reminds me of my great-grandmother's peach cobbler. Over the years, I've developed my own take on the pie, and even gave it a name to honor her: Peachy Keen Pie...because for as long as I can remember, whenever asked how she was doing, she would always say "peachy keen, hunky dory." If that's not the most adorable grandma thing ever, I don't know what is.

Here's how to make my Peachy Keen Pie:

Peachy Keen Pie
yields: 1 delicious pie, serves 8

  • 1 sheet of puff pastry, frozen - OR your favorite pie crust recipe...here's mine
    • 8 oz vegan butter substitute
    • 14 oz AP flour
    • 2 oz ice water
    • 1 tsp vinegar
      • Cut 'butter' into small cubes and pinch the fat into the dough. Add the vinegar and just enough ice water to come together. Divide in two and chill until ready to use! 
  • 4 large peaches, peeled and cut into wedges
    • You can also use 12 small peaches!
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup local honey
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 Tbsp + 1 tsp cornstarch
  • 3/4 tsp pure almond extract (you can substitute vanilla paste if you have an almond allergy)
Peel the peaches and core them by cutting in half, and gently prying out the pit with your hands. You can keep the pit to plant, or put it under your bed or on your windowsill to attract good fortune and love, if you're the superstitious type. (I popped mine in the four corners of my garden, because(really) how cool would that be if it actually sprouted??) I cut each half into six slices lengthwise, because I really like the way it looks.

I am in LOVE with my new kitchen!

Toss the sugar, spices, salt,  and almond extract together and let it sit for about five minutes, then grab your puff pastry from the freezer. Take this moment now, too, to preheat your oven, if you haven't already, to 350 degrees F. When peach liquid starts to form, add the cornstarch and toss vigorously.

I have a glass pie pan, and it was a little bigger than the one side of my puff pastry, so I rolled it out just a little bit thinner. The trick to pie doughs is that you must be a little rough, but not enough to harm it. Fluff it a little with your fingers from the bottom, once you're done rolling it, to get the glutens to relax. Gently lay your dough into your pie tin, and let it relax. Don't pull it, don't push it, and for the love of God don't stretch it...just let it relax and settle into its natural form, for no less than five minutes. Let it go. Drape it in and let it go. You know how sometimes pie crust will shrink away from the sides of the pan? That's because the dough has been overworked and didn't get enough time to rest. Quite the metaphor, eh?

See that? Just let it do that. Let it rest for at least 5 minutes. It'll naturally form to the pan on its own.
When the dough has relaxed, sufficiently, trim the edges. Keep the scraps for later, as those will become your decoration, should you so choose to utilize it as such...I would, because there's no reason to waste when you don't have to. Pour in your filling, and then give your pie plate a little shimmy-shimmy, to let everything sort of settle naturally. Now comes the fun part.

Take a handful of sugar and spread it on your board like you would spread flour if you were rolling out something. Gather your scraps and mush them all together, then roll them out on the sugar into one uniformly thin sort of disc. Using either a small knife or a pizza cutter, cut strips and lay over the pie in a sort of lattice pattern. If you have more scraps, like I did, repeat the rolling process, using more sugar as needed, and then cutting out shapes using cookie cutters. Get your egg wash ready by cracking an egg into a container and mixing it with a little water to make a sort of thin, consistent liquid.

I had this really pretty sugar maple leaf shape that I scored from Sur la Table some years ago for $0.40, so I used that, and then a small circle cutter for the tiny bits that were leftover. I had almost zero scrap left at this point, not even big enough to make another tiny circle, so I tossed almost no pie dough, of which I am proud. I used the back of a small paring knife to create "veins" on my leaves by freehand. This is an extra step that isn't necessary, but fun, and makes your pie all the more special.

Attach your shapes to the pie by using an egg wash(if you like) and a pastry brush. If you don't have a pastry brush, use your finger to sort of apply it like you would apply an ointment or lipgloss. Pop your pie into your hot oven and bake for 55 minutes, turning the pie 180 degrees halfway through the cooking process to ensure even baking, or until the pastry is cooked both on bottom and top. This is where the glass pie plate really helps you out, and why I will continue to recommend glass pie pans to this day.

My amazing stepmother made this towel! Let me know if you want one!

When the pie is cooked, remove from the oven and let it rest on the counter. If you have a wood countertop like I do, place your hot pie on a tea towel to keep condensation from ruining your countertops. If you have a cooling rack, use that. I actually have a cooling rack, but I'm in the middle of a move, so I hadn't quite gotten around to unpacking it yet...

Let it cool for at least an hour before cutting into it. I wouldn't stick it in the fridge to cool, though, as that would create steam, and steam equals a soggy bottom...and nobody likes a soggy bottom. Plus, the pie juices will get a chance to really soak and settle, and it won't turn into a big goopy mess when you cut it.

Now, go, enjoy the fruits of summer. Happy cooking and happy eating!

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