I started to get a little panicky this morning when I realized that it was past mid-August and I hadn’t yet made a pie. So I made up my mind to, because a) Sunday afternoons are the best pie-baking days, b) we were going to my mom-in-law’s for dinner and wanted to deflect the inevitable stale yellow sponge cake discs she tries to pass off as strawberry shortcake, and 3) W is currently obsessed with James and the Giant Peach (the DVD, which we got from the library last week), which has subliminally (or obviously) made us crave big peach flavours. When I told Mike I was making pie and asked for requests, he didn’t even pause.
So I went to the market and bought some peaches, and set about making pie. But all pie must have cream of some sort – whipped or ice – and since the ice cream machine was already on the counter, I decided to give roasted peach ice cream a whirl; something that has been swimming around my head for awhile now. It was easy, in fact, to halve a few extra peaches (I did 3), sprinkle the cut sides with sugar and slide them into the 400 degree oven beside the pie. Flip them once, and when they are all golden and caramelized, pull them out and let them cool. Roasted peaches or plums are equally fantastic with vanilla ice cream or dribbled with heavy cream – a really easy last-minute dessert that can roast while you finish your dinner.
As I may have mentioned before, you can freeze anything to make ice cream – yogurt, light cream, heavy cream, or if you count sorbets you could use any liquid, really, that will freeze. Although it’s delicious, it’s not necessary to make a custard base, and in fact I never have; partly because I’m lazy, and partly because I hate recipes that make me use 8 egg yolks, which forces me to come up with a use for 8 egg whites before they get smelly, or banish them to the depths of the freezer, never to be recognized again.
I spontaneously used a cup of 1% vanilla yogurt and a cup of whipping cream (only because I had some and it was about to expire – generally I use half & half, which is only 10%, or coffee cream, which is 18%), whisked together with 1/3 cup of brown sugar. I let it sit for a minute to dissolve the sugar, and the resulting flavour reminded me of that sour-cream brown sugar combo that you use to dip strawberries and grapes into. So really, it had about half the fat of regular made-with-heavy-cream ice cream. I’d never done a yogurt-cream combo before, but it had a fantastic result – thick and smooth with the creaminess of ice cream.
I poured it into the machine and let it go. While it did, I pulsed the roasted peaches a few times in the food processor until they were mushy with small chunks; when the stuff in the machine started to look like soft ice cream, I lobbed a few big spoonfuls into the feed-hole in the top. (I only used about half the roasted peaches; I didn’t want it to take over and make the ice cream too hard. Plus this gives me the option – no, obligation – to make it again.) It was insanely good. I ate about half of it while it was still nice and soft by dipping the spoon into the feed hole as the machine rotated, standing at the kitchen counter. In fact, I decided against bringing it to dinner to serve with the pie purely because I didn’t want to share. (That, and we had some errands to run on the way in 30 degree heat.) Seriously, this could be my new favourite ice cream. And ice cream is my desert island food. Ice cream and John Cusack.
The pie was ridiculously good too. Mike ate two dinner-plate sized wedges and declared it the best pie he had ever eaten. It’s probably a good thing I didn’t eat both together, or my head may have imploded.
(Am I sounding full of myself by complimenting my own cooking? I am merely documenting events here.)
Pie is easy, really. Just don’t sweat it or get all Martha about it; rustic is far easier than perfection, and more appealing, I think. All you need to remember is to keep the pastry ingredients really, really cold (you could even go so far as to freeze your butter solid, then grate it into the dry ingredients using the coarse side of a box grater), don’t blend the fat in completely (leave lumps no bigger than a pea) and once the water is added don’t handle it too much, or stretch it to fit the pan. I used the recipe below, but the sugar-flour mixture seemed to be too much, so I only used about three quarters of it (the rest I sprinkled on the pastry scraps and baked on a cookie sheet); I really dislike a stodgy pie, but on the other hand have a bit of a pie soup phobia, as I suppose most cooks do; a result of a particularly huge disaster when I was a kid. Tonight, the pie could not have sliced more beautifully and the crust wasn’t soggy in the least. Phew.
Now I can’t stop thinking about roasted peach ice cream on top of peach Browned Butter Bliss. And new combinations of fruit pies, while everything is at its best.
Oh right, there was an actual dinner – one of those black forest hams and an Idahoan scalloped potato mix made with Cheez Whiz, and peas and carrots at my mother-in-law’s house. (It was a bit of a blur – W was stung by a wasp right under his eye right before dinner, which distracted me from my camera. But I’m sure you get the idea.)
Quick-Mix (Never Fail) Pastry
(as named in my Grandma’s recipe box)
When making pastry, you need to use a solid fat. As long as you stay to the measurements, you can use all butter or all shortening in your pastry, or any combination of the two. Butter will give you the best flavor, but the crust won’t be as flaky as it would be if it was made with shortening, which is used for flakiness but doesn’t add any flavor. A combination of the two gives you the best of both worlds. All-purpose flour will produce great results – there is no need to buy cake and pastry flour, which is popular because of its lower gluten content.
For a single crust pie:
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 cup butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
1/4 cup vegetable shortening, chilled and cut into small pieces
3-4 Tbsp. ice water
For a double crust pie, or two single pie crusts:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
1/4 cup vegetable shortening, chilled and cut into small pieces
6-8 Tbsp. ice water
In a large bowl or the bowl of a food processor, stir together the flour, sugar, and salt. Add the butter and shortening and use a fork, pastry blender, wire whisk, or the “pulse” motion of the food processor to blend the mixture until it resembles coarse meal, with lumps of fat no bigger than a pea. Drizzle the minimum amount of water over the mixture and stir until the dough comes together, adding a little more a bit at a time if you need it. Gather the dough into a ball, flatten it into a disk, wrap it in plastic, and chill for at least half an hour. If you are making a double crust pie, divide the dough in half, making one half slightly larger than the other. (The pastry can be prepared up to this point and frozen for up to 4 months; let it thaw on the countertop when you need it.)
Other things to do with it:
Nut Pastry: Add 1/4 cup (for a single crust) to 1/2 cup (for a double crust) finely chopped or ground pecans, hazelnuts, walnuts, or almonds to the dry ingredients before you cut in the butter and shortening.
Lemon Pastry: Add the finely grated zest of a lemon to the dry ingredients before you cut in the butter and shortening.
Nectarines work just as well as peaches, and either will get along well with a handful of berries.
Pastry for a double crust pie, chilled
5 lb. (2.25 kg) ripe peaches or nectarines (7-8)
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
Pinch nutmeg (optional)
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
If your dough is coming straight from the fridge, let it sit on the countertop for about 10 minutes, until it’s malleable. Divide the pastry in half, making one piece just slightly larger than the other.
On a lightly floured surface, roll the bigger piece of pastry out into a 12-inch circle. Gently fold the dough into quarters to transfer it into a pie plate. Unfold the dough onto the plate, center it, and gently fit the dough into the plate without stretching it, leaving the edges hanging over.
To peel the peaches, drop them into a large pot of boiling water for about 30 seconds; remove them with a slotted spoon and plunge them into cold water. The skins should slip right off. Slice them thickly into a large bowl, removing the pits.
In a small bowl, stir together the sugar, flour, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Sprinkle over the peaches and toss gently to coat them with the flour mixture. Pour the peaches into the crust, mounding them in the middle.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out the second piece of pastry into about a 12 inch circle. Lay it over the peaches and press around the edges to seal. Trim both layers of excess pastry with scissors or a knife so that the overhang is about 1/2-inch around the pie plate. Tuck the edges of the pastry under itself so that it is even with the edge of the pie plate, and flute it all around the edge with your fingers. Cut a few slits in the top crust to allow steam to escape as the pie bakes.
Or, for a lattice crust: cut the circle of dough into strips and lay half of them over the pie; fold back every second strip and lay another strip across it, put the folded-over ones back and alternate folding over the ones that the cross-strip needs to go under. (You’ll figure it out – just weave a lattice! It doesn’t have to be perfect.) Press the lattice ends onto the edge of the bottom pastry, trim it all around and crimp it with your finger or a fork.
Bake for an hour or so (you might need an extra 10 minutes), until the pie is golden and the juices are bubbling through the slits. If the pastry is browning too quickly, cover it loosely with a piece of foil or cut a ring of foil as described above. Serve warm, at room temperature, or cold.