Summertime

Every summer, the thing I look forward to almost more than anything is gardening.  We have three lovely raised garden boxes in our back yard that Scott built with his own two hands.  They live in the sunniest section of the yard, right up along the fence line.

The newest addition.

We get through the cold Nebraska winters by planning our garden.  What works one year, might not work the next, so it’s never an easy decision.  However, we always have these staples: tomatoes, jalapeños, and a variety of herbs ranging from cilantro and sweet basil, to chocolate mint and thyme.

Despite our rotating selections over the years, I’ve always wished I could step out into the back yard, walk a few feet to a tree, and pluck a fresh peach, apricot, lime, or lemon from the branches.  These sorts of fruit trees just don’t do well in Eastern Nebraska.  Our winters are harsh and our summers are short, two things that don’t bode well for delicate fruit.

That’s where the farmers market comes in.

I wasn’t feeling well this last Sunday, so Scott went alone to the market and arrived with a bag of these absolutely beautiful peaches.  I love it when he goes shopping alone because he tends to come home with an unexpected (not on “the list”) ingredient.  This time, fresh peaches.

The first thing that came to mind was of course, pie.  But before I could start in on my crust, we cut a few up and enjoyed them in their raw state.  Totally perfect.  Juicy, sweet, and the flesh had just enough “give” to it when eaten.

But enough of that…on to pie!

Pies in their expected form are great and all, but I like to try to mix it up a little each time I make a pie.  This time, as a nod to our flourishing garden out back, I decided I’d add a little fresh Genovese basil to my sliced peach mixture.  And, because I like to bake with booze, I added a generous splash of Jameson.  There, perfect.

Juicy stone fruits sometimes produce pies with runny filling, therefore, resulting in a soggy crust.  Those are not good things.  The best method anyone could use to prevent such a catastrophe would be to create a lattice for the top crust of the pie.  So, that’s what I did.

I baked this pie the other day, which turned into the othernight, because of various interruptions.  Needless to say, the pie was not fully cooled by 10:30pm, so I had to deliver the disappointing news to Scott that we wouldn’t be able to enjoy the pie until the next day.  See, a fruit pie such as this needs to be almost room temperature (maybe a little warm) to really enjoy it.  It needs time to set, to ensure a non-runny filling.  My suggestion of pie and coffee for breakfast seemed to heal the wound a little.

Peach Pie with Basil and Jameson
Loosely adapted from America’s Test Kitchen

The best time to make this pie is at the beginning of the summer when peaches are at their peak.  The crust recipe will look familiar, as it was used in my prior post about Vanilla Cream Pie.

For the all-butter crust:

1/3 cup cold vodka (or ice water), plus a extra if needed
3 tablespoons crème fraîche (I prefer crème fraîche, but you can use sour cream)
2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 ounces) unbleached, all-purpose flour, additional for dusting work surface
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes and frozen for 10 to 15 minutes

Method for crust:

Mix 1/3 cup vodka and crème fraîche in a small bowl until combined.  Set aside.  In a food processor, pulse flour, sugar, and salt together until combined.  Scatter the butter cubes around the flour and pulse the mixture until the butter is the size of large peas, about 10 pulses.

Pour half of the crème fraîche mixture over the flour mixture and pulse just until incorporated.  Repeat with remaining crème fraîche mixture.  Pinch a small amount of dough between your fingers; if the dough feels dry and doesn’t hold together, then sprinkle 1 to 2 tablespoons of vodka over the mixture and pulse again.  You want to see large clumps and no dry flour.

Divide the dough mixture evenly in two and flatten each into a 4-inch disk.  Individually wrap tightly in plastic wrap and place in refrigerator for at least an hour.  Before rolling out, allow dough to sit on the counter for about 10 minutes to soften.

For filling:

The easiest way to peel peaches is to invest in a serrated peeler.  If you don’t have one, you’ll need to blanch the peaches in order to loosen their skin prior to peeling.  To do this, fill a stock pot with water an bring to a gentle boil.  Using a paring knife, make a small “x” on the bottom of each peach.  Drop them into the boiling water and allow them to blanch for 40 seconds, or up to a full minute for peaches that are not as ripe.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a bowl of ice water and allow them to cool off for a minute.  Drain them and dry them off.  Starting at the “x” you made, peel using your fingers or a paring knife.

2 1/2 pounds ripe peaches (6 to 7 medium), peeled, pitted, and sliced 1/3” thick
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon fresh-squeezed lemon juice (I didn’t have a lemon, so I used fresh-squeezed orange)
4-5 large fresh basil leaves, cut thinly into ribbons (chiffonade)
2 tablespoons Jameson Irish Whiskey
1 egg white, lightly beaten

Method for filling and assembly:

Before you start on the peaches, roll one disk of dough into a 12-inch circle on a lightly floured surface, then fit it into a 9-inch pie plate, letting the excess dough hang over the edge.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Roll the other disk into a 13 1/2 by 10 1/2-inch rectangle, then transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Trim the dough to a 13 by 10-inch rectangle with straight edges and slice it lengthwise into eight 13-inch-long strips.  I used a pizza cutter and it was super easy.  Separate the strips a little, cover with plastic wrap, and freeze until very firm, up to 30 minutes.

Now that your dough is ready:

Toss the sliced peaches and 1 cup sugar in a large bowl and let sit, stirring occasionally, until peaches release their juices, about 30 minutes to 1 hour.  Adjust your oven rack to the lowest position, place a rimmed baking sheet on the rack, and heat the oven to 425ºF.

Over a bowl, drain the peaches thoroughly through a fine mesh strainer or colander, reserving 1/4 cup of the juice.  In a large bowl, toss the drained fruit, the reserved juice, cornstarch, lemon (or orange) juice, salt, basil, and whiskey together until combined.

Turn peaches out into the dough-lined pie plate and weave the chilled strips of dough over the top into a lattice formation.  Let the strips soften for 5-10 minutes, then trim, fold, and crimp the edges.

Brush the top of the pie with the beaten egg white, then sprinkle with remaining tablespoon of granulated sugar.

Place the pie on the heated baking sheet and bake until the top crust is golden, about 25 minutes.  Reduce the heat to 375ºF, rotate the baking sheet, and continue to bake until the juices are bubbling and the crust is deep golden brown, 25-35   minutes longer.

Let the pie cool on a wire rack until the filling has set, about 2 hours.  Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.  Or have for breakfast the next morning with coffee.

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