Animals quote

"Animals give their lives to feed us, so it's on us to eat every part of them. It's a form of respect, and it's a better way to live than just treating meat as a disposable commodity." —Seamus Mullen, Chef


The art of pie

Last Friday, I took my first step into the world of fruit pie baking. Sure, I've made my fill of cherry cheesecake pies, chocolate pudding pie and pumpkin cheesecake pie. They all used a store-bought graham cracker crust and were a cinch to whip up.

Then along came the Collingswood Farmers' Market and its e-mail for the upcoming Peach Party, with peach products galore from farmers and vendors, a canning class, and a pie baking contest.

I'm a baker, something that runs in my blood from BOTH sides of my family. My great grandmother Emma taught my mom the importance of every scrap of pie dough, while my Gramma Betty taught me how to make snickerdoodles, chocolate chip cookies and lemon meringue pie during my summer visits to her home in upstate NY. I've made lemon AND lime curd by hand, can my own jams and marmalades (yeah, I know that's not baking), can bake cookies in my sleep and have made a number of cakes. But pie? Real fruit pie? I've never made one.

Now, my husband Ray can make a mean apple pie, with a light and buttery crust. He encouraged me to enter the contest, taking on the role of sous chef. I hunted through recipes, taking a little from one and more from another, and came up with something we thought would wow the judges.

All-Butter Pie Crust Recipe
From Gourmet, July 2009, sourced from the Epicurious app on my iPhone (best app EVER)
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1/3 cup plus 1 to 4 tablespoons ice water
Whisk together flour, sugar, and salt in a bowl (or pulse in a food processor). Blend in butter with your fingertips or a pastry blender (or pulse) just until most of mixture resembles coarse meal with some roughly pea-size butter lumps. Drizzle 1/3 cup ice water over mixture and gently stir with a fork (or pulse) until incorporated.

Squeeze a small handful of dough: If it doesn't hold together, add more ice water 1 tablespoon at a time, stirring (or pulsing) until just incorporated, then test again. Do not overwork dough, or pastry will be tough.
Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface and divide into 8 portions. With heel of your hand, smear each portion once or twice in a forward motion to help distribute fat. Gather dough together, with a pastry scraper if you have one, and press into a ball. Divide in half and form into 2 disks. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and chill until firm, at least 1 hour.

Ray was happy with the dough's consistency, and when tasted, it offered up a buttery light flavor, with a hint of salt. It's our go-to crust recipe now.

Now, for the pie. Trusty Epicurious app in hand, I thought about the flavor profile I wanted to work with. Definitely spices ... cardamom, maybe cinnamon. I wanted to keep the flavor balanced and the filling not too runny, for fear of wreaking havoc on the crust. Reading through the recipes, I picked 3 to work off and came up with the following recipe:

Cardamom Lavender Honey Caramel Peach Pie
  • 3.5 pounds barely under-ripe peaches
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon cardamom
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup local lavender honey
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2-3 tablespoons egg whites
  • 1-2 tablespoons raw sugar
Preheat oven to 425°F.

Blanch the peaches for peeling. Remove pit and cut into 1/2 inch slices.

Toss peaches well with cornstarch, flour, lemon juice, cardamom and salt.

Bring 1/2 cup sugar, honey and water to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved, then wash down any sugar crystals from side of pan with a pastry brush dipped in cold water. Boil without stirring, swirling pan occasionally so caramel colors evenly, until dark amber, about 5 minutes.

Remove caramel from heat and add butter, swirling pan until butter is melted. Pour over fruit and toss—most likely the caramel will lump into a strange shape. Don't sweat it.

Roll out 1 piece of dough (keep remaining piece chilled) into a 13-inch round on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin. Fit into a 9-inch pie plate. Prick with holes, then brush on egg whites until well coated (leave some for top crust). Bake for 8-12 minutes, removing from oven when crust is golden.

Roll out remaining piece of dough into a round on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin. Using 2 different sizes of star cookie cutters, cut out 10-12 large stars and 12-14 smaller stars. Chill.

Transfer filling to pie shell, mounding it. Place wad of caramel in the middle—as the pie cooks, the caramel will distribute.

Place stars to form a decorative, pseudo-lattice crust (totally my idea!). This gives the pie a unique look, while not having to deal with steam vents.

Brush top crust of cutout stars with remaining egg whites. Sprinkle with raw sugar. Place pie on a baking sheet that has either foil or parchment paper on it for easy clean up (the filling will leak, trust me).

Bake pie at 425°F for 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 375°F. Continue to bake until crust is golden-brown and filling is bubbling, about 40-45 minutes more.

Cool pie to room temperature.

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