The trials and tribulations of making peach pie, with some of the tips I learned along the way.
Pie failure #1
This summer, I had the bad habit of volunteering—no, insisting—on making a too-complicated dessert whenever we were having friends over to grill.
2. The second time, I didn't do as well. I set out to make a slab pie with a rye crust, but I could tell my crumbly, crumbly dough was doomed from the start. I took a lot of precautions—I even rolled my little Ikea kitchen counter over to the A.C. on the other side of the apartment (okay, 10 feet away)—to keep the dough cool. I floured the Prosecco bottle-cum-rolling pin very well.
But alas, my too-cold, too-dry dough shattered into a million pieces and I ended up pressing it into the hacked "pie pan" (I learned the handy tin-foil tip from Amanda Hesser). Weaving a lattice at that point was a comical conceit, so I made a totally intentional windowpane design (actually, my boyfriend did that as I hyperventilated in the corner). At the end of the day, the pie was delicious—and by some miracle, the crust was flaky—but not worth the anxiety.
3. The third time, I made monkey bread. For the Fourth of July. That didn't make sense. There are no pictures of that.
4. The fourth time, I tried my hand at peach pie again. This time, I went for an all-butter pie crust using good old all-purpose flour from The Four & Twenty cookbook. Scarred from my last experience, I used frozen butter and kept the liquid chilling in the refrigerator until the very second I was supposed to add it to the butter and flour mixture.
I let the dough, which came together like magic, chill in the refrigerator while I freaked out about the pie filling and topping. How should I top the pie? Should I try to redeem the lost lattice?
Luckily, my very decisive roommate set her heart on a crumble top, and I found this recipe on Epicurious for deep-dish peach pie with pecan streusel. But then, the filling: Since I wasn't making a deep-dish pie, I needed to choose another recipe for that part. I put my faith in Deb Perelman and looked to her 2012 no-frills version. At this point, I was using three different recipes: one for the crust, one for the filling, and another for the topping.
Next stop on the anxiety train: par-baking. I just couldn't decide whether to do it (I even tweeted out a call for help—that's desperation!). I was having day-mares of a soggy crust, but I had no pie weights or expendable dry beans. All I had was popcorn. Would that be a worthwhile sacrifice? It was recommended in none of the 3 recipes I was using, so I was my on my own with this one.
I read up on all the par-baking literature and spiraled into a dark hole of soggy pie self-help. Here's what I learned:
- Par-baking will give you a crisp bottom crust, but it might be hard to join that half-cooked crust with a top crust. Luckily, I was doing a crumble top, so that was not a concern. Most fruit pie recipes actually do not call for par-baking.
- Some people recommend skipping the par-bake and baking the pie on a pre-heated baking sheet so that the bottom crust gets direct heat.
- For juicy fruit fillings, it's a smart idea to separate out the juices and reduce them on the stovetop before re-adding them to the sliced fruit.
- Many bakers swear by instant tapioca as a thickener. All I had was cornstarch.
- Adding a sprinkling of flour to the unbaked pie crust before the filling goes in has been known to reduce sogginess.
I decided, for extra protection, to incorporate practically all of these tips:
- I rolled out the pie dough (again in close proximity to the A.C.) with an empty wine bottle. I imagined how proud Erin McDowell would be to see the spots of butter in my dough. I transfered the pie dish to the freezer while I poached (yes, poached) and sliced the peaches. I mixed the fruit with white sugar and set it in a colander over a bowl to drain. I made the crumble top that I put it in the fridge to chill.
- I docked the crust, draped parchment paper, filled it with all of my popcorn, and baked it at 425° F for 15 minutes on a preheated pizza stone. Things were going so well! I was walking on sunshine!
- BUT THEN: When I took it out of the oven, butter was bubbling everywhere. Was the oven not preheated? Was the butter low-quality? What had happened??? I didn't know whether to let the parchment and popcorn cool in the pie shell, but I had to step away from the apartment for my own sanity, so I left it in there. When I returned, 20 minutes later, there was no more liquid in the crisp, almost-cool shell. Had someone from Heaven had smiled down on me?
- While the crust cooled, I reduced the accumulated peach by half on the stove. I let this cool for a few minutes, then added it back into the peaches with the other filling ingredients. I poured the filling into the crust. Then I realized I had forgotten the rest of the sugar. I just piled that on top of the peaches, then crumbled the streusel on top.
- I baked it for 15 minutes at 425° F, then reduced the heat to 375° F and baked it for 30 more.
- THE MOMENT OF TRUTH: When I took the pie out of the oven, the peach juices had bubbled over the sides of the par-baked, slightly shrunken crust, flooding the nook between the crust and the pie dish. Was it all for naught? Would the crust be soggy anyway?
Good news: It wasn't! I let the pie cool for 3 hours while we zizzed and zazzed and zoodled all of the other food for the party. When we cut into the pie the crust was crispy and flaky. Ah, sweet relief. But would anyone have cared, or even noticed, had the crust been slightly soggy, the filling a little too runny?
There were no leftovers by which to judge next-day sogginess.
Do you put this much thought into baking for guests? Please reassure me in the comments below.