I made my fourth peach pie yesterday, and am proud to say that I finally nailed it. The recipe is below. I am not claiming it is definitive or the best ever or anything (am neither Christopher Kimball nor Rose Levy Beranbaum), everyone has a different palate & texture preferences, but this came very close to being my platonic ideal of a peach pie. The recipe is based on one in Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything", with modifications by Rose Levy Rosenbaum and Chowhound. I wanted to share it especially with people who are intimidated by the prospect of baking pie, hence all the detailed explanations.
9"-10" DOUBLE-CRUST PEACH PIE (obsessive-compulsive recipe with way too many side notes)
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 sticks COLD unsalted butter (Plugrá produced a markedly better, flakier and tastier crust than regular butters)
1 teaspoon salt
(have ready) 1/3 cup ice water (you'll probably need less)
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg yolk
In a bowl, stir together flour, salt, and sugar. Add butter cut into small pieces and crumble with fingertips until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Add the yolk and (gradually) about 3 tablespoons ice water. Mix in and add more water if needed; make dough - its should be neither dry/crumbly, nor sticky.
Divide dough into two unequal parts. If you have a deep pie dish, as I do, you'll need quite a bit more dough to cover the bottom and sides than to cover the fruit on top; also, you'll want a thicker bottom crust to hold all the juices & not get soggy; for a deep pie dish, the ratio should be nearly 2:1 parts, for a shallower one, 3:2 parts. Flatten dough into into disks.
There are different schools of thought on how to proceed, most authors recommending chilling both disks, then rolling them out. I prefer to simply press the bottom half evenly into the pie dish (no rolling), making sure the edges are nice and thick; this takes a few minutes but it's quite easy - you're working with a pretty thick layer here - not to mention fun. Prick the bottom with a fork all over. Wrap the top crust disk in Saran wrap and refrigerate both.
As the dough chills, make filling.
2 lbs freestone yellow peaches
NOTE on peaches: No matter what all the authors say, RIPE peaches produce a runny pie with a slightly mushy filling. I have had best results (peaches retaining their shape yet getting soft) with nicely colored Georgia peaches that were almost hard, barely yielding to finger pressure. Out of hand they were sweet but slightly crunchy. Taste the peaches before you make this, both to gauge their sweetness and texture; inferior peaches will make a dull pie. (Some California peaches that looked amazing were mealy and tasteless, as well as mushy; I'm sure not all are, but at least in NYC stores they are often awful, as I found out. I've had great results with Georgia peaches, even better than with NJ ones. Of course, good fresh local peaches are always best.)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
scant 1/2 cup sugar (depending on how sweet the peaches are)
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp almond extract
1/8 tsp nutmeg (I normally hate nutmeg but it was perfect in the pie - undetectable as a separate flavor but really underscored the peachiness)
2 tablespoons cornstarch or tapioca
2 tablespoons butter, cut into bits
milk as needed (small amount), plus extra sugar for sprinkling crust
Unless your peaches are HAIRY, I suggest you skip the peeling process. The skins have a nice flavor, are soft when cooked & easy to digest, and give the juices a beautiful pink cast.
Pit the peaches and cut into segments, thickest part around 1/2 inch. Stir together the sugar, salt, and nutmeg and toss with the peaches along with the lemon juice. Let stand for up to 30 minutes in a deep bowl, stirring occasionally.
After 30 minutes, transfer into a colander and strain for another 15-30 minutes, collecting the juices in a pan. Transfer the peaches back into a bowl and toss with the 2 tablespoons cornstarch/tapioca and almond extract. Arrange peaches in the pie shell (I like to pack as many as I can, but don't make too big of a heap in the center or the juices will drown the pie), return to the refrigerator.
Reduce the juices in the pan until thick like honey and a pinkish caramel color. Cool for a minute or two, then drizzle over the peaches. Don't worry if the juices harden, they'll melt as the pie bakes. Dot the peaches with bits of butter.
On a floured surface, roll out the dough disk into a circle somewhat larger than the pie diameter (if the dough becomes too sticky, add a bit of flour), then drape over pie, making sure to tuck edges under; shape edges decoratively if you're so inclined, but make sure they remain thick. I find it easiest to roll the dough out on my Silpat, then carefully inverting it over the pie and peeling the Silpat off.
Brush the top with milk and sprinkle with sugar; cut six 2" vents in a star pattern (... or whatever...) into the top. Return to refrigerator.
Preheat oven to 450; place a jelly roll pan/cookie sheet with raised edges on the middle rack to catch any juices. Make a shield for the pie edges out of aluminum foil; basically take a pretty long strip and fold it lenthwise until it's about 4" wide; connect the edges to form a circle a bit larger than the pie dish, then pinch the top in several places to form a removable shield that will protect the edges from browning too much. OK, this may seem obsessive, but it really is nice not to have those darn burnt edges. To me it's worth the effort.
When the oven is ready, remove pie from fridge and place it on the cookie sheet/jelly roll pan; put on the pie shield. Bake at 450 for 10 minutes, then reduce temp to 350 and bake for another 40-50 minutes, until the top is golden with light brown spots. You can remove the foil shield for the last 10 minutes or so.
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