I am sure I’m not the only person who has ever been out to eat and bit into something they knew they’d love and nearly sobbed with disappointment over what could have been but was not. “Why? Why did they have to go and ‘fix’ this? It wasn’t broken!” No? It’s just me? Well, good on you for having some decorum, or at least a better poker face than your narrator. I’ve done this when I discovered curry powder in a sweet potato pirogi (really, I’m grimacing as I type this). It’s not a popular opinion, but I feel this way about bacon in chocolate chip cookies. And if everyone could stop putting cardamom pods in vanilla ice cream and custards, I wouldn’t mind one bit. I like vanilla. I don’t think it needs any flavor enhancement.
Not that I’m innocent in this area. It seems that as long as web pages need updating, magazines need printing and food shows have new seasons to fill with programming, we’re going to have “new spins on the classics,” and I too have been known to hide bourbon in banana bread, do all sorts of unnatural things to latkes, and no, I will not apologize for the time I made a red velvet cake with red wine instead of the accepted vat of food dye. I found all of these things to be worthwhile improvements on the status quo in the same way that the person about to leave me a link to their favorite bacon chocolate chip cookie (the one that will change my mind) recipe in the comments does, but no doubt someone else out there found that that bourbon clashed terribly with bananas and feels justly that I owe them some cake.
Nevertheless, I hope we can all agree on one thing: Peach pie should be off limits. Peach pie, the way it has always been made, is one of the universe’s most perfect foods and it needs nothing — not a vanilla bean, not a dash of thyme or grating of fresh ginger — to be the very embodiment of a midsummer’s dessert dream. All it needs to make your kitchens smell like everything grand in this world and your friends sigh with joy and weep with nostalgia is fresh peaches, a minuscule pinch of cinnamon, an even smaller suggestion of nutmeg, a restrained amount of sugar heating until bubbly and glurping within the walls of a flaky, golden all-butter crust. No creme fraiche. No tiny sour cream pastries… whoops! Well, at least not today.
One year ago: Corn, Buttermilk and Chive Popovers
Two years ago: Scalloped Tomatoes with Croutons and Raspberry Brown Sugar Gratin
Three years ago: Best Birthday Cake and Arugula, Green Bean and Potato Salad
Four years ago: Sauteed Radishes with Sugar Snaps and Dill and Nectarine Mascarpone and Gingersnap Tart
Five years ago: Ratatouille’s Ratatouille and Red Bean Chili and Double Chocolate Cake and Red Pepper Soup
This is a classic peach pie with no frills, because peach pie needs no frills to be fantastic. Let this pie convince you.
A few details: There’s not a lot of sugar in this pie because my unpaid testers and I didn’t feel that it warranted it. Typical peach pie recipes can call for 1 cup of sugar; I tested one with 2/3 cup and felt it was too sweet and another with 1/2 cup and felt it was just right. I like to split the sugar between white granulated and light brown for best flavor without too much of a muddy beige color. Feel free to use all of one or the other, or bump up the sugar if you think you’d like the pie sweeter.
These days, my pie thickener of choice is minute tapioca (minute tapioca is partially precooked and will do the trick in the time most pies bake; it’s available in most major grocery stores in the baking aisle) because a small amount thickens well once cooled and it becomes clear when it is cooked. It can be used straight from the box but the pearls can create a jammy texture. I prefer to grind it before using it in a cleaned spice grinder or coffee grinder until as powdery as it will get. For whatever reason, food processors and everyday blenders won’t do the trick. If you can’t find tapioca or don’t want to bother with it, use one of the alternative starches listed.
For more pie dough details, read this, and for more help rolling and/or crimping the lid, read that. For a diagram on how to make a lattice-top pie that I drew in Microsoft Paint in the early months of this site when I clearly had too much time on my hands, well, here you go.
2 1/2 cups (315 grams) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting surfaces
1 tablespoons (15 grams) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon table salt
2 sticks (225 grams, 8 ounces, or 1 cup) unsalted butter, very cold
1/2 cup water, very cold
About 3 1/2 pounds peaches (approximately 6 large, 7 medium or 8 small)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, from about half a regular lemon
1/4 cup granulated sugar (see note up top; use 1/3 cup for a sweeter pie)
1/4 cup light brown sugar (ditto)
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Few gratings of fresh nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons minute tapioca, ground to a powder (see note up top), or 3 tablespoons cornstarch or potato starch
1 tablespoon milk, cream or water
1 tablespoon coarse or granulated sugar
Make your pie dough: Whisk together flour, sugar and salt in the bottom of a large, wide-ish bowl. Using a pastry blender, two forks or your fingertips, work the butter into the flour until the biggest pieces of butter are the size of small peas. (You’ll want to chop your butter into small bits first, unless you’re using a very strong pastry blender in which case you can throw the sticks in whole, as I do.) Gently stir in the ice water with a rubber spatula, mixing it until a craggy mass forms. Get your hands in the bowl and knead it just two or three times to form a ball. Divide dough in half. Wrap each half in plastic wrap and flatten a bit, like a disc. Chill in fridge for at least an hour or up to two days. Slip plastic-wrapped dough into a freezer bag and freeze for up to 1 to 2 months (longer if you trust your freezer more than I do). To defrost, leave in fridge for 1 day.
Meanwhile, prepare your filling: Bring a large saucepan of water to boil. Prepare an ice bath. Make a small x at the bottom of each peach. Once water is boiling, lower peaches, as many as you can fit at once, into saucepan and poach for two minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to ice bath for one minute to cool. Transfer peaches to cutting board and peel the skins. In most cases, the boiling-then-cold water will loosen the skins and they’ll slip right off. In the case of some stubborn peaches, they will stay intact and you can peel them with a paring knife or vegetable peeler and curse the person who made you waste your time with poaching fruit.
Halve and pit the peaches, then into about 1/3-inch thick slices. You’ll want 6 cups; it’s okay if you go a little over. Add to a large bowl and toss with lemon juice. In a small dish, stir together sugars, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and cornstarch until evenly mixed. Add to peaches and toss to evenly coat.
Preheat: Oven to 425 degrees.
Assemble your pie: Flour the heck out of your counter, unwrap your first dough (if the two pieces look uneven, go for the smaller one) and put it in the middle and flour that too. Be generous, you’ll thank me later. Start rolling your dough by pressing down lightly with the pin and moving it from the center out. You’re not going to get it all flat in one roll or even twenty; be patient and it will crack less. Roll it a few times in one direction, lift it up and rotate it a quarter-turn. And that’s what you’re going to continue to do, roll a couple times, lift the dough and rotate it. Re-flour the counter and the top of the dough as needed–don’t skimp! You should be leaving no bits of dough on the counter and none should be stuck to your pin. If at any point, the dough starts to get sticky or soft, it’s warming up and will only become more difficult to work with. Transfer it back to the fridge for a few minutes (or even the freezer, but for just a minute) to let it cool, then resume your rolling process.
Once your dough is a 12- to 13-inch circle, transfer pie dough to a standard pie dish by folding it gently into quarters (making no creases), arranging the folded corner into one quadrant of the bottom of your tin and gently unfolding it to fit over the base. Trim the overhang to one inch.
Scoop filling into bottom pie dough, including any accumulated juices (they contain the thickener too, also: tastiness). Roll out your top pie dough using the same procedure, until it is 12 to 13 inches in diameter. If you’d like to make a regular lidded pie, use it as is, cutting some decorative vents in the pie lid before baking. To make a lattice-top pie, cut the pie dough into strips anywhere from 1/2 to 1-inch wide with a pastry wheel, pizza wheel or knife. Arrange every other strip across your pie filling in one direction, spacing the strips evenly. Fold back every other strip gently on itself and add the longest remaining strip in the other direction. Fold the strips back down, repeat with the other strips until a full lattice-top is formed. Trim the lattice’s overhang to the diameter of the pie dish’s rim (i.e. no overhang; only the bottom crust will have that and this is a case of do as I say, not as I do, because I totally forgot this detail when I was making the above pie). Gently fold the rim of the bottom crust over the lattice strips and crimp decoratively.
To finish:Brush pie with milk, cream or water and sprinkle with sugar.
Bake pie: For about 20 minutes in the preheated oven, until the crust is set and beginning to brown. Reduce oven temperature to 375 and bake pie for another 30 to 40 minutes, until filling is bubbling all over and the crust is a nice golden brown. If the pie lid browns too quickly at any point in the baking process, you can cover it with foil for the remaining baking time to prevent further browning.
Cool pie: For three hours at room temperature before serving. I know you won’t listen to me — there’s hot delicious pie to be eaten, after all — but if you’re concerned about the runniness of the pie filling, keep in mind that the pie filling does not fully thicken until it is fully cool. Pie can be stored at room temperature or in the fridge; from the fridge, it will be even thicker.