Out of all the season transitions, summer-to-fall seems to bring the most incongruous pairings at the market: peaches and pumpkins, corn and apples, blueberries and plums. But when I have a bunch of end-of-season peaches languishing in the fridge from the market two weeks ago and come home with a 30-pound bag of plums because, well, I’m me, I need to figure something out PDQ. It’s a good thing peaches and plums share common ground with all the good fall spices–cinnamon, cloves, brown sugar, brandy–in one of my favorite pies.
Any discussion of pie also has to include my new favorite pie crust. If there was a graph to measure the likelihood of pie based on “How badly I want pie” and “How much energy I want to spend” (…I had a whole witty thing here but it started to involve terms like “inverse proportionality” and “negative slope” and then I was looking for graph paper and made a literal pie chart in Excel and started debating if it was more appropriate as a bell curve and getting high school math class flashbacks. Let’s just pretend this paragraph was as infinitely clever as it was in my head. But I’m still including the pie chart.)
In any case, sometimes I’m just too lazy to get out eggs and vinegar and baking soda and ice and pastry cutter and a bowl, and then I don’t have pie (and for those who say “food processor!”, I hate cleaning the thing more than I like using it). And no pie on account of laziness is sad. This recipe is flour, butter, salt, water, a pastry board, and my hands and feels like markedly less effort. Less effort required=more pie.
The method is somewhere between traditional pie dough (cutting the butter into the flour until it’s in small bits that turn into small layers in the dough when it’s rolled out; also known as a short dough) and puff pastry dough (many, many thin layers of butter are created through many, many rounds of careful rolling, folding, and chilling; a.k.a. laminated dough).
In this process, big chunks of butter get mashed into the flour with your hand, creating large flakes (a variation on a technique called fraisage–my French lesson for the day) followed by a few rounds of rolling/folding to create more flaky layers. It’s even easy to work with as an all-butter crust, which has always given me trouble because the butter gets soft so quickly. I still like using a bit of lard in place of some of the butter for flavor, though.
The beauty of this method is that it’s nearly impossible to overwork, rolls out beautifully, and creates the flakiest pie crust I’ve ever had, a delicious, edible lovechild of traditional pie crust and puff pastry. Which is to say, it’s really, really good.
As for the filling, it’s is based on one of my favorites from a few years ago. Peaches were such an obvious addition that I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me sooner. As much as they’re a sign of summer, peaches are also the perfect fruit to transition to fall as they work so well with all the flavors associated with the season: cinnamon, ginger, cloves, cardamom, brown sugar, brandy. This recipe has them all, plus streusel. Everything is better with streusel.
For whatever reason, peaches and plums aren’t a fruit combination I see much, but it’s a shame as they work so well together. It’s definitely a pairing I’ll be using more often.
(And as for that 30 pounds of plums? There’s been plum gin (of course), plum-vanilla vodka, Chinese plum sauce, pickled plums, plum jam, plum cake (more on that next week), and, of course, pie.)
Extra Flaky Pie Crust and Peach-Plum Pie
A digital scale really does help to get the amount of flour right. Original recipe/technique from here. This makes enough for one double-crust or 2 single-crust pies.
2 to 2 1/4 cups (250 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup (8 ounces, 225 grams) cold, unsalted butter (or any combination of butter and leaf lard), cut into large chunks
1/4 cup cold water
Pour the flour into a pile on a pastry board, stir in the salt. Toss the butter with the flour until it’s coated on all sides.
Flatten the butter into the flour with the heel of your hand, pushing the butter away to create large, thin flakes. Using a dough scraper, metal spatula, or your hands, fold the flour and butter back towards the center of the pile a few times and repeat the pressing motion until the dough is mostly flakes of butter with a little bit of loose flour. Break up any extra large flakes of butter.
Create a well in the center of the dough and pour in the water. Stir in the flour/butter mixture and, using the scraper, fold the dough in on itself a few times just until it becomes a cohesive mass. Gather any loose bits of flour together and wrap the whole thing tightly with plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes.
Lightly flour a pastry board and rolling pin. Roll the dough out into a long strip about 1/3 inch thick. Fold the top and bottom thirds in towards the middle like a letter, then rotate it a quarter turn so the short ends of the package are at the top and bottom. Dust lightly with more flour, if needed, and repeat the rolling and folding at least two more times. If at any point the dough starts getting too soft, put it back in the fridge for a few minutes.
After the last fold, roll the dough out just enough so it can easily be cut into two squares. Nudge each square into a circle, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before using.
Spiced Peach-Plum Pie
Italian prune plums and firm peaches are great here because they hold up well to baking (and are easy to pit and chop), but any combination of varieties is fine.
1 single pie crust
3 pounds ripe plums and peaches, pitted and cut into large pieces, about 6 cups
1/2 cup granulated sugar, or more to taste
1 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest
2 tablespoons instant tapioca
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1 star anise pod
1 cinnamon stick
1 small sprig fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/3 cup dried fruit (I like a mix of cranberries, golden raisins, and currants)
Juice of half an orange
1/4 cup brandy
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 rye or whole wheat flour
1/2 dark brown sugar
1/3 cup walnuts, finely chopped
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
9-inch pie plate
Pie weights or beans
Prepare enough pie dough for a single-crust 9-inch pie.
Mix 2/3 of the fruit, granulated sugar, orange zest, and tapioca in a bowl and set aside.
In a saucepan over medium heat, bring vinegar, 2 tablespoons water, brown sugar, star anise, cinnamon, rosemary, ginger, pepper, cardamom, and salt to a simmer, stirring to help dissolve sugar. Add the remaining 1/3 of the fruit and cook until thickened and jammy, stirring frequently, 20 to 30 minutes. Cool, then discard anise, rosemary, and cinnamon.
Meanwhile heat brandy, orange juice, and dried fruit in a small pan until just simmering. Remove from heat and set aside.
Roll out the dough to fit a 9-inch pie pan. Grease and flour a pie plate as you would a cake pan. Transfer dough to pie pan. Carefully press crust into pan and crimp edges. Return pie to refrigerator for at least 20 minutes. While crust chills, heat oven to 400 degrees.
Prepare the crumb topping by combining flours, brown sugar, walnuts, cinnamon, cloves, and salt. Using your hands, work in butter until the dry ingredients are completely incorporated into butter and large, marble-size clumps form when pinched. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Gently press parchment paper into pie crust and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Transfer to the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the paper and pie weights and bake for another 5 to 10 minutes, or until crust is a light golden brown. Transfer to a rack to cool slightly.
Mix together the cooled jam, dried fruit, any remaining brandy/orange juice, and the fresh fruit. Pour everything into the crust and cover with the crumb topping. Turn oven down to 350 degrees and place pie on a baking sheet on middle rack in oven. Bake pie for 60 to 90 minutes or until fruit is bubbling and top is golden brown. If edges of crust start to brown too quickly, loosely cover them with foil. Remove from oven to a cooling rack.
Serve warm or at room temperature. Pie is best the day it’s made, but will keep well in a cool part of your kitchen for at least one additional day.