The Pies of Summer

I can tell you my love for you will still be strong after the pies of summer are gone.

illustration: tram nguyen

 

I don’t get people who say they hate summer. What? You don’t you like being happy? Tan? Dressing in slightly inappropriate outfits, just shy of mutton dressed as lamb? I just want to shake these miserable souls. By the time July rolls around, Chicago transforms into another city entirely. I love riding down the Lake Front Path on my bicycle in the summer, cruising past the absurd non-native palm trees that miraculously appear every June, pop-up stands selling aguas frescas and sweet juicy mangoes dusted with chili powder, and bikinied beach babes anointing themselves with coconut oil. As I watch the paddle boarders in the distant horizon, looking like so many perfect, tan, Jesuses walking on water, I remember that this is the reason I’ve decided to live in a place that is a completely unfit for human habitation six months out of the year.

I’ve been gorging myself on the best of summer produce, in the manner of a lab rat that has had it’s hypothalamus removed and can no longer tell the difference between hungry and full. All year long, I wait for and dream about the blueberries and peaches and Oh My God the tomatoes, which I consume by the pounds and pounds as soon as late summer arrives. Even as I bite into that perfect summer tomato, my joy is tempered by the fact that the pleasure is fleeting. That the season will be over in a few short weeks and it will soon be cold and gray and I will never be happy again.

You can’t fight the inevitable passage of time, but you can freeze it, albeit temporarily, like botox in the eerily serene, unmoving faces of certain Gold Coast denizens. I’m not talking about canning. Jam is pretty good, but nobody has ever said, “Man, I could go for some preserves right now.”  Also, canning seems really finicky, even to someone like me who generally enjoys difficult, time-consuming endeavours that I can crow about later. And, of course, there’s always the risk of unwittingly poisoning your loved ones with botulism. If one is going to mess with botulism, it should be under the care and supervision of a licensed Gold Coast dermatologist. Readers, I’m talking about hand pies.

Pie has been an obsession of mine for the past few years; my technique evolving over a series of delicious disasters and many extra pounds packed on in the saddle bag region. My boyfriend Romeo is one of those frustrating health nut types who claims to not like sweets. He’ll usually eat like, a tiny sliver, generously leaving the rest for me, which I will happily gobble up. I didn’t earn the nickname “garbage disposal” for nothing. I decided that I needed to take some precautionary measures, knowing that the obvious solution of having a little self-control was not an option, I decided to make smaller, individual pies. Also, not gonna lie, pie making is an involved process. Your dough has to be the right temperature, the fruit has to be the exact ripeness, there’s the blind baking, and a hot oven in the summertime. I make a double batch of these, freeze them individually, and then pop them in the oven whenever I’m in the mood for pie (always). The beauty of hand pies is that with a little extra work now you can enjoy a delicious summer fruit pie whenever your heart desires, or until your stash runs out.

I’m almost superstitious about this method, but I’m fairly confident that if you follow the instructions pretty closely, it will result in the most beautiful, flaky crust. My recipe is adapted from a technique developed by the excellent J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, a Cook’s Illustrated alum who approaches food with scientific rigor, but unlike his former employer, doesn’t suck the joy out of cooking. If you are a pie-nerd who finds this sort of thing fascinating, you can read all the gory details here. The main difference in my recipe is that I substitute some of the All Purpose Flour with Caputo’s “00” flour. It’s a high protein flour, milled finer than AP flour, and is excellent for pizza, bread, and according to the American packaging “apple pie.” I can assure you it works well on other, non-apple pies.

My method is done entirely by hand, because I am too lazy to go to the trouble of getting a food processor dirty and I don’t own a dishwasher. However if this is not a problem for you, Lopez-Alt details his very effective technique here. You want to work quickly, keeping the dough as cold as possible. If my kitchen is especially hot, I will stick the dough back in the refrigerator periodically. I used peaches here, but any stone fruit or berry will do. I cook the fruit filling on the stove for a bit, before assembling my pies to concentrate the juices, avoiding a soggy pie crust.

PEACH HAND PIES

You will need:

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour OR 1 1/2 cups of all purpose flour + 1 cup “00” flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 sticks butter, preferably a high fat, European-style butter (I use salted butter because I like a slightly salty crust, but unsalted would be fine here too)
About 1/2 cup of ice water

3 pounds of ripe peaches
1 tablespoon of cornstarch
1/4 cup of sugar, or more (depending on the sweetness of your fruit and your own preference. I like my desserts on the less sweet side)

1 egg, beaten

Demerara sugar, for dusting

PIE CRUST

In a large bowl, whisk together 1 1/2 cups of all purpose flour, sugar, and salt.

Cut your butter into 1/2″ cubes. Incorporate the butter into your flour mixture using a pastry blender (Ahem.  Highly recommended, I don’t got time to fiddle with two butter knives Lucy!), until you are left with what looks like coarse cornmeal.

Drizzle your ice water into your flour, and gently fold it in using a spatula.

Take the remaining cup of either “00” or AP flour and sprinkle it over your dough. Knead this barely, until the dough mostly holds itself together. I do this in the bowl, but you can dump the whole mixture onto the counter and work it there if that is easier for you.

If it’s still too dry, you can add a bit more ice water, by the tablespoon. You don’t want to handle the dough too much because (a) the butter will melt with the heat from your hands and the dough will be sticky and difficult to handle, and (b) you risk developing the gluten too much, resulting in a tougher, more cookie like crust.

Wrap your dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

FRUIT FILLING

While your dough is resting, peel and pit the peaches. Cut into 3/8″ slices.

Toss your peaches with sugar and cornstarch. Cook on medium heat on the stove for about 7 minutes, stirring frequently. Refrigerate your fruit filling for at least 30 minutes.

ASSEMBLY

When your dough and filling have cooled down sufficiently, you are ready to assemble.

I divide my dough into 4 balls, refrigerating the ones that I am not working with.

On a generously floured surface, roll out your dough to about a 1/4″ thickness. I cut 6.5″ circles using a upside down bowl.

Brush the outer rim of your circle with egg wash. Place about 3 tbs of filling in the center of your circle. Fold the dough in half, crimping the edges shut with a fork. Slice three vertical cuts on top of the hand pie, to provide a place for steam to escape as the pie bakes.

Place a sheet of parchment paper on a cookie sheet. Place assembled hand pies on the same cookie sheet. I usually leave the cookie sheet in the freezer, to keep the pies cold as I assemble the rest.

If you like, you can gather up all your dough scraps and knead them together to make a new dough ball. The pies from this dough will be slightly uglier and tougher, but I don’t discriminate. From this recipe, I got 9 perfect looking pies and 2 wonky ones.

You can freeze these on the sheet and then throw them into a freezer bag for future baking. If you want to bake them now, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Leave the pies in the freezer for about 20 minutes before baking. You can brush the pies with the remaining egg wash and sprinkle with Demerara sugar. Bake until golden brown, about 35-50 minutes.

If you decide to freeze the pies, you can bake them straight from the freezer.  Just place on a lined baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees, for about 40-50 minutes.

1 Comment Write a comment

  1. Hi! Found your blog via Saveur, and I can’t get enough. Have been reading backwards, post by post, whenever my baby-filled house gives me a minute to myself. As a fellow resident of the Midwest, I can’t tell you how much this post makes me long for fresh peaches – which are a solid 4 months away.

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