Wednesday, June 8, 2011

An Ending, a Beginning, and Blushing Peach Mini-Pies . . .

It's the end of an era and the birth of a new one. That's how it feels around here since my oldest son, Charlie, graduated from high school a few days ago in a beautiful and moving commencement. I realized only that night, as the processional music began to play, that I had been half-consciously trying to avoid thinking of the graduation ceremony as a real watershed moment, but that's what it was. A watershed in the life of my child, to be sure, but also for our family as a whole and for me as a mom.

Let's just say it was a good thing I remembered the Kleenex.

I find myself immersed lately in a whirlwind of emotions about Charlie. Extraordinary love and affection, pride at his accomplishments, a mixture of apprehension and excitement about him leaving home for college next fall, and curiosity as to what his future may hold. It's all just amazing to me that we've come this far in the journey.

When your babies are born, you imagine all of the landmark events that will likely occur in their lives, but for a long time that's all you can do--imagine them. When one of the big events actually transpires, and you're there to witness it in a formal and celebratory setting, it's a strange and wondrous thing.

About this recipe . . .

So, what does all this maternal sentimentality have to do with blushing peach mini-pies? Not a darn thing. But I figure  that's okay, because juicy little fruit pies don't need a special reason to justify their existence.

These were put together on a hot and steamy day. When I mixed the crust, I'd originally intended to make just one standard-size pie. The crust, what with the heat wave, wouldn't roll out all that cooperatively, so I went to plan B and formed these into casual mini-pies--much easier from the assembly standpoint on a blistering day. They look sort of free form and funky because I was trying to work swiftly and throw them in the oven without delay. I managed to get five minis out of the recipe.

Aptly named, blushing peach pie's moniker can be attributed to the girlishly pink, raspberry-based syrup that you mix with the sliced fruit. Made from fresh raspberries, sugar, and water, the syrup is cooked in a sauce pan, then strained. Combined with the peaches, this stuff's really good. Talk about something worth blushing over.

This recipe hails from The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion, a solid and chunky classic that every home-baker needs to have around. I didn't change the ingredients or their proportions, but I completely reworded the directions to reflect what I actually did.

Blushing Peach Mini-Pies

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

Ingredients for the pie crust:

2 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour or pastry flour (I used pastry flour, but I usually use regular flour for pie crust.)
1 tsp. salt (I used coarse kosher salt.)
1 cup cold butter, shortening, or lard, or a combo of these (Does anyone out there still use lard? I've never had the guts to even buy it, but I've always heard it makes for a darn fine crust. I used half butter and half shortening here.)
2 to 4 oz. ice cold water, as needed (1/4 to 1/2 cup)

To make the pie crust dough:

Whisk the flour and salt in a large bowl. With a pastry blender, work in half of the fat until the mixture resembles large peas. Then, work in the rest of the fat until the particles are about the size of rice grains. Sprinkle in the ice water, a tablespoonful at a time, while tossing the dough with a fork. You want the dough to be just moist enough to hold together when pressed in your hand. Don't let it become so wet that it feels sticky. Be judicious with the water. 

Press the dough into one big ball, cut it in half, press each half into a disk shape about an inch thick, and wrap the disks in plastic wrap. Chill them for at least one hour before attempting to roll them out. 

Ingredients for the fruit filling:
6 cups of peeled, sliced, ripe peaches
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp. salt (I used coarse kosher.)
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
3/4 cup to 1 cup of granulated sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup raspberry syrup (See separate recipe for that below.)

While the dough is chilling, peel your peaches, and slice them into large bite-size chunks. Sprinkle them with a little lemon juice to help keep them from browning and set them aside. (If you prefer, you can blanch the peaches first and remove their skins that way, but it's not critical you do it that way. To blanch them, put the peaches into boiling water, boil for a minute or two; quickly remove them and plunge them into ice cold water to stop the cooking, then peel off the skins by hand. The skin should come off easily.) 

In a small bowl, whisk together the salt, nutmeg, 3/4 cup of the sugar, and the 1/4 cup cornstarch. Set aside.

To make the raspberry syrup: 

1 cup fresh raspberries
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup water

Stir together the raspberries, sugar, and water in a medium-size saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook for several minutes, stirring regularly, until the sugar is completely dissolved. 

Remove from heat. To remove all the seeds, pour the syrup through a fine mesh sieve that's been placed over a heatproof bowl. Set aside and let the syrup cool somewhat.

To roll out the dough, mix the filling, and assemble the pie:

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Place a rack in the middle of the oven.

If you're making mini pies have all of your pans nearby. Remove one of the dough disks from the fridge, unwrap it, and let it sit for about five to ten minutes to soften it up slightly. On a lightly floured surface roll the dough out no thinner than about 1/8" thick. For five minis, cut out five small circles slightly larger than the diameter of your pans, and set the scrap dough aside. Working quickly, place the dough circles into the pie tins, being careful not to stretch the dough. Do the same with the second disk of chilled dough. Press all of the scraps into one ball and reroll that out. Using a sharp knife or a pizza wheel, cut the dough into little strips that will fit across the top of your mini pies. 

Quickly add to the peaches the bowl of dry filling ingredients (salt, cornstarch, nutmeg, and 3/4 cup of granulated sugar). Stir well and taste the liquid; if it's not sweet enough add in the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar. Add approximately 1/2 cup of the raspberry syrup and stir into the fruit just to combine. Scoop the fruit mixture evenly into the pie shells. 

Lay 4 to 6 of the little dough strips in criss-cross fashion over the top of each pie, crimping the edges as you wish (with your fingers or with the tines of a fork, etc.). Brush the strips of dough lightly with milk and sprinkle the crust with coarse/sanding sugar or granulated sugar. Place the pies onto a parchment covered baking sheet.

Bake for 15 minutes at 425 degrees, then check the mini pies; if they're browning too quickly, lightly cover them with foil. Lower the temperature to 375 at this point. Continue baking until the crust is golden brown and the filling looks hot and bubbly, perhaps 15 to 20 more minutes more even for minis. Cool the finished pies on a cooling rack. They can be served while still in their individual pans, or you can try to remove them from the pans when they're completely cool by flipping them over into your hand and quickly reinverting each one onto a plate.

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