While a perfectly lush peach is one of late summer's greatest gifts, such fruit does not make for good pie.
The flesh of at-their-peak peaches tends to collapse when cooked, while their generous juice sogs a pastry crust. Those specimens are better suited for crumbles, slumps, pandowdys and cobblers. Or you could roast them with bourbon, turbinado and star anise, and present them on split biscuits with veils of cream, pseudo shortcake-style. Or take them savoury with a melting ooze of burrata, some throat-warming olive oil, flaky salt and chili flakes. Or, eat them, as is, out of hand and over the sink, with pleasure.
But if it's great pie you want, it comes down to the persnickety details, and this is especially the case for peaches.
Since juice containment is a hazard of stone-fruit pies in general, I employ a two-phase strategy to keep them in check. First, cribbing from jam-making methodology, leave the fruit to lounge in sugar at room temperature before siphoning off the collected liquids and simmering them in a saucepan.
Reducing the liquid to the consistency of maple syrup means that there is less liquid to potentially overflow the confines of the pan. (On the plus side, since the fruit has already lost some of its mass, it doesn't shrink much upon cooking, and won't leave a void beneath the top crust. But if you only have exceedingly ripe peaches, you could make it a single-crust and call it a day. You won't miss the bottom crust, and you will still have pie.)
Then, baking the pie in the lower third of the oven ensures that the bottom crust is cooked through and is crisp enough to not only stand firm against the viscous filling but also provide a needed contrast to the softness within. As with baking bread, let the pastry go a handsome chestnut brown in places; the toasted nuttiness will be welcomed.
Fruit that is fragrant but still firm has the structure needed to keep a pie standing proud on its plate. Depending on the varietals employed, a peach pie can look vaguely anemic. So I add a few black or red plums to the filling, to impart a striking maroon stain as well as a pleasant sourness. Nectarines are similarly effective, albeit more subtle, and can be used instead. Brown sugar further deepens the juices, but is scant enough to keep the overall effect sprightly.
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup ice
21/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup butter, cold, and cut into small cubes
Juice and zest of half a lemon
3 pounds peaches (about a 3-litre container), just ripe and still firm, peeled
1 pound red or black plums
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean, split
A few drops almond extract
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
A pinch kosher salt
1 egg, beaten with a pinch of kosher salt
Coarse or granulated sugar, for sprinkling
For the pastry, add the ice to the water and vinegar in a 1-cup liquid measure and chill. Combine the flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Toss the cubes of butter in the flour. With a pastry cutter or a pair of butter knives, cut butter into the flour until the butter is in tiny pieces, almost the size of peas. Grab the vinegar water from the fridge. Drizzle 3 tablespoons of water across the flour mixture. Stir to combine, then drip over 1 more.
With a clean hand, start squeezing fistfuls of the mixture together until it holds, then pressing that collected dough into the loose flour in the bowl. To get an idea of the motion, think less kneading more packing – this method will create delineated layers in the dough. Continue the process of folding and pressing dough together until all the flour is incorporated and the dough is fairly smooth.
Turn the dough out onto a work surface, divide into two portions, and shape each into a disc. Wrap them tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours but preferably overnight. The dough can be kept refrigerated for three days, or tucked, wrapped, in a freezer bag and frozen for up to 2 months. Defrost dough overnight in the fridge, still bundled.
To make the filling, add the lemon zest and juice to a large bowl. Cut the peaches and plums into 1/4-inch slices and add them to the juice, tossing slices often to prevent browning. There should be about 8 cups total. Stir in the sugars and leave at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Drain the juices from the fruit into a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring often. Reduce juices to a scant 1/2 cup. Scrape in the seeds from the vanilla bean and add the almond extract. Set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, line a baking sheet with parchment paper. On a lightly floured surface, roll one disc of dough out to a 12-inch round. Fit the dough into a 9-inch pie plate. Ease it completely flush to the corners with your knuckles, and leave an even overhang around the rim. Roll the second disc into another circle. Leave whole, or cut into strips for lattice. Lay second crust onto the parchment-lined baking sheet.
Sprinkle the cornstarch, spices and salt over the fruit. Toss gently until cornstarch is no longer visible. Pour in the reduced juices, and toss again. Tip the fruit into the pastry shell, packing slices tightly and mounding slightly in the centre. Top with second crust, whole or weaving into lattice.
Trim the top crust to barely overlap the bottom. Lift the edge of the bottom crust over to enclose the top, rolling inwards with even, firm pressure. Keep working around the perimeter of the pie, forming the edge slightly inside the pan’s rim. Crimp or flute as desired. Refrigerate the pie on the lined baking sheet for 30 minutes.
Preheat an oven to 425 F with a rack in the lower third. Glaze pastry lightly with beaten egg, then sprinkle with coarse sugar. Cut steam vents into whole crusts. Bake the pie in the hot oven for 25 minutes, then lower the heat to 375. Continue to bake until the pastry is evenly golden and the juices are bubbling thickly, 35 to 45 minutes more.
Set on a cooling rack and allow to come to room temperature before serving with ice cream, whipped cream or sweetened crème fraîche and ground pistachios, as pictured.