Iron chef: A peach of a pie

I love pie. I mean, LOVE pie. Fruit pie, cream pie, lemon meringue, butterscotch, French silk. Pecan and pumpkin, bumbleberry and cherry, vanilla custard, and good old All-American apple pie. Savory pie, a.k.a. quiche (which real men are now enlightened enough to eat). Turnovers. Even TableTalk. Give me a fork; bring it on. I’m there.

It’s too bad pie has such a terrifying reputation for wannabe and newbie bakers. I daresay even those of us who’ve been baking for years feel a tiny quiver of apprehension when we get out the rolling pin.

For instance, I got a call the other night from my mom, who loves pie as much as I (though not as much as me). She said she’d just made the best pie crust ever—and had no idea why it had turned out so well. That seems to be the case with many of us. Sometimes pie crust turns out great; sometimes it’s a mess. Why?

I lay it all to pie karma, and to the liquid/fat/flour ratio. First, karma: sometimes it’s just not your day. You do everything right, and the results are wrong. Ah, well… move on.

Second, that tricky flour/fat/liquid ratio. The more fat/less liquid per cup of flour, the more tender your finished crust will be—and the more difficult it’ll be to roll out and handle. More water = easier to handle = tougher crust.

My advice? Keep experimenting till you hit on a crust you really like. One that works for you—in your kitchen, with your tools, using your measuring methods, and your preferred brands of flour and butter.

Be advised that my favorite recipe may not be yours. And just because you use your mother’s crust recipe and it’s turned out perfectly for 53 years, that doesn’t mean it’ll work for me. We all need to find our own path—both to pie crust perfection, and through life.

That said, here’s a link to my current favorite pie crust recipe. It may change next week; but for now, it’s the one I turn to.

And my current favorite pie, here in the depths of Vermont’s Mud Season? A sunny-golden, tasty Anytime Peach Pie, studded with dried apricots. Or made half-and-half with last summer’s frozen raspberries. Trust me, even the most patched-together flop of a pie crust won’t matter when you add this filling!

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As you can see, I use our pie filling enhancer a lot. I like it because it includes a bit of ascorbic acid, both for flavor, and to help retain fruit color; and when you mix it into the fruit, it doesn’t clump like cornstarch or flour, and you don’t have to wait for it to dissolve, like tapioca.

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At this time of year, when the fresh peaches you get up North are barely edible, I find frozen peaches are a great substitute.

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Here’s my new favorite pie pan: a 9″ cast-iron skillet. Notice its sheen; that’s the result of a quick rubdown with shortening after each use. This particular pan was given to me 30 years ago by a 90-year-old friend; it had belonged to his mother. So you can imagine how old this pan is, and how many meals it’s cooked.

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Dump the frozen peaches into a bowl. Let them thaw a bit; they don’t have to be completely unfrozen, just soft enough to chop.

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Like this: a quick couple of pulses in the food processor is all it takes.

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Two 16-ounce frozen bags of peaches combined with a cup of chopped dried apricots makes the basis for a tasty filling. Why the apricots? They play beautifully with peaches, adding depth of flavor and enhanced texture.

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One time I only had 1 bag of peaches, so substituted a bag of frozen raspberries for the other bag; I also stirred in the apricots. The combination makes a gorgeous, ruby-red filling. Note the crust: it was one of those days. Never be afraid to patch your crust; the filling will cover a world of sins.

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Add the top crust, crimping to seal. Brush with milk or cream…

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…then sprinkle with coarse sparkling sugar. Cut slits in the top to let the steam escape (and hopefully prevent any filling eruptions).

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Here’s the pie, ready to pop into a 425°F oven.

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Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350°F, and bake for an additional 30 minutes or so, until the crust is starting to brown around the edge.

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Add a pie crust shield

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…and bake for an additional 10 to 15 minutes, until the top is lightly browned.

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If for some reason the top starts to over-brown, just tent it with a piece of foil.

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How’s that, sports fans?

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Enjoy it while you can…

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…I guarantee this is one pie that won’t last long.

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Here’s the half-raspberry version. Notice what a nice touch that sparkling sugar is.

Read, rate, and review (please) our recipe for Anytime Peach Pie.

Buy vs. Bake

Buy: Mäni’s Bakery Café, Los Angeles: Peach Pie, $34

Sweetie-Licious Pie Pantry, DeWitt, MI: Aunt Grace’s Peach Pie, $17.99

Bake at home: Springtime Peach Pie, $10.60

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

  1. Ann

    what am I doing wrong… when I bake my pies in the cast iron pan the bottom of the pie is gross… mushy wet. I preheated my oven to 400 degrees for an hr and then backed it back down to 350
    what in the name of Mike am I doing wrong…??

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid

      Ann, do you have a pizza stone? Putting your cast iron pan on a hot stone will help the bottom to set. Do you have a thermometer in your oven? If it’s running low, that could also be part of the problem. No reason not to try preheating to 425°F next time; quick, high heat for the first part of the bake is the best way to set the bottom crust. Susan

  2. Kathy

    I’ve been using frozen peaches when making a peach pie, I’ve made the pie twice and both times when I take the pie out of the oven it looks beautiful, I let it sit until the next day to slice, when I slice the pie to plate it looks great, the filling is slightly firm filling but when I do my tasting the peaches are a bit crunchy. I bake at 425 for 10 minutes then reduce the heat to 375 for 40-45 minutes. I also remove the peaches from the freezer and place them in the refrigerator for a day to thaw and on the day I am baking I put the still slightly frozen peaches in a strainer for a few hours to finish thawing. Are peaches supposed to be a bit crunchy when baking a peach pie? If they aren’t what do I need to do to soften them up? Should I microwave them before baking? The peaches still hold their shape nicely after the pie is baked.

    Thanks for your help, Kathy

    Reply
    1. MaryJane Robbins

      HI Kathy,
      Yes, you may want to cook the peaches a bit to get them softened in the center. They should be firm, but not crunchy. ~ MJ

  3. Natalie

    Dearest PJ,

    Having experienced a resurgence of interest in cooking with cast iron, and the holidays being here as well, I’ve been thinking about making an apple pie (and shepherd’s pie, and sticky buns, and, and, and…LOL!!) in one of my lovely skillets. My only concern is I’m thinking the pie had better not be stored in the skillet. Not, mind you, that pie lasts all that long around here, but remembering that my Thanksgiving dressing began to discolor on the very bottom, pretty soon after we were done eating has me a bit concerned. What do you think?
    BTW, all your hints and tips are SO awesome! As a baker of many, many years experience, I never fail to learn something new and exciting every time I explore blog or website! Thank you!
    Natalie

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      I don’t recommend storing anything in the cast iron; it does react and discolor. You can always bake it for show and transfer it after the initial eating. Laurie@KAF

  4. muse

    When I make pies out of fruit that is juicy and likely to become runny, I add in a half cup of chopped dried fruit.
    Great advice! Elisabeth

    Reply
  5. D

    Love this little grammar nugget: “For instance, I got a call the other night from my mom, who loves pie as much as I (though not as much as me).”

    Reply
  6. Libby

    I have a question. I am always told to oil or shortening the cast iron pan, but they end up sort of stick and feeling not at all clean. Do you have any idea what I’m doing wrong???
    You are correct, Libby. Try using a little less oil or shortening. A light coat is all it needs. Elisabeth

    Reply
  7. Nonnie Dahnke

    I use my cast iron skillet to me the most AWESOME cornbread! It’s a truly wonderful tool. I will use it to make pie this year – great idea!

    Reply
  8. Dana Curtis

    I have my grandmother’s cast iron pans. They are in dire need of a “little love” and I would be very appreciative if you could recommend a way to do it. Many thanks !

    Dana
    Hi Dana – Try re-seasoning your pans. Coat your cast iron cookware with vegetable shortening (inside and out) and place in a 300 degree oven for one hour. Remove, and wipe off any liquified shortening. And after every use, lightly apply the inside with shortening or vegetable oil. That should do it! Elisabeth

    Reply

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