Confession: I don’t make pies. But Ken does.
I’m jumping with joy to have Ken Haedrich, one of America’s most well-respected pie experts, sharing a pie recipe, on this very day, on this very blog. <—- SERIOUS.
Ken Haedrich is the author of Pie, which was voted one of Cooking Light’s 7 best baking cookbooks of the last 25 years. Say what? Wait, there’s more. If you want to see the bazillions of other pie-related cookbooks and magazines he’s authored or contributed to, check it out here.
Ken has also recently launched The Pie Academy – an “online community dedicated to the idea that anyone can learn to make great pies from scratch.” Ken, you’re heroic.
Listen up, pie lovers. Ken will show you where it’s at (hint: crumb topping).
“An apple is an excellent thing – until you have tried a peach.” – George du Maurier
No disrespect to our esteemed French-born author, but I might have put it this way: A peach is an excellent thing – until you have tried a fresh peach pie.
Then again, you’d expect that sort of opinion from someone who has spent the better part of his food career writing about his love affair with pie, a passion I inherited from my father. Dad’s weekend fruit pies were amazing – tender-flaky, exquisitely-filled affairs whose memory still makes me weak in the knees. And this from a fellow whose pie education went no further than the back of a Crisco can.
Dad’s specialty was apple, but he would have approved of this peach pie. He was a stickler for good fruit because he knew that second rate produce yielded a second rate pie. Why go to the trouble, he would ask. Why indeed?
These peaches are from up the road a piece, in my adoptive state of South Carolina. We’re proud of our peaches here: they’re sweet, fat, and juicy this time of year. Yours should be, too. Other than a little sugar, thickener, and lemon juice, that’s about all there is to the filling. Dad used to say that the fruit should speak for itself.
As for the pastry, you will, of course, want a reliably good one for the pie shell. Ours is made with almost equal parts unsalted butter and Crisco – the former for flavor, the latter for superior texture. Do refrigerate the pastry for an hour or two before you roll; you’ll find that a chilled pastry is so much more cooperative, easier to roll and handle.
Here you see me putting an attractive ruffled edge on the rim of my pastry. If you’d like to try, this is simple to do: just put two fingers outside the rim as shown, and press against them with your thumb or index finger from the inside. Apply gentle and equal pressure on both sides. When you’re ready, fill the pie shell, place the pie in your preheated oven, then start making the topping right away.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have a bias for crumb toppings that borders on the absurd. Less is more? Nonsense. More is more, especially when the topping has both pecans AND Heath bars in it. (There is, in fact, plenty of topping here to reserve a large handful or two, freeze, and sprinkle it on your next batch of muffins just before baking.)
I find that it works best to bake your fruit pies about 20 minutes before adding your crumb topping. When you add the topping partway through, you synchronize things so the filling and topping are both perfectly baked at the same time. Try it. I think you’ll like the way it works out.
Incidentally, the topping is at its crunchy-best the same day you bake the pie – all the more reason to polish this off in one sitting. If you don’t, cover and refrigerate any leftovers before turning in, but not before the pie has cooled completely.
That’s about it. This goes without saying, but you can’t invite peaches, Heath bars, and pecans to the party without inviting the vanilla ice cream, too. Ginormous, devil-may-care, summer-size scoops are perfectly acceptable. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
- 5 tablespoons cold vegetable shortening (Crisco) in about 10 pieces
- 4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into ¼” pieces
- 1½ cups all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon (scant) salt
- ⅓ cup ice cold water
- Peach Filling:
- 5 cups peeled and sliced fresh peaches (or peaches and nectarines; see note below)
- ⅓ cup sugar
- 2½ tablespoons cornstarch
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- ½ teaspoon finely grated lemon zest (optional)
- Heath Bar Crumb Topping:
- 1 cup coarsely chopped Heath bars (about three 1.4 ounce bars)
- ⅔ cup all-purpose flour
- ½ cup pecan halves or pieces
- ¼ cup sugar
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into ¼” pieces
- Pastry: Put the butter and shortening on a plate and place in the freezer for 10 minutes.
- Mix the flour and salt in large bowl. Scatter the butter and shortening over the dry ingredients; toss lightly to mix. Using a pastry blender, cut the fat into the flour until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. Some pea-size pieces of fat should remain.
- Sprinkle all of the water over the mixture, drizzling it here and there. Using a large fork, mix the pastry just until it pulls together, then pack the pastry into a ball. Place the dough on a large sheet of plastic wrap and flatten into a disk about ¾” thick. Wrap in the plastic and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours before rolling.
- When the pastry has chilled, roll it into a 13” circle on a sheet of lightly-floured wax paper. Invert it over a 9” deep-dish pie pan and peel off the paper. Tuck the pastry into the pan, without stretching, then sculpt the overhang into an upstanding ridge. Add a decorative ruffle, if desired (see photos). Place the pie shell in the freezer while you make the filling. Preheat the oven to 400°.
- Filling: Put the peaches in a large mixing bowl. Mix the sugar and cornstarch in a separate small bowl. Add to the peaches and mix well. Mix in the lemon juice and zest, if using.
- Scrape the filling into the chilled pie shell and distribute it evenly, smoothing with a spoon. Place on the center oven rack and bake for 20 minutes. As the pie bakes, make the crumb topping.
- Topping: Combine the Heath bars, flour, pecans, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse the machine repeatedly, until the Heath bars are well chopped. Scatter the butter over the mixture. Pulse the machine again until the Heath bars are finely chopped. Transfer the topping to a large bowl and rub between your fingers to make uniform, gravel-like crumbs. Refrigerate until ready to use.
- When the pie has baked for 20 minutes, slide it out of the oven and carefully spread the topping evenly over the pie. “Rake” it around with a fork to spread it evenly. Slide the pie back into the oven and reduce the heat to 375°. Bake the pie another 35 to 40 minutes, until the topping is rich golden brown and the juices bubble thickly. Transfer the pie to a rack and cool for at least an hour or two before slicing.
Enjoy the pie, and may the rest of your summer be absolutely awesome.
- Ken, Dean of The Pie Academy