One of the first things I learned upon moving to Atlanta, is that peaches, despite being the namesake of the state, and gracing every third street sign in some way or another, seem to grow better in South Carolina. They grow more of them, export more of them, and some people say they are better tasting. In that light the constant chatter of peaches and peachtrees around here strikes of slight insecurity. Somehow I think that make us a better fit than I give this place credit for. In the last few weeks we’ve rolled into peach season. They’re making appearances on fancy local menus and crates of them have popped up at the farmers’ market just daring us to bring them into the kitchen and make them shine. You know what that means don’t you? I’ve been working on a peach pie. Like most things these days, it’s a work in progress. I’ve been dragging my feet to share it with you because I want to save this space for near perfect dishes, little gems in their own right.
But when it comes to this peach pie, progress has come in small steps while perfection alludes me. So, sheepishly I must admit, this pie is not perfect. The problem with this pie is its just too soggy, and by soggy I mean those peaches are just a bit too juicy, and they muddle up the crust. The wisdom of cobblers rather than pie seems rather obvious; but I’ve got pie on my mind and I’m just too stubborn to let it go, but you knew that, didn’t you? I’m also stubbornly pursing a more wholesome piecrust, with the presence of some sort of whole grain flour. So it may seem obvious I’m doomed to failure, trying to do too much with too few skills, but I’ve got to say, I’ve feel a personal stake at making things that don’t quite fit, somehow work.
Now about the sogginess, blame my stubbornness again. Both of the recipes I was working off of called for cornstarch to thicken up the juice, and I defied them. Twice. Let me explain. They also called for a mix of butter and shortening in the crust, and while my impulse was to roll with an all butter crust, I had to admit I’d never actually baked with shortening. Add to that, shortening seems to be making appearances on ingredient lists in a number of lovely cookbooks that have otherwise served me quite well, so how could I discount it outright? Isn’t this project about developing kitchen skills, trying new things? So I dropped what I was doing, ran to the store and picked up the most benign looking shortening I could find. And not only was the dough no easier to work with, it came out of the oven with a soggy bottom, and it lacked, well, flavor. So now I can say that I’ve tried it, and I’m in no rush to so again.
When the instruction came to add cornstarch to the peach juices, my suspicions were on high alert and since I didn’t have it on hand, I wasn’t about to run out again. (At this point you may be asking yourself, ‘katie, don’t you gather ALL your ingredients before you start a project?’ Point taken) The problem wasn’t just that I snubbed the directions, it was that I didn’t have a good stand-in. I tried reducing the juice by half, with little luck. Next I tried a caramel sauce from the juice and par-baking the crust. While that did seem to help, I’m not sold enough to sign off on it. Maybe I’ll try tapioca or arrowroot, or maybe this peach pie needs a streusel top instead of a double crust so some of the moisture can escape while it bakes. Who knows, maybe I’ll just break down and try cornstarch.
With some next steps to explore, I’m relieved to have started my quest at the beginning of peach season, because two peach pies in a week is enough for me for a wee bit. Thankfully, these experiments have brought my closer to a nice, wholesome crust. It too is far from perfect, but it has a nice little crumb, like a toasty shortbread. So I offer you a “where I’m at’ spelt pie dough. Its bound to change in the coming months, and will hopefully become more delicate, but for now, its where I’m at; I’m happy to say its not that bad! Fill it how you will.
Spelt Pie Dough (makes one double crust pie)
Inspired by Kim Boyce’s Good to the Grain
- 1 1/3 cup spelt flour
- 1 1/3 cup all purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 sticks butter cut into small chunks
- 1/4 cup buttermilk plus more as needed
Mix the first four ingredients in a large bowl.
Add butter and combine with pastry blender or your hands. I like to use my hands and smear the butter into the flour. Mix until the butter is about the size of peas, and is somewhat uniform consistency. But don’t stress! Its a point I struggle with, but irregularities are tasty, they make for a flakier crust, and honestly stressing out defeats the purpose of making a pie.
Next drizzle the buttermilk over the flour and butter mixture and work into a rough dough. If the dough doesn’t stick add additional buttermilk 1 tablespoon at a time. The dough shouldn’t be sticky, but it should all hold together. Most dough recipes call for ice water at this step, but I think because whole grains have a higher protein count, they need more fat to balance them out.
Dust your rolling surface with a generous splash of flour. Take a small chunk of dough, about 2 tablespoons in size into your hand and flatten it out on your rolling surface. Repeat this step, one piece of dough after another, smearing each round into the previous. The dough will look rough and uneven, but don’t worry, your working to create thin layers within the dough that will become flaky, crunchy layers in the finished crust. When you’ve used all the dough, cut the dough in half, shape each piece into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Let dough rest in fridge for at least an hour, up to overnight. You will probably need to use a dough scraper to lift off the surface, as those irregular sized bits of butter can be sticky as they warm up. If you don’t have a dough scraper, the side of a chef’s knife works just fine.
Be advised, spelt dough doesn’t handle the way a traditional dough does. Its not soft and springy, and I’ve had a lot of trouble rolling and shaping it. Rolling it fairly thin seems to help its flexibility, but it’s a short window before the butter gets soft and it becomes a sticky mess. I’ve resorted to covering with wax paper when rolling it out.