the essential northwest pie: blueberry and peach

lavender peach blueberry pie

The Northwest is home to many delicious fruits. Every summer we’re blessed with abundant yields of locally grown fruits, including peaches and blueberries. (Georgia may be the Peach State, but we hold our own here in Washington.) We are now entering the peak peach season, when it’s easy to find premium-quality fruits, even at the supermarket.

Last September, one of my husband’s colleagues gave us about 10 pounds of ripe golden peaches that he had just picked in an orchard. Those were the best peaches I had ever had: fresh, juicy and so intensively flavorful. The only inconvenience? The fruits don’t keep very long in the hot summer weather. So we took to canning — heating up our already warm kitchen filling jar after jar with peach jam and peach salsa.

peach & blueberry pie

Peach and blueberry is one of my favorite fruit combinations: The two flavors greatly complement each other, and the fruits look great together. Somehow, they just capture the fragrance and feel of summer. My go-to breakfast is a handful of blueberries, a sliced peach and a spoon of cottage cheese. Sprinkle some crushed walnuts on top and enjoy! I’m also a big fan of blueberry peach crumbles, pancakes, cobblers… But surprisingly enough, I had never made a pie. It was high time to give it a try. Nothing celebrates summer as much as a fruit pie.

fruits pie

A pie, yes, but with a twist: No double crust for my pie. I had something more subtle and delicate in mind, something that would enhance the flavors of the fruits rather than overpower them with a buttery crust: a crumb streusel with lemon zest and lavender buds (from my harvest session in Sequim few weeks ago). Just enough to add some layers to the taste of the pie without detracting from the sweetness of the peaches and the floral perfume of the blueberries. A true Northwestern pie with locally grown peaches, blueberries and lavender. All the flavors get a chance to shine and it makes a beautifully perfumed combination.

uncooked pie

The key to a delicious pie depends on the quality of the fruits you use — ripe but not too soft, sweet with a balanced tanginess — as much as on the consistency of the crust: Never settle for anything less than light and flaky. In a previous attempt, this pie gave me some trouble with the crust being too soggy and the blueberries turning into a soup. I finally nailed it after choosing to pre-bake my crust and add a little cornstarch to the blueberries to thicken their juices. (Note to self: Shortcuts are never good when baking.)

fruits pie with crumb topping

As for the final product, it’s definitely a keeper. The crust is nicely flaky and lemony, the crumb topping is light and airy which really allows the fruits to shine. This must be the taste of sunshine.

Blueberry, peach and lavender pie

yields one 9-inch pie

Ingredients

For the crust (with a zing)

  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • a pinch table salt
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped lemon zest
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, very cold and diced

For the filling and crumb topping

  • 4 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 to 2/3 cup sugar (depending on the sweetness of the fruits)
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon lavender buds
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
  • 3 ripe peaches
  • 1 cup of fresh blueberries
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice

For the lemony crust

Pour the water in a cup and add a few ice cubes. Keep aside. In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, salt and lemon zest. Add the dices of very cold butter and, using a pastry blender (or your fingers), work the mixture for few minutes, redistributing it as you go so that everything is worked more or less evenly. Stop when the butter pieces are the size of small peas. Don’t worry if there are still some bigger chunks of butter. You actually want them to improve the flakiness of your crust.

Drizzle about 1/4 cup of cold water over the mixture and gather the dough together with a spatula. Add more water if necessary, one tablespoon at a time. Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface and knead it gently. Wrap in plastic and chill dough in the fridge for at least one hour (and up to two days).

Butter and flour your pie tin. Roll dough on a lightly floured surface and transfer to pie tin, gently pressing dough onto bottom and sides up of the dish. Pierce the bottom of the crust with a fork and place in the fridge until firm, at least 30 minutes. Trust me, the colder the better. It will help the crust keeps its shape and size while baking.

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line crust with foil or parchment paper and fill with pie weights (or rice). Place the pie tin in the middle of the oven, on a baking sheet and bake until crust is set, about 20 minutes. Carefully remove parchment and pie weights and put the crust back in the oven for another 12 minutes, until crust is pale golden. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool.

For the filling and crumb topping

Mix together flour, sugar, lemon zest and lavender buds in a small bowl. Using the pastry blender (or your fingers), cut in the butter until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. Set aside.

To peel the peaches, bring a large pot of water to a boil and prepare a large bowl of ice water. Using a sharp knife, cut a small “X” through the skin at the base of each peach. Put the peaches in the boiling water and blanch them for about 40 seconds. Transfer the blanched peaches to the bowl of ice water with a slotted spoon. Let them cool for about 1 minute and then drain the peaches and pat them dry. The skin should easily pull away. Halve the peaches, remove the pits and set aside.

Toss gently blueberries and cornstarch in a small bowl and set aside.

Sprinkle a third to half of the crumbs in the bottom of the pie shell (to absorb the juices). Place the peach halves face-down in the crust and spread the blueberry mixture between them. Drizzle with lemon juice and cover with the remaining crumb topping.

Bake at 375°F for about 30 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and the blueberries are bubbling. Let cool before serving. The crust will be crispy and the filling should not run. Sometimes perfection is as simple as a pie.

One last thing: Do you remember the Presidents of the United States of America (which apparently is a band from Seattle)? Yes?… No?… Well, let me refresh your memory: “Millions of peaches, peaches for me“… It has become just impossible for me to think about peaches without having this song stuck in my head (thanks to the hubby for introducing me to such a monument of American music). I thought I should share it with you. You’re welcome!

Bee

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the perfect cheese board

Cheese plate

I might be a living cliché but I love cheese. Shocking, isn’t it? A French girl who likes cheese. But it’s true, and I could do an entire meal with only cheese and bread — and wine, of course. I grew up in a family where cheese was valued and where there would never be less than 4 different sorts on the table. Raw-milk was a rule (and I never got sick; I actually think it helped strengthen my immune system).

So try to imagine my fear when I moved to the U.S., the country where it’s possibly easier to buy a gun than real French cheese! At least, that’s what I would have thought from looking at the cheese selection in most supermarkets here. But I was actually surprised to discover that Washington state is home to dozens of artisan cheese makers who use raw milk and that even in the U.S. it’s possible to find unpasteurized cheeses (as long as they’ve been aged for 60 days).

French cheeses

I know that here cheese is generally thought as an appetizer, but in France, cheese is traditionally served between the entree and the dessert — why choose between cheese and dessert when you can have both? It might seem like overdoing it, especially seen from the perspective of health-conscious America, but that’s what has been identified as the French paradox: French people have a relatively low incidence of coronary heart disease, despite having a diet relatively rich in saturated fats. Basically, we’re a a nation of butter lovers and cheese eaters who don’t get fat. (Life is unfair, I know.) To be honest, I think it has a lot to do with portion control, self-discipline and avoiding processed food, but that’s another story.

Cheese overload

Creating a cheese platter can be intimidating. Which sorts to choose among all the amazing possibilities? (And believe me, I know about cheese overload: I come from the country where there are more cheeses than there are days in a year.) Here are some tips which I hope will help you to create a delicious platter of cheese.

Be a mixologist! Your aim should be to propose a balanced, complementary range of cheeses. No hard rules but try to mix different textures (soft, semi-soft, soft-ripened, washed-rind, hard, semi-hard, blue), milks (cow, goat, sheep) and flavors (mild to strong). Have enough variety to accommodate all palate types. A good rule of thumb would be: “something old, something new, something stinky and something blue”.

Make it pinteresting! Label your cheese so that your guest know what they are eating: use chalk on a slate board, write on a sheet of brown paper or use a label attached to a toothpick. And if you’re going international, you could even create little flags to indicate the country each cheese is from.

Franco-American cheese plate

Clockwise from the top left: Roquefort, Délices de Bourgogne, Cypress Grove Umboldt Fog, aged gouda, Comté.

Another tip is to think about a theme: How about an Italian cheese plate with antipasti? Or try a “cheese flight” by proposing cheeses within the same category to discover the nuances that differentiate them.

Practice good cheesiquette! Serve the cheeses at room temperature. Take them out of the fridge an hour before serving which will help the flavors and texture to reach their full potential. Unwrap them from their packaging just before serving to prevent them from drying out.

Cheese sample

French cheese plate. Clockwise from the top left: Petit Basque, Comté, Roquefort, Boursin, Pavé d’Affinois.

It is traditionally recommended to arrange your plate so that cheeses are displayed clockwise from the milder to the stronger. I tend to follow my own instincts and associate them by shapes or colors, depending on my very subjective desires.

Cut the first slice of each cheese so that your guests don’t feel intimidated. Cut round and square cheeses in wedges, and rectangular ones into slices. Each cheese should have its own knife.

Befriend your cheesemonger. Have a good relationship with your cheesemonger. They can do wonders and will be happy to advise you and let you sample! Some places where I’ve found a good variety of cheese: Trader Joe’s and Murray’s. If you happen to live in an area where you can find good local cheeses, try to incorporate them. Farmer’s markets are often a good place to discover them. In Seattle, we’re lucky to have local creameries such as Beecher’s and Port Townsend Creamery, specialty stores like DeLaurenti, Big John’s pfi and the Calf & Kid, and all those amazing farmer’s markets. 

Pick your pairings. Again, there is no “rule”, but here are some guidelines to make the most of your wine and cheese. An easy way is to let the “terroir” speak by serving wine and cheeses from the same region. 

Wine bottles

I know it might seem counterintuitive, and for some even blasphemous, but white wines are usually easier to pair with cheeses than red wines. Try to pick a fruity or buttery white wine with limited acidity, like a Sauvignon Blanc or a Riesling, but avoid Chardonnay (its oaky taste often overpowers the taste of the cheese). If you’re going red, the lighter and fruiter the wine, the easier it is to find a match. Try to pair a Sangiovese with mozzarella or provolone or a Rioja with havarti. Aged cheeses go generally well with older, earthier and more tannic red wines such as Zinfandel, Syrah or Merlot, and light cheeses with light wine: Fresh goat cheese is delicious with a glass of Sancerre or Pinot Gris. Finally, don’t forget dessert wines with your cheese; they make fantastic companions! Enjoy your brie with Muscat, a sharp cheddar with Gewürztraminer or Stilton with Port wine. If you’re feeling lost, Murray’s has a good pairing section on their site.

Nibbles, nibbles, nibbles… It’s a good idea to offer some accompaniments alongside your cheese, but don’t forget that cheese is the star of the show here. You don’t want to overpower it with stronger flavors. Instead, find tidbits that will enhance its aroma.

Olives

Don’t hesitate to mix sweet and savory: quince paste, jams and chutneys, olives, nuts, marcona almonds, pickles, cornichons, mustard, fennel seeds, fresh fruits (pears, apples, figs, grapes) and dried ones (apricots, dates and figs). In Belgium, when you order some gouda in a café, it is usually served with mustard and celery seeds and makes for the perfect snack. Ossau-Iraty, a cheese made with sheep’s milk from northern Basque country (and one of my all-time favorites), is traditionally eaten with some local black cherry jam.

Breads

Offer various kinds of bread: poilâne, walnut bread, rye bread, baguette slices… but if you don’t want your guest to get full too quickly, also propose some crackers. Macrina and Beecher’s have some really good ones (Beecher’s honey hazelnut crackers are delicious). Remember, pressed cheeses don’t really need bread, they’re great on their own.

Another thing that might go well alongside your cheese board is a simple salad. Prepare your vinaigrette ahead of time and toss the salad at the last minute. My mother has the most perfect vinaigrette recipe: She adds minced shallots and few drops of Maggi. No one can resist it and people generally fight to get a second helping.

Be adventurous! Try to go out of your comfort zone. It might look over the hill and smell funny but try it anyway. You might just be that close to falling in love! Same goes for the pairing: Serve blue cheese on gingersnaps or with chopped bitter chocolate. You’ll see, the combination is sublime. Remember, the stinkiest cheeses often aren’t the ones with the strongest taste.

Now you’re ready to put together your own cheese plate. Good luck, and keep in mind the secret ingredient: good company. Because the savoring of cheese is an experience to be shared.

Bee