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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have pie will travel

have pie will travel

Looking back to the summer vacations of my youth, I fondly recall the blistering hot days in New England when my mother and I would truck over to the u-pick berry farm and fill our bellies and pails with as many blueberries possible.  Most of the time the berries brought home were consumed by the handful. We enjoyed their perfection as nature intended.

No one complained that the berries weren’t safely nestled in pie crust because my mom never baked pie and we didn’t really know what we were missing. Don’t get me wrong, my mother is one of the best cooks ever. Her lasagna is so good that I can’t order it anywhere else because I’ll only be disappointed. But she’s never been much of a baker. Maybe it’s a sweet or savory thing. Sure, she makes brownies and sweet breads but never pies.

I get nostalgic for those hot summer days of blueberry picking. I miss the quietness of the farm. The scorching sun. Sweat mixing with sunscreen. Dusty feet in sandals. The long stretches of silence as my mother concentrated on picking out the best berries and I concentrated on stealthly eating more berries than the number that ended up in my pail. And consequently, my mother scolding me for eating too many berries.

Sure, I could drive up to the u-pick berry farms north of Seattle. But it wouldn’t be the same. Who would advise me not to eat all those blueberries? Gosh, I might not return with any… just a belly full of berries. And lately, I’ve been busy so it’s easier to run over to the traveling farmer’s market and pick up a few pints. As July runs out of days in the month it dawned on me that most of the berries purchased have been eaten by the handful. No berries have been safely nestled in pie crust. As a person who loves to bake, this feels almost criminal!

I know – I said I’d cool it on the baking for a little while but let’s be honest here, it was only a matter of time before I broke down and returned to the kitchen. (Must. Bake. Pie.) Plus, my hubby and I were getting ready for a road trip to Bend, OR (for yet, another wedding!) and I nominated myself to take care of the sustenance. The idea of a summertime road trip just beckons for a little picnic. And what picnic could ever be complete without something sweet? This road trip would be the perfect opportunity to try out blueberry pocket pies.

They are simple to make and super portable. All you need is love… and these ingredients:

all you need

Blueberry pocket pies

Yields 6 pocket pies

Ingredients

  • 2 cups fresh blueberries
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • pie dough – insert your favorite recipe (I use a butter and shortening dough recipe)

Pre-heat the oven to 400°.

Mix the blueberries, sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest and salt in a medium mixing bowl. To reduce trauma to the berries, simply mix by hand.

When the oven is just about done preheating, begin to roll out the dough. It was hot in my kitchen so I needed to return the dough to the refrigerator several times to keep the dough cold.

Once the dough is rolled out into a long thin sheet, divide it in half and then into thirds. Then scoop berries into each section and form into pockets.

A break down of the steps to pocket pie:

step by stepBake the little pies in the oven for 35-40 minutes.

Here is the result of my first batch:

unciviled pocket piesI thought they came out rather uncivilized so I ended up making several batches. In the end… not a single batch looked perfect. I suspect it has something to do with the fact that I kept trying to over-stuff the little squares of dough with too many berries. But oh! The taste was heavenly. The crust was buttery and crumbly and the fruit inside was sweet but not overly sweet. The blueberry flavor remained true with just a zing of lemon. At some point I told my husband that these little pies were “pie-crack.”

pies on a plateWe brought a pair of pies on the road trip to Bend. Between the piping hot coffee and the high I was riding from the pie – it’s a good thing I wasn’t driving.

I’m thinking about trying these out with sweet cherries or maybe a blueberry peach combo. Bridesmaid dresses (and any other fashion for that matter) be damned. I’m back in the kitchen baking and I’m going to enjoy the fruits of summer.

Have a super week!

XOXO, Em

goat cheese blueberry honey ice cream, philadelphia-style

goat cheese blueberry honey ice cream

Did you know that July is National Ice Cream Month? And that the third Sunday of the month is National Ice Cream Day? President Reagan called for all people of the United States to observe these events with “appropriate ceremonies and activities.” So Em and I decided to have an ice cream week. But it’s really because President Reagan wanted us to do so.

Following Em’s experimentations with the ice cream maker, I felt suddenly inspired to come up with my own flavor, and, taking advantage of Em leaving the city for the weekend, I proposed to “take care of” our new favorite kitchen item. This is I think the start of a long love story. But this love story is unfortunately doomed: Besides the fact that I have to give back the machine, my kitchen does not really have the space to welcome it. And my freezer is so small that it makes the storage of the bowl and the ice cream almost impossible. In the meantime, I’m satisfied knowing that it is available five floors up. Em does not know it yet, but her kitchen has just become an extension of mine.

blueberries

Over the weekend, I tried one recipe: goat cheese blueberry honey ice cream, aka taste-bud paradise. I know this combination might sound strange, but it’s delicious. The inspiration came from one of the best ice cream shops I’ve been to: Salt & Straw in Portland, Ore. This shop alone would be enough of a reason to visit Portland. I once tried their blue cheese pear flavor and it simply stole my heart! The hubby was not convinced, but he does not like blue cheese anyway. Not sure what’s wrong with him…

Salt & Straw

Anyway, as the good French girl that I am, I’ve always been obsessed with cheese pairing, trying all sorts of savoury sweet combinations. My latest crave: cantaloupe melon, feta and mint. Irresistible! And what’s better for dessert than some goat cheese with walnuts and a drizzle of honey? Keeping that in mind, I had a feeling that the lactic, citric tang of a mild goat cheese would pair perfectly with the tart-sweet blueberries. Add some honey (or lavender honey if you have some) for a bit of sweetness, let the machine do its trick and wait with spoon in hand (I did!).

I used Em’s egg-free base made with whole milk and cream but added some goat cheese  for a dreamy creamy texture. I really waffled on whether to add egg yolks. We all tend to think the richer the better, and it’s true that a custard-based ice cream (French-style), because of its higher fat content, will maintain a softer, creamier texture when frozen. But the fat also tends to mask the flavors of the other ingredients. The eggless version has a delicate taste and a milky smoothness and is apparently called Philadelphia-style ice cream.

Philadelphia-style ice cream

Instead of just adding whole blueberries, I cooked them in a pan to get something in between a coulis and a jam. Just to add some texture to the ice cream.

For better results, pre-chill all the ingredients overnight.

Goat cheese blueberry honey ice cream

Yields about 2 quarts.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 tablespoon honey (or lavender honey)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 ounces young mild goat cheese
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 pint fresh blueberries
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon honey

Combine whole milk, honey and sugar in a small sauce pan and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Stir to dissolve the honey and sugar.

Put the goat cheese in a large bowl, pour over the warm milk, and mix together until smooth. Incorporate the heavy cream, let cool and refrigerate overnight.

Prepare the blueberry “jam”. Place the blueberries in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Add water and honey and bring to a simmer. Let simmer for about 15 minutes until most of the liquid evaporates, occasionally mashing the mixture to the desired consistency. I personally prefer keeping some texture. Let cool and refrigerate overnight.

blueberries

The next day, pour the goat cheese mixture into the freezer bowl and start churning. When the mixture is already quite thick, add gradually the blueberry puree. Once churned, transfer to an airtight container and let the ice cream solidify for few hours in the freezer. Before eating, put in the fridge for 20 to 30 minutes to soften the texture, and then start scooping.

The result: To be honest, Philadelphia-style ice cream is best eaten right out of your ice cream maker or after a few hours in your freezer (but still great after few days, and I’m currently writing this post while eating ice cream, for breakfast!). The ice cream was intensively flavored and smooth, more refreshing than a custard-based ice cream and a bit lighter (but still very rich thanks to the goat cheese and cream). Enjoy!

goat cheese blueberry honey ice cream 2