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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ode to butter (or, how to make kouign amann)

Kouign Amann

Let me tell you one thing: Perfection is to be found between the texture of a croissant and the taste of a salted caramel. It’s called kouign amann (kween a-mon). Don’t let yourself be scared by this unpronounceable name. In the Breton language “kouign” means cake and “amann” means butter. That says it all. Imagine layers of laminated dough filled with butter, topped with a little bit of salt and enveloped in a beautifully caramelized shell.

mini kouign amann

I was recently struck by the sudden fuss around this typical buttery pastry from the Brittany region of France. If you’re in Seattle, you can find this little wonder at Le Rêve Bakery or Crumble and Flake. Part of my family being from Brittany, I felt it was my duty to test the field. My general impression? They’re rather good, but compared to the original, one thing comes to my mind: Not. Enough. Butter.

Since then, I’ve been obsessed with trying to find the perfect recipe for kouign amann — and believe me, it took a lot of dedication and sacrifice. I won’t disclose the total amount of butter I used over the last two months, all in the name of research. And if you ask, yes, my cholesterol level is fine, although I wonder if my husband’s decision to start running again is related to me feeding him with sticks of butter. I ended up sharing part of my batches with friends and colleagues who I hope won’t hold it against me if their cholesterol spikes.

layers of the kouign amann

I wish I could share with you a family recipe, but my knowledge of the kouign amann is limited to the ones we used to buy at the farmers markets. My older sister, who has Breton blood running in her veins (long story short, we share the same father but it’s her mother who comes from Brittany), introduced me at a very young age to this cake. When I told her I would try to make one, she laughed. My mother’s family is three generations removed from Brittany, so apparently I lack the necessary heritage. But I insisted and maintained I would do it with or without her help. (Imagine this conversation happening on Skype with an ocean separating us.)

caramelized kouign amann

She finally agreed to go ask her baker for advice. I could already picture myself making a true kouign amann but was slightly disappointed when she did not get the exact recipe. The recipe her baker uses for kouign amann is a secret apparently shared with very few people, and I was not among those lucky folks. The baker nevertheless gave us the best advice I could have hoped for, which perfectly summarizes the spirit of this cake: When you’re done adding butter and sugar to your dough, add some more. The kouign amann must perspire butter.

DSC_9139

Rule number one, and I won’t accept any excuses: Use good quality butter. Salted butter is usually recommended as salt is at the very heart of Breton baking. I personally prefer using unsalted butter and sprinkling fleur de sel afterwards. Fleur de sel (flower of salt) is one of the finest salts you will find. It is hand-harvested in salt ponds mainly in Guérande, Noirmoutier and Île de Ré. As suggested by its name, its texture is fluffy and flaky but delicate. It has a complex and mineral flavor, less aggressive than other salts. It’s perfect for sprinkling over meat and fish or creating a contrast with the sweetness of a dessert. Don’t hesitate to splurge if you see it; you will never look at your regular table salt the same way.

Salt ponds ile de Re

Salt ponds at Île de Ré

Ingredients

Yields 12 mini kouign amann

  • 7 g (1 package) active dry yeast
  • 2/3 cup lukewarm water
  • pinch of sugar
  • 1 tbsp. butter, melted
  • 2 cups (260 g) all-purpose flour + additional for rolling out the pastry
  • pinch of sea salt
  • 1 stick + 6 tbsp. butter, for laminating, chilled
  • fleur de sel, to taste
  • 1 cup (200 g) sugar, for laminating
  • 2 tbsp. butter, for muffin pan
  • 2 tbsp. sugar, for muffin pan
  • 2 tbsp. butter, for topping the cakes

ingredients

In a medium bowl, dissolve the yeast in the water with a pinch of sugar. Stir and let stand for about 5 to 10 minutes, until foamy. Gradually add the flour, salt and melted butter. Flour your hands and briefly knead the dough until it gets soft and elastic. Add a little bit of flour if it gets too sticky. Don’t knead the dough too much. Overworking it will activate the gluten and result in a product that’s tougher and less light and flaky. As soon as the dough is smooth and elastic, stop kneading. 

Form a ball and, with a knife, score the top of it the dough the shape of a cross and put it in a greased medium bowl. Cover with cling film and refrigerate for about 1 to 1 1/2 hour.

In the meantime, prepare the butter. The butter should be cold but pliable. Cut it in pieces and form a square.

butter square

Cover with parchment paper and use your rolling pin to spread it in a 8″ x 9″ square.

rolling the butter

Take the dough out, lightly flour it and roll it out to form a rectangle that’s about 18″ x 9″ in dimension. Place the butter in the center, sprinkle with fleur de sel and fold both sides of the dough over the butter, so that they meet in the center.

letter fold

Rotate the dough 90º clockwise and gently roll the dough, always starting from the center and working your way to one side and then to the other, until obtaining a rectangle approximately 18″ x  9″ in dimension. Dust the surface of the dough with a third of the sugar.

dough with sugar

Fold the dough over the center in such a way that one side of the dough is covered by the other side. Congratulations, you just made a single fold! Cover with cling film and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

DSC_8461

Turn the dough 90° clockwise again and roll it to form a rectangle of about 18″ x 9″. Dust with the second third of sugar and fold it into thirds again. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

Rotate again by 90° and roll again to reach approximately the same size and shape as before, dust with the rest of the sugar and fold it again like a letter. Place in the fridge for 30 minutes.

While the dough is resting, prepare your muffin pans. Brush with butter before coating with sugar.

muffin pan

Take the dough out of the fridge, roll it into the usual rectangle and cut it into 12 squares. For each square, fold the corners towards the center and place into the prepared pan to proof.

unbaked kouign amann

Alternate version: You can also cut vertical strips and roll them up, cinnamon roll-style.

unbaked kouign amann2

Let the dough rest at room temperature for 20-30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350 °F. Sprinkle each mini kouign amann with sugar, top with a little bit of butter and bake for about 25 to 30 minutes, until golden brown and caramelized. Remove from pan and let cool on a wire rack.

Put your diet on hold and be ready to fall in love.

kouign amanns

Keep in mind that your dough does not have to be as perfectly rolled as puff pastry. Worst case, if you see that the rolling is not going well, you can stil put the whole thing into a big pan and cook it as such. After all, what can go wrong with yeasty dough, butter and sugar?

Bee