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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currently crushing on… all things lavender

Lavender bouquets

It is no secret that I love lavender — whether it’s in the garden or in a floral arrangement or in my food and drink. Lavender simply works everywhere!

So somehow, it’s appropriate that I should be living in the Northwest, site of “North America’s lavender capital”. The Olympic peninsula of Washington state, and more particularly the little city of Sequim (pronounced “Skwim”), is famous for its production of lavender. So famous that each year, during the third weekend of July, a three-day festival celebrating “all things lavender” is organized.

Lavender

Historically, growing lavender in this region once dominated by dairy farms was not a natural choice, but it’s now a major agribusiness. The climate around Sequim was a determining factor. It is said to be similar to the one of the Provence region in France and it supposedly gets as little rain as Los Angeles. The Olympic Mountains act as a wall and protect the northeastern Olympic Peninsula from the bulk of the rain that moves into the Pacific Northwest. They call it the rain shadow. Let me express my doubts about that. The first time I visited Sequim, it was pouring. The second time, it was only drizzling. This year the expectations are high: I want to finally see Sequim’s sunny side. The weather has been gorgeous in Seattle, and with any luck it’s the same in Sequim.

Provence

So today, I’ll be harvesting fresh lavender in the farms and will be on a lavender high for the rest of the weekend. I can already smell the intoxicating perfume of fresh lavender.

Lavender in a basket

The Sequim region during the festival weekend would be a perfect getaway if it weren’t for the crowd. Thousands of people are expected during the festival. My advice: If you’re not interested in the festival activities but just in the market for some fresh lavender, come back the next weekend. Many farms welcome visitors and some even offer bed & breakfast accommodations.

Have a great weekend!

Bee

let them eat ice cream (for the pool-less on a hot day)

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A recent acquisition in my kitchen is an appliance that I probably would never purchase. It is, however, an appliance that someone might buy raffle tickets to win but after the excitement of the prize, it might sit in the basement, forgotten about until spring cleaning. That someone is a very kind colleague and the prize appliance is the Cuisinart Soft Serve Ice Cream Maker. My colleague asked if I would like the long forgotten ice cream maker. Without any hesitation (who would hesitate? It’s a FREE ICE CREAM MAKER!) I said yes and long story short, I, Em of deuxdilettantes, am the proud owner of a soft serve ice cream maker.

The timing of this addition to my kitchen couldn’t be any more perfect. With the recent change of temperature (hello Lake Washington, my savior from the heat), a bit of homemade ice cream felt just right. I invited Bee to join me in the christening of the ice cream maker. The whole event was a bit comical. It must have been 90 degrees in my flat. I don’t have AC and the windows hardly open. We watched the neighbors frolic in their pool as we made ice cream and wondered if we could tempt them with cool treats so that we might take a dip in the refreshing water. I’m pretty sure we made all the rookie mistakes as we created a lovely ice cream mess in my kitchen.

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It was messy (and that picture was taken after we cleaned up) but we had a blast. And we ended up with darn good ice cream.

Even if your not crazy about our flavor combinations, at least consider the following two tips:

1. The freezer bowl MUST be cold. The owner manual suggests 12 hours in the freezer but I suggest 24 hours just to be safe.

2. Adding anything solid (dare I suggest chocolate chunks?!) to the milk/cream liquid mixture WILL clog the machine and create a mess. We suggest allowing the mixture to thicken and then add, slowly.

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Lavender cardamom vanilla with chocolate chunk ice cream

Yields 1.5 pints

Ingredients

  • 1 cup whole milk (plus extra)
  • 1/4 cup lavender
  • 10 pods cardamom (split open)
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 cups heavy cream (very cold)
  • 1/3 cup coarsely chopped dark chocolate

1. Combine 1 cup milk, lavender, cardamom and vanilla in a medium sauce pan. Bring to simmer and then reduce heat to low / low-medium. Gently stir and cook for about 20 minutes.

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2. Strain mixture and discard lavender buds and cardamom pods. Pour the mixture into a measuring cup and top off milk mixture to measure 1 cup. Put in refrigerator or over an ice bath.

3. Once milk is cold, pour into a mixing bowl and add sugar. Whisk or mix until sugar is dissolved. Then add cream. Mix and pour into freezer bowl. Turn on ice cream machine and let it do its magic.

4. As the milk/cream mixture starts to thicken to a soft serve consistency begin to add chocolate chunks a small spoonful at a time. Once the mixture is past soft serve consistency but prior to ice cream, turn off the machine and begin to scoop out ice cream into a freezer safe container. Freeze until mixture has hardened and then serve! Or serve immediately as soft serve!

Dutch chocolate with cinnamon and chocolate chunk ice cream

Yields 1.5 pints

Ingredients

  • 2/3 cup unsweetened Dutch processed cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup whole milk (very cold)
  • pinch cinnamon powder
  • pinch cayenne pepper
  • 2 cups heavy cream (very cold)
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped dark chocolate

1. Combine the cocoa powder with sugars in a medium bowl. Mix until lumps are removed.

2. Add the whole milk and mix until smooth. Add cinnamon, cayenne and heavy cream. Mix and pour into freezer bowl.

3. Turn on ice cream maker and allow to mix.

4. As the milk/cream mixture starts to thicken to a soft serve consistency begin to add chocolate chunks a small spoonful at a time. Once the mixture is past soft serve consistency but prior to ice cream, turn off the machine and begin to scoop out ice cream into a freezer safe container. Freeze until mixture has hardened and then serve! Or serve immediately as soft serve!

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Strawberry with balsamic caramel ice cream

Yields 1.5 pints

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup and 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 cup whole milk (very cold)
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups heavy cream (very cold)
  • 1 pint strawberries, hulled and pureed

1. Combine the granulated sugar, water and balsamic vinegar in a shallow pan. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat. Let simmer for about 15 minutes – until the consistency is thick and syrupy but not yet a caramel. Remove from heat and pour into a heat safe container. Set aside and allow mixture to thicken as it cools.

2. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the whole milk, brown sugar and vanilla. Whisk or mix until smooth. Then add heavy cream. Stir and then add to freezer bowl. Start mixing and as mixture thickens begin to add the strawberry puree, slowly.

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Allow mixture to continue to thicken and then slowly add the balsamic caramel.

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Once the mixture is past soft serve consistency but prior to ice cream, turn off the machine and begin to scoop out ice cream into a freezer safe container. Freeze until mixture has hardened and then serve! Or serve immediately as soft serve!

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As I write this, I realize that over the past week I have eaten more ice cream than I should ever admit to. But hey, that was all for research! It doesn’t count. We are dreaming up all sorts of ideas for the machine. There has been discussion of coconut milk… almond milk… sorbets… oh the possibilities!

Have a lovely week and stay cool. And eat ice cream!

XOXO, Em

tea time is madeleine time

Earl grey madeleines

Growing up in France, my favorite moment of the day was without any doubt le goûter, a late afternoon treat celebrating the end of the school day. If I was lucky, my mother would be waiting for me with a chausson aux pommes (sort of an apple turnover) from the bakery that I would enjoy on the way back home. More regularly, it would be fruits and a couple of cookies, or just a piece of baguette with Nutella or 4 squares of chocolate, not one more — just enough to satisfy my craving without spoiling my dinner. This shouldn’t be confused with snacking. People don’t snack in France. Le goûter is a light refined meal, enjoyed between the lunch at 1 p.m. and the dinner at 8 p.m.

It would be a mistake to think that this sweet habit disappeared as I reached adulthood, but it has definitely become rarer. It’s not easy to run to the bakery when you’re stuck in a meeting. And if I can kick off early, I generally take it as a sign for happy hour. Maybe that’s the American equivalent.

madeleines

But my parents, now retired, still take a break around 4 p.m. to enjoy some tea with typical French cookies such as petits beurre, financiers or madeleines and a square of dark chocolate. And because goûter does not sounds sophisticated enough, they call it l’heure du thé, or tea time. 

With their soft, buttery and delicate texture, madeleines are the perfect treat for tea time, even more if they’re flavored with earl grey tea leaves or matcha powder. I also made a batch of lemon and lavender ones, but it’s only because lavender makes everything so perfect (also true for cardamom).

Don’t let yourself be fooled by their unpretentious look. Under their slightly crispy scalloped shell, they hide a moist and tender cake-like consistency. They should hold together and not disintegrate when dunked into a cup of tea.

earl grey madeleines

Making madeleines requires some technique and intimate knowledge of your oven. Why do you think most food blogs depict them upside-down? It’s because there is no distinctive hump to be seen. Yet the hump is the most important part, and not only for aesthetic reasons. That’s where all the fluffiness is! As a kid, I used to bite into the hump first, happy to deliver my little madeleine from its heavy burden. I would then fill the hole with a teaspoon of jam. Don’t judge me.

matcha madeleine

Now, let me share with you the secret for a perfectly bumpy madeleine, and it has nothing to do with saturating your batter with baking powder. The secret is to create a thermal shock by first chilling your batter and then, while they’re baking, making a couple of precise temperature adjustments. The result? Let’s say a picture is worth a thousand words…

hump

I know that a lot of recipes call for brown butter, but after experimenting for a while, I found that using softened butter instead allows for a lighter texture. If, on the other hand, you prefer your madeleines denser, use melted butter cooled to room temperature.

Earl Grey madeleines

yields about 2 dozen madeleines

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons earl gray tea leaves
  • 2/3 cup (130 g) caster sugar
  • 3 eggs at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons liquid honey
  • 1 1/4 cup (150 g) flour
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 8 tablespoons (125 g) softened butter

In a mortar, grind the tea leaves into a fine powder. Combine with the sugar and, using your fingertips, rub until the sugar is fragrant. 

In a bowl, beat eggs and flavored sugar with an electric mixer. Gradually add honey and whisk until the mixture is pale, thickens and doubles in volume — about 5 minutes.

Gradually add the flour, salt and baking powder and beat until the mixture is homogeneous. Finally, incorporate the softened butter. Cover the batter with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap against the surface to create an airtight seal and chill for at least 2 hours. This will allow the gluten to relax and give a light texture to your madeleines.

Preheat your oven to 460°F. Line the molds with butter and a dusting of flour. Don’t fill the mold with too much batter; a tablespoon will be enough. Also, don’t worry about spreading the batter evenly as the heat of the oven will take care of that. For even better results, you can chill the mold and the batter for 10 minutes in your fridge before baking them.

Bake for about 2 to 3 minutes, until you see a small depression, then reduce the temperature of the oven to 390°F. Cook for an additional 4 minutes (the hump should start to form), then reduce to 350°F and cook for another 4 to 5 minutes, until the madeleines are golden and well rounded. In the end, your madeleines will cook between 10 and 12 minutes.

Unmold immediately and let cool on a rack.

madeleines tray

Make sure that for each new batch the pan is cool and properly buttered and floured.

They’re best eaten slightly warm, direct from the oven and cooled for a few minutes. But you can store them for a couple of days in an airtight container.

For matcha madeleines: use 7g of matcha powder.

Incorporate the matcha powder with the flour.

matcha powder

For lemon lavender madeleines: use 1 tablespoon of dried lavender buds and the zest of 1 Meyer lemon. You can also add a little bit of the lemon juice to the batter.

Rub the sugar, lavender buds and lemon zest together with your fingertips until the sugar is moist and fragrant.

lemon lavender sugar

I can’t tell which version was my favorite. I guess it would be like asking me to choose among my children. I knew from the beginning that the lavender lemon woud be a hit because, you know, it’s lavender. Nothing can ever go wrong with lavender! As for the Earl Grey ones, their subtle citrus flavor will pair very well with your cup of tea (which may or may not be Earl Grey). You’re all set for a perfect screening of Downton Abbey!

But I was surprised by the taste of the matcha madeleines. Although I’m a big fan of matcha, it’s true that its earthy and slightly bitter taste can be overpowering. The quantity in the recipe is just enough for adding a subtle tang that will nicely counterbalance the sweetness of the madeleines. I’m already addicted!

Bee