Let's talk about farmers markets and pie crusts. First the farmers market.
This is my favorite time of the summer to go to the farmers market because some of the things I look forward to most are finally available--which are mostly the fruits. All of the stone fruits like peaches, saturn peaches (which do really kinda resemble the planet Saturn) plums, apricots, cherries and nectarines are all over the place.
And then there are tons of plump berries on display that are not easy to pass up.
I never used to like tomatoes like I do now but I suppose that happens a lot as you get older--you just start liking different things (except scrambled eggs--I still hate scrambled eggs--I mean they are yellow, they smell bad and they have a certain texture that makes me want to gag). Nevertheless, all of these things make me run around the market frantically making sure I get at least one of everything lest I miss out and never see them again....ever. It's called being neurotic. I am a tad neurotic.
Aside from all of the amazing produce, there's just an overall good vibe at the farmers market.
There are a lot of people out and about and the amount of vendors is at the peak.
I mean....crepes and fresh smoothies practically go hand in hand
Along with giant bacon cookies...
Also, there are musical performers there. There is a man who plays the saxophone and another that plays the flute. The flute player is this gangly looking fellow that sits indian-style on the grass between two vendors' stands and plays while his eyes sort of roll to the back of his head. It's kinda funny looking but he's quite good. There's also this one man who plays the drums and wears these crazy headdresses with feathers and jewels attached to them. I think he's a bit of a strange bird the but the kids seem to like him. They sit or dance around him while he plays in a grassy area not far off from the market. It actually kind of reminds me of some weird hippie commune but like I said, the kids seem to like him so whatever...
Another reason that I like seeing all of the fruits is because then I can buy them and then I can make a pie. And this brings me to my next topic: pie crusts.
Pie crusts are hard. They are frustrating. But they are also buttery and flaky (should be flaky). The first time I ever made one I was like, "Well, that wasn't so bad!" Well...that was before I knew how they were supposed to come out. You know? With a flaky buttery crust. I mean everything has to be really cold, especially your butter, and you need to cut the butter into the flour just until it's the size of "peas" and then the dough can't be too crumbly because you'll never be able to roll it out or too soft because that probably means your butter has melted into the dough and you are screwed in getting a flaky crust. It's just not so easy.
Well anyway, I received the America's Test Kitchen cookbook for Christmas this past year--which is an awesome book by the by--and it gives the low-down on tips and tricks for making a pie crust using vodka. So a few months back I gave it a go and I was pretty successful. I tried it again making some hand pies about a month ago and again I was awarded high praise from some co-workers on the crust. Thus I figured I had a winner. However, I tried it again on this stone fruit pie and I was only semi-successful. It wasn't very flaky as it was more crumbly and the bottom was soggy. I think I can pin-point some of the problems which were that my apartment was hotter than normal--even with the a/c on--that caused the butter to get soft and thus my dough was essentially soft. Also, this recipe calls for vegetable shortening in addition to butter which I am fine with but you know how the fat you use needs to be super cold before cutting it into the flour? Well, I just couldn't get the shortening that cold and it was very soft and not very workable for this effort. Lastly, my bottom crust was sorta soggy. And I think that was because I didn't blind bake first. The America's Test Kitchen book gives another tip to prevent a soggy bottom crust which is to pre-heat a cookie sheet in the oven and then set your pie plate on the cookie sheet and then place the pie on the cookie sheet in the oven--as opposed to just placing the pie plate directly on the oven rack.
Anyway, overall I think that this pie crust recipe is a winner and that I was just having a bad day--which is what happens from time to time especially with pie crusts. They can just be a real pain in the butt sometimes. But, practice makes perfect.... Right?
The filling--on the other hand--with all of my super fresh farmers market produce was fantastic.
And even though the crust didn't turn out superb, it still produced some good looking slices
For the filling: Adapted from Smitten Kitchen's Peach Pie
3 1/2 pounds of stone fruit (I used a random mixture of peaches, plums and apricots) cut into 1/4" wedges (pits removed)
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 c brown sugar
1/4 c granulated sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
a few gratings of fresh nutmeg
1/8 tsp salt
3 tbsp corn starch
Mix everything together at once in a large bowl. Let sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes. Then pour the mixture into prepared pie dough.
For the pie crust: Adapted from Cooks Illustrated: The Science of Good Cooking
2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 oz) all-purpose flour divided
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
12 tbsp butter - cut into small 1/4" cubes and very cold
8 tbsp vegetable shortening - cut into pieces ( I cut each tablespoon into 4 separate pieces) and cold
1/4 c cold vodka
1/4 c ice water
The book states that this recipe only works with a food processor--or rather it won't work if you do it by hand. Thus, I used my food processor. I'm not entirely sure what the difference would be and they don't really explain it. That said...
Process 1 1/2 c of the flour, the salt and sugar for about 30 seconds in your food processor. Then add in the butter and vegetable shortening all at once. Process this mixture until clumps start to form -- about 15 seconds. Throw in the rest of the flour and process until it forms smaller clumps or pea-sized clumps. This shouldn't take long--for me it took about 5 pulses on my processor. Next, dump the mixture from your food processor into a large bowl. Add the cold water and cold vodka and use a rubber spatula to press and stir the dough together until it starts sticking together. Once this occurs, divide the dough into two equal pieces and form two round discs. Wrap them individually in plastic wrap tightly and chill them in the fridge for at least an hour. I've left them in the fridge for up to three days if need be. The book says it can be left in the fridge for up to two days and frozen for up to a month.
So when you are ready to roll out the dough and you remove it from the refrigerator and it's too hard, let it sit out for about 5-10 minutes before you start to roll so you won't be straining your arms while rolling. Like I said earlier, my apartment was quite warm so this was not necessary. I needed to work as quickly as possible to roll out the dough so the butter wouldn't melt. Nevertheless, roll out the dough on a floured surface until its about 1" greater in diameter than your pie dish. Place the first rolled out disc of dough into the dish and lightly press it in there -- on the bottom and the sides. Trim the 1" overhang to 1/2" and continue to let it overhang over the lip of the pie dish. Place the dough lined dish in a big plastic bag and let it set in the fridge for 30 minutes.
Now let's move onto the other disc which you are going to roll out in the same way. Once the second disc is rolled out, place it between two pieces of parchment paper and onto a large baking sheet. Put it in the fridge for 30 minutes as well or until firm.
After both rolled out doughs have chilled (the one flat between two pieces of parchment paper and the one sitting in the dish), take the dough lined dish out of the fridge and pour the fruit filling into it (recipe above). Take your other rolled out disc and gently place it atop the filling. Trim the edges, press and crimp them together (bottom lined dough and top) Cut some small slits with a knife into the top dough for ventilation (I made about 5 slits). Place the uncooked pie into the fridge to chill while you pre-heat your oven to 400. Also at this point, the book recommends placing a baking sheet in the oven and pre-heating that as well.
Once the oven is pre-heated place the pie onto the pre-heated baking sheet and bake for 25 minutes. After 25 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 350 and bake the pie for another 30 minutes.
Remove the pie from the oven and let it cool completely.
Note: This is the first time I have ever written out a recipe like this so if it doesn't make sense or you have suggestions/comments, please do so.