When I was a teenager, I worked at a now long departed restaurant and bakery. The food at the restaurant was, as these things are wont to turn out, middling, but the goods that emerged from the bakery were absolutely spot on. Imagine platter-sized cinnamon rolls, pecan sticky buns drenched in sticky caramelized brown sugar and spices, and pies—oh, lord, the pies.
Every day, the bakery churned out dozens of different types of pie. Cream pies, baked fruit pies, chocolate pies, cream AND fruit in the same pie, and, when the summer months appeared, so would the crowning achievement of the bakery’s efforts: fresh fruit pies. Hundreds of flats of peaches and strawberries were blazed through in order to turn out the incredible fresh fruit pies, and, though my duties at the restaurant were normally dedicated to the front of the house, when summer hit and the demand for fresh fruit pies hit fever pitch, I was inevitably recruited to head to the back of the restaurant and make said pies.
The assembly of the pies was fairly simple: a buttery baked crust is topped with fresh fruit, then covered with a light glaze to give the fruit a bit of extra sweetness and shine. The pies were a genius invention in their simplicity, and every day that I spent making pies, I was allowed to take a pie home with me as an added bonus. This was, at the time, the greatest bonus I could ever imagine. I was making $4.75 an hour, but I was totally able to be bought out by the promise of a free pie every day. I’d call it naïvete, but let’s face it—the list of things I would do even today for the promise of a free daily pie is embarrassingly long and intricate. My love of pie knows no bounds (nor shame).
My love of that restaurant’s fresh fruit pies, however, did have a definite stopping point. The end came for me when another grunt worker at the restaurant was enlisted to make fresh fruit pies for the day, and he accidentally spilled a tub of fruit glaze onto the floor. Instructed to simply squeegee the glaze into the floor drain and then carry on with his work, he did just that, until, about an hour later, the entire drainage system beneath the restaurant became inexplicably backed up. A plumber was called, the situation was assessed, and the culprit was named. It was the fruit glaze. The glaze, after gurgling down the drain, almost immediately began to congeal, then half-harden into an impassable goo that blocked every single thing attempting to flush its way past. It took five hours and two Roto Rooter trucks to clear the drains of the hardened glaze, and you’d better believe that after seeing what that pie glaze was capable of doing to some drain pipes, I never let it go anywhere near my belly again. The fresh fruit pies and I were done.
Which is not to say I did not miss the pies terribly. I did, but I valued my health more than I valued my taste for fresh fruit pie. Many years later, in the midst of a fierce craving, I decided it was high time I made up my own method of making fresh fruit pie. Thankfully, the process remained delightfully straightforward. You bake a crust, you skin and slice the fruit (peaches), or de-stem the fruit (strawberries), you make a light glaze, then you assemble. The fact that you are not required to bake the pie makes it the perfect summertime dessert, and the presentation—fresh fruit piled high and plump—is a total showstopper. Though I admit the name of this pie is a bit of a misnomer—you still have to bake the bottom crust—I can’t stress enough that the effort is hardly a burden when your reward is this gorgeous, delicious, all natural pie. Though I’d never go so far as to call a pie healthy, the fact that the bulk of this dessert is comprised of fresh peaches brushed with a barely-sweetened glaze makes it decidedly less guilt-inducing than one might think.
Unless topped with a hearty dollop of some of this, of course:
To which, I am afraid, I admit nothing.
No Bake Fresh Peach Pie
The peaches in this pie, while beautiful and delicious, will start to lose their blush very quickly as soon their flesh is exposed to air. Fortunately, the slight browning of the fruit will not alter the fruit’s flavor in any way.
Single Crust Pie Dough
The lemon juice in this dough works wonders for keeping the crust tender. The acid in the lemon juice inhibits the formation of the gluten in the flour, keeping the dough from getting tough throughout repeated handling.
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 stick (8 tablespoons) of butter, cut into small chunks and then left in the freezer for 15 minutes
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 to 5 tablespoons ice water
In a medium bowl, combine the flour, salt, and sugar. Place the semi-frozen chunks of butter on top of the flour mixture. Using a pastry blender (for a single crust pie, I prefer to use a pastry cutter in lieu of the food processor, as I feel as though I have more control over the cutting in of the butter into such a small batch of dough), work the semi-frozen chunks of butter into the flour until the butter is uniformly distributed and the chunks have been worked into the size of very small peas.
Sprinkle the lemon juice over the mixture, followed by 3 tablespoons of water. Using a rubber or silicon spatula, gently stir and fold the dough until it begins to come together. If the dough is absolutely not coming together, add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough clings together into a ball. Use your hands to gently knead the dough 2 or 3 times into a cohesive ball.
Place the dough on a sheet of plastic wrap, shape into a disc, wrap it tightly, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
To bake your pie crust, preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
Remove disk of dough from plastic wrap, and place on a lightly floured surface. Lightly sprinkle the top of the disk with flour. Using a rolling pin, gently but firmly roll the dough into a 12-inch circle. Roll from the middle towards the edges, rotating the dough as you roll.
Place the circle of dough in a 9-inch pie plate, lightly pressing the dough against the sides of the plate. Trim any overhanging edges of the dough, then crimp the outer edges. Cover the dough with a piece of aluminum foil, and fill the foil with pie weights or a large handful of pennies. Bake the pie crust for 20 minutes, then remove the foil and weights and continue to bake for another 10 minutes, until the edges of the crust have turned golden brown. Set aside to cool.
5 pounds ripe peaches
¼ cup water
½ teaspoon cornstarch
½ teaspoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon sugar
To peel peaches, cut a small x in the bottom of each peach, then blanch in boiling water for 15-20 seconds. Immediately remove each peach and plunge into ice water to prevent it from cooking. Drain the peaches. After all the peaches have been blanched, use a knife to cut each peach in half from top to bottom, then carefully separate each peach into 2 halves and remove pit.
Peel the skin off of 2 peach halves using a small knife, or, if the skin is particularly loose, simply use your fingers to peel off the skin. Place the 2 peach halves in a blender or food processor, puree until smooth, then set aside. In a small saucepan set over medium low heat, whisk together water and cornstarch until cornstarch has dissolved. Whisk in pureed peaches. Whisk in lemon juice and sugar. When the peach mixture begins to simmer, turn heat down to low. Simmer for 5 minutes, whisking frequently, until mixture thickens and has the consistency of a thin peach jam. Pour peach mixture into a small bowl and immediately refrigerate.
Peel the remainder of the peaches. Slice each peach half, end to end, into 6 slices. To assemble the pie, place each sliced peach half, cut side down, onto the baked pie crust. Depending on the size of your peaches, you should be able to lay 5 or 6 peach halves around the perimeter of the pie plate, and 1 half in the middle. In the same manner, lay the remainder of the sliced peach halves on top of the first layer, filling in any large gaps as you go.
Generously brush the peaches with the cooled peach puree, drizzling the puree into any large gaps in between the peaches. Serve immediately, or refrigerate until ready to serve. Refrigerate any leftover pie.