I’m a secret southern. Outside of my inability to pronounce r’s (think tire, wire, perspire) and my refusal to drink tea that’s not sweetened, you would never know that I grew up in the thick of it – hot muggy nights teaming with the sound of crickets and other bugs too big to think about and steamy, humid days with my shorts sticking to the back of my knees and the back of my knees sticking to my chair. And for the most part I don’t miss it one bit. But I do miss the food and I miss the fresh peaches.
There are many wonderful things about the west coast, and while I know I’ll never leave my newfound home, I long for the peaches of my old home. I’m talking enormous peaches with soft downy skin that gets stuck between your teeth and juice that spurts out from your first bite and trickles down your elbows. You can’t eat these peaches without getting your clothes messy and feeling thoroughly satiated. And each bite brings memories of days spent by the pool, meat and three on Styrofoam plates, and running between huge drops of rain as a summer deluge pours down.
I miss peaches. I’ve never found a peach that’s even halfway decent out here. So in an attempt to celebrate the end of summer and remember the best parts about the south, I set out to fix the peaches I did have with this recipe. Above all else, I’m a baker. And pies are a something I’ve been working at for a while. Now that I feel that I’ve finally nailed a good crust, I’ve turned to smaller hand pies since they give you more of the crust to filling ratio I crave and you can eat them by the handful. They’re perfect to take to picnics, although probably too sweet to eat alongside sweet tea though.
PEACH CARAMEL HAND PIES
Hand these out at a picnic and watch while people ooh and aah over them before having even taken a bite. Once you take a bite, you might not want to bring them to a picnic but hoard them at home for yourself. The crust is flakey, the filling sweet and summery, and they’re worth the time it takes to make them.
Quantity: 16 – 18 5-inch hand pies
Time to Prepare: 2.5 hours
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ tablespoons granulated sugar
¾ teaspoon salt
1 cup butter (½ a lb/2 sticks)
½ cup ice water, with more as needed
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 large peaches or roughly 2 ½ lbs of peaches
4 ½ tablespoons sugar + ½ cup sugar
1 ½ tablespoons cornstarch
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon butter
½ tablespoon of vanilla extract
Make the pie dough. Put the flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl and stir with a fork to combine. Cut the butter into small cubes and add. Incorporate the butter into the dry mix until the mixture becomes coarse and butter is the size of small peas. I always use my hands but you can use a pastry cutter or a food processor. I like using my hands because it gives me a good sense of the dough and control over not over-processing it. Stir the water and lemon juice together and drizzle over the dry ingredients. Stir with a fork to incorporate the water. Then using your hands, gather the pastry and knead just slightly to get it to come together. Be careful to not over handle, as you want those nice chunks of butter still to create pockets of flake in your crust. You can add additional water by the teaspoon if the dough remains too dry to hold together. Divide into two equal parts, wrap in plastic wrap, and press into a disk 1 inch thick. Chill for one hour or overnight.
While the pie dough chills, make the filling so it will have time to cool before you use it. Slice a cross into the bottom of each peach and drop into boiling water for roughly 30 seconds to a minute, or until you see the skin starting to peel back. Peel the peaches and slice into 10 or 12 slices each. Toss the peach slices with 4 ½ tablespoons sugar in a large bowl and let sit while you make the caramel in order to draw out some of the juices.
To make the caramel, in a heavy saucepan combine the ½ cup sugar and 2 tablespoons water over medium high heat and stir until dissolved. Once the sugar is dissolved, stop stirring and simply swirl the pan to mix so that you don’t crystalize the caramel. Meanwhile, using a slotted spoon, remove the juice that has collected with the peaches and set aside.
Once the mix turns an amber color, remove from heat and slowly pour in the juice from the peaches and add the butter. Use a taller pan as the caramel can bubble up. Return the pan to heat and bring back to a boil. Once boiling, add the vanilla and stir, then add the peaches. Lower the heat to medium and cook stirring occasionally for 15 minutes or until the mixture has thickened somewhat and the peaches are soft. Set aside mixture to cool.
Position racks in the top and bottom third of the oven and preheat the over to 375 degrees. Take one of the two pie doughs out of the fridge and on a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to a square shape 1/8th of an inch thick. Trim the rough edges and slice dough into 5-inch squares. Gather any scraps and reroll. Place squares on baking sheets with parchment and return to fridge to chill. Repeat with the other dough.
Remove chilled pie squares from the fridge. Fold on the diagonal to make a crease then place a heaping tablespoon of the peach caramel mixture in the middle of the triangle. Use either a pastry brush to brush some of the caramel mixture around the edges or dip your finger in water – this will help seal the pies. Next use a fork to press down the edges of the triangle together and make a cross in the middle of the pie with the fork tines to allow steam to escape. Return the sheet to cool in the fridge and repeat with the other sheet.
Take out the chilled hand pies and place in the preheated oven. Cook until they are golden brown, which should take roughly 18 – 20 minutes. Take out and allow to cool on the sheets. Store in cookie tins with waxed paper.
- I use freestone peaches as they’re easier to slice away from the pit.
- This isn’t the regular pie dough I use but the lemon juice increases the acidity of the dough, which reduces the gluten and makes the dough softer, and easier to work with. It does not impact the taste at all.
- If you’re struggling with rolling out the dough or forming the pies i.e. it becomes too soft, return to the fridge to chill before trying to add more flour. The more flour you add, the more this dough will absorb it and start to spring back when rolled instead of rolling out thinner. Also make sure the filling is chilled. If you use while still hot it will melt the dough, making it hard to handle.
- If you find the filling too juicy and it’s making a mess running out, use a slotted spoon to fill the pies.