Hand Pies — With the Best Peaches In the World
Once you try your first one, there’s no going back.
Iâ€™m talking about Sun Crest peaches, the heritage variety so poetically immortalized in farmer Mas Masumotoâ€™s famed book, “Epitaph for a Peach” (Harper One).
A freestone, yellow peach, it explodes with juice. Not too sweet, not too acidic, but just right, it has a full, well-rounded, harmonious taste . It reminds me of the nostalgically of cling peaches in a can, but way more intense and vibrant, and devoid of any syrup to mask its natural flavor. In short, it is the quintessential peach.
The Masumoto Family Farm in Fresno County lets folks adopt a peach tree, giving them rights to pick to their heart’s delight from their designated one when in season. But it is a commitment, an undertaking, and more peaches, perhaps, than most folks’ can handle at once.
Luckily, I’ve also spotted them at retailers such as Bi-Rite Market in San Francisco. Last week, when I saw a half flat was available (20 peaches for $34.99) via GoodEggs delivery, I jumped at the chance to buy some.
Nothing beats just eating them out of hand over the sink. However, I also wanted to do something a little more grand, too. I found the perfect vehicle in “Peach Hand Pies,” a recipe by the gifted Southern baker Cheryl Day of Savannah’s Back in the Day Bakery.
The recipe is included in “Black Food’ (Penguin Random House, 2021), of which I received a review copy, that was edited by James Beard Award-winning chef and educator, Bryant Terry, who is the chef-in-residence at the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco.
The groundbreaking book celebrates Black foodways in America and around the globe through recipes, poetry, and essays. More than 100 influential Black writers, artists and chefs contributed their heart and soul to this special project.
The result is a dynamic and eclectic collection of recipes that includes everything from “Okra & Shrimp Purloo” and “Inferno Hot Kale Chips” to “Jerk Chicken Ramen” and “Rum Raisin Plantains Foster.”
For these hand pies, you don’t even need to peel the peaches, which is a time-saving win-win. Thin slices get mixed with a little flour to thicken their juices when cooking, along with lemon juice, brown sugar, cinnamon, mace, and the surprise of a little black pepper. The latter is barely noticeable, but definitely adds to the warmth of the cinnamon.
The all-butter pie dough is perfection personified. Cubes of cold butter get tossed into the flour with the help of a fork, before ice water with a splash of apple cider vinegar is stirred in. Dump the dough onto a work surface, then use the heel of your hand to press and smear the dough away from you, which will create small pockets of flattened butter coated in flour — the key to a flaky pastry.
The other important factor is keeping your dough chilled so that the butter doesn’t get too soft. As you cut the dough into squares, fill with the peaches, crimp to seal, and brush with egg wash, the hand pies will at various times return to the fridge to firm up again before you bake them.
Once baked, drizzle on a simple vanilla-scented confectioners’ sugar-glaze. You might prefer to skip the glaze if you like your hand pies less sweet. Or you might make only half the amount, like I did, so that you can glaze half of the hand pies for, say, your husband (hint-hint) who likes his pies more sugary, while keeping the rest of the hand pies as is, for those like me, who prefer the taste of the buttery crust au naturel.
However you choose to adorn your hand pies, you will end up with superb crisp pastries bursting with jammy peaches that your friends will think came from a bakery, not your home kitchen.
Should you end up with leftover peach filling that didn’t quite fit into your dough squares, either microwave, roast or saute until tender, then sprinkle on a little of your favorite granola for a mini instant fruit crisp.
The season for the very best peaches is here — and that’s certainly worth rejoicing.
Peach Hand Pies
For the all-butter pie dough (makes two 9-inch piecrusts or 1 double crust):
2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder, preferably aluminum-free
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 cup ice water
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1/2 pound (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes
For peach filling:
2 cups, unpeeled, sliced (1/4-inch) fresh peaches (about 5 peaches); can substitute frozen
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground mace
2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten with a pinch of fine sea salt, for egg wash
For vanilla sugar glaze:
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon milk
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
To make the piecrust: In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
In a measuring cup or small bowl, combine the water and vinegar. Set aside.
Toss the butter in the flour mixture to gently coat the cubes. Then use a pastry blender to cut the butter into the flour. You should have various-size pieces of butter, ranging from sandy patches to pea-size chunks, with some larger bits as well, Drizzle in about half of the water-vinegar mixture and stir lightly with a fork until the flour is evenly moistened and the dough starts to come together. If the dough seems dry, add a little more ice water, 1 to 2 tablespoons at a time. The dough will still look a bit shaggy at this point. If you grab a small piece of dough and press it slightly with your hand, it should mostly hold together.
Dump the dough out onto an unfloured work surface and gather it together into a tight mound. Using the heel of your hand, smear the dough a little at a time, pushing it away from you and working your way down the mass of dough to create flat layers of flour and butter. Then gather the dough back together with a bench scraper, layering the clumps of dough on top of one another. Repeat the process once or twice more; the dough should still have some big pieces of butter visible.
Cut the dough in half. shape each piece into a disk and flatten it. Wrap the disks in plastic wrap and put them in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, or overnight, to rest. The dough can be stored for 3 days in the refrigerator or up to 1 month in the freezer. If frozen, defrost in the refrigerator overnight before using.
To roll out the piecrust: If the dough has been chilled overnight, it will need to sit at room temperature for 10 to 15 minutes before rolling.
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. On a floured surface, roll out each disk of dough into a 10-inch square, a scant 1/4-inch thick. Cut each piece into four equal squares. Transfer the squares to the prepared baking sheets, four to a pan. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate while you make the filling.
To make the filling: In a large bowl, combine the peaches, lemon zest, and juice, brown sugar, pepper, cinnamon, mace, flour, and salt and toss to combine. Set aside.
To assemble the pies: Remove the dough from the refrigerator and lightly brush the edges of each square with egg wash. Divide the filling among the squares, using a scant 1/4 cup for each, leaving a 1/2-inch border around the edges. Gently fold each square of dough over to make a triangle and press the edges with your fingers to seal; make sure the filling does not ooze out of the sides. Crimp the edges of each hand pie with your fingers or a fork to seal.
Lightly brush the tops of the pies with egg wash. Cut three small slits for steam vents in the top of each pie. Chill the pies, uncovered, for 30 minutes, or up to 2 hours, to set the crust.
Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Bake the hand pies for 20 to 25 minutes, until deep golden brown; rotating the pans halfway for even cooking.
While the hand pies are cooling, make the glaze: In a small bowl, mix the confectioners’ sugar, milk, and vanilla. Set aside.
Glaze the hand pies with a generous amount of glaze coating the top.
From Cheryl Day as published in “Black Food” by Terry Bryant
Another Cheryl Day Recipe to Enjoy: Cold-Oven Pound Cake
More Peach Recipes to Savor: Peach Blueberry Cake
And: Peach Tart