Saturday, September 1, 2012

Nectarine Crème Fraîche Pie


Like the heroine of a trashy romance novel, my breath caught in my throat when I saw Smitten Kitchen's peach crème fraîche pie. My pulse quickened. My heart thudded. I felt a stirring deep within (hunger pangs). This pie was... my destiny!


But peaches were apparently not my destiny. Either it was a bad year for peaches, or I missed the good ones while I was off frolicking in Mendocino, the Sierras, and Nantucket this July and August.


Luckily, there were nectarines. Hunter Orchards, a small, organic farm in Northern California, grows some of the best stone fruit around. Their nectarines tend to be on the small side, but their flavor is massively sweet, their flesh dense and juicy. I picked up a combination of white and yellow nectarines for this pie, which, when baked, create an pretty, multi-hued mosaic reminiscent of a summer sunset.


Whereas the typical lattice or double crusted pie calls for 3 or 4 pounds of fruit, this only asks for 1 1/2 pounds, which I like because I get to eat the rest for breakfast with greek yogurt and maple bourbon brown butter granola.


The title caught my eye first (crème fraîche in pie?!), then the mouthwatering photograph (with streusel?!), but it was my curiosity of the recipe that clinched it. This pie is most unique. A bit of crème fraîche gets spread in the bottom of a par-baked pie shell, then topped with a bit of simple streusel. 


Quartered nectarines go over that, and the rest of the crème fraîche tops the fruit, followed by the remaining streusel. 


As it bakes, the components meld together beautifully. Sandy streusel bakes into a nubby top layer, the pink and yellow fruit peeking though. A flaky, bronzed crust holds juicy chunks of fruit surrounded by creamy custard that oozes as you cut into the pie and shards of crust shatter everywhere. Juicy chunks of nectarine, their flavor concentrated in the heat of the oven, taste of late summer's golden sunlight. It's enough to make anyone fall desperately in love. 


I added a bit of vanilla bean and lemon zest to the sugar, and followed Deb's suggestions to add more sugar to the fruit and more flour to the streusel. I find this pie perfectly sweetened, the ultimate showcase for intensely flavorful fruit. I'm eager to try it with other fruit and dairy combinations, like berries with mascarpone, or apricots flavored with almond. 


This brilliant recipe is so satisfying to put together (and to eat!); I urge you make it straight away, before the rest of summer's stone fruit goes the way of the peaches. Many thanks to Martha Stewart for the original recipe, and to Deb for adapting and capturing it so beautifully. 



High on pie:

Nectarine and Crème Fraîche Pie

Adapted from Deb who adapted it from Martha

I like this pie best shortly after being baked, when it has cooled but has not been out of the oven long enough that food safety standards insist that it must be refrigerated (though I'm not above eating slices straight from the fridge). The crust can be par-baked in advance and stored for a few days in the fridge, and the streusel can be made a day ahead and stored at room temperature. You may wish to make a double batch of pie dough, especially if you do the fraisage and folding options described below for extra flake, and save half of it in the freezer for a future pie. 

You can make your own crème fraîche by stirring 1 tablespoon buttermilk into 1 cup of heavy cream. Cover and let sit at room temperature for 24 hours until thickened. Stir, then refrigerate for up to a week or two. 

This is the only pie I've ever made whose crust threatened to burn before the filling baked; I added foil halfway through. Next time, I would cover the crust with foil before adding the filling, as I instruct below, to prevent it from getting so deeply caramelized. Use any flavorful, ripe but firm peaches or nectarines in this pie. 

Makes one 9" pie, 8-10 servings

Flakiest, all-butter pie crust:
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole spelt (or whole wheat pastry) flour
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
4 ounces (8 tablespoons/1 stick) cold, unsalted butter, in 1/2" dice
2 tablespoons buttermilk or crème fraîche
2 tablespoons ice water, more as needed

Streusel:
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
big pinch salt
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 ounces (4 tablespoons/half a stick) of unsalted butter, cold, cut into cubes

Nectarine Crème Fraîche Filling:
1 1/2 pounds (5 or 6 medium) ripe nectarines or peaches, pitted and quartered
1/4 cup granulated sugar
seeds from 1/2 vanilla bean
zest of 1/4 of a lemon
pinch salt
6 tablespoons crème fraîche, divided use

Make the crust:
In a large bowl, stir together the flours, sugar and salt. Scatter the butter pieces over the flour, and rub in with your fingertips until the mixture resembles sand with lots of pea-sized butter chunks. Stir together the buttermilk and ice water. Drizzle this mixture over the flour mixture, 1 tablespoon at a time, tossing with a rubber spatula, until the dough will hold together when you give it a squeeze, adding more ice water by the teaspoon directly to the dry bits as needed.

You can call it here, or you can do either or both of the steps below for extra flake:

Option 1 - fraisage:
Dump the dough out onto a counter, divide it roughly into 8 portions, and fraisage by dragging a portion of dough across the counter using the heel of your hand. Scrape up the dough (a metal bench scraper works well here), gently press it into a ball and flatten into a disc. Slip it into a plastic bag, and chill for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 days.

Option 2 - roll, fold, roll:
On a lightly floured surface, roll the chilled dough out into a rough square that is about 1/4" thick. Fold it in thirds like you're folding a letter, then roll up from a skinny end into a loose spiral. Gently press to flatten it slightly, and chill for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Remove the dough from the fridge, unwrap, and place on a lightly floured surface. Roll out the dough into a 12" circle, dusting the dough lightly with flour as needed, rotating and flipping it to prevent it from sticking. Ease the dough into a 9" glass pie plate, fit it into the corners, and trim it to a 1" overhang. Fold the overhang under, and flute the crust by pressing it between the thumb of one hand and the index finger and thumb of the other hand. Prick the dough all over with a fork.

Chill the crust for 20 minutes, then freeze it for at least 20 minutes, until solid.

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 400º.

Place the frozen crust on a rimmed baking sheet. Line it with a piece of parchment paper or foil, and fill with pie weights, dry beans, or clean pennies, pressing the weights into the sides and corners of the crust.

Bake the crust for 15-20 minutes, until the dough will hold its shape when you lift off the parchment, then remove the weights and parchment and bake until the bottom is dry and lightly golden, about 5 minutes longer. Reduce the oven temperature to 375ºF. Cool the crust slightly.

While the crust bakes, make the streusel:
In a medium bowl, combine the powdered sugar, baking powder, salt and flour. Add the butter cubes, and work with your fingers or a pastry blender until it begins to clump together. Set aside.

While the crust cools, make the filling:
In a large bowl, rub the vanilla bean seeds, lemon zest and salt into the sugar until combined. Toss in the nectarines to coat, and let sit 10 minutes.

Assemble the pie:
Spread 2 tablespoons of the crème fraîche in the bottom of the cooled pie crust. Sprinkle 1/3 of the streusel over the crème fraîche. Arrange the quartered nectarines over the streusel, nestling them into a single layer, and top with any extra juices. Dot with the remaining crème fraîche, then sprinkle with the remaining streusel.

Bake the pie:
Criss-cross two long pieces of foil on a baking sheet, set the assembled pie in the middle, then fold the foil up and over the crust, scrunching as necessary so that the foil just covers the crust and leaves the filling exposed. Bake the pie until the fruit is bubbling, 50 minutes. Let cool to warm, then serve warm or at room temperature.

The pie is best the day it has been baked, but will keep for a few days in the fridge. I like to re-warm slices in the oven or toaster oven before serving.

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