Thursday, February 3, 2011

You're a Peach


I’m baking chocolate chip cookies right now*. My mom’s recipe. They are the best chocolate chip cookies in the world, and nothing you can say will convince me otherwise. Someday I’ll share the recipe with you, but today is not that day. Today is about peaches.

No, peaches are not cookies. I’m not aware of any promising peach cookie recipes. And peaches aren’t even in season right now, but that’s okay because:


Thank goodness for the science of peach preservation. Turns out there’s a lot of peach science out there. Peach allergies, peach aphids, peach genes, peach storage temperatures, peach-faced lovebirds... there are thousands upon thousands of peachy articles out there, all positively dripping with juicy science. Possibly my favorite, though, is a gem of a piece published a few years ago in the International Journal of Food Properties. Its title? “Firmness evaluation by drop impact characteristics for peach.” Yes, the Chinese government paid scientists to drop peaches.

That’s not to discount the relevance of this type of study. After all, when you shop for peaches, you’re looking for firm globes free of bruises, right? Since your fruit had to be shipped across the state, across the country, or even across the ocean to reach that produce department (unless you’re awesome and can buy peaches directly from your local farmer), there was a lot of potential for it to be squished, jostled around, and dropped. It’s in the best interests of everyone involved in the peach supply chain to understand how peaches stand up to that sort of abuse.

Still, this study cracks me up. The jargon is fantastic: “The peach dynamic resonance frequencies were obtained based on the analysis of [the] dynamically measured response signal of [a] drop-excited peach.” They list different methods of determining the firmness of fruits and veggies—“These methods include squeezing between finger (or hand), pushing a thumb into flesh, biting and chewing, and the penetrometer”—and bemoan “the destructive nature of these tests.” Yeah, that penetrometer sounds lethal.

They also discuss developments in “promising dynamic methods for fruit quality evaluation.” One of these is to hold up a microphone to an apple and measure the sound it makes when struck with a ball of wax. Who knew?

The rest of the paper is sadly dry (unlike a good peach). Also, since it’s really not very well written, I’m have a tough time translating the authors’ conclusions for you. Ah well.

Thankfully, even if we’re left hanging when it comes to the science of dropping peaches, we can still enjoy eating them. Peach smoothies, peach jam, and, today, peach cobbler!

(To be honest, I’d consider this a more of a pie than a cobbler, but I adapted it from the “Peach Cobbler” recipe in Alicia Simpson’s Quick and Easy Vegan Comfort Food, so we’ll roll with it).

The first step of making this cobbler, or pie, or whatever, is to prep your peaches. Wash and slice your peaches (just leave the peel on) if you’re lucky enough to have fresh ones. Otherwise, pour your canned or previously-frozen-but-now-thawed peaches into a strainer and let them drain. You don’t want soggy cobbler.

While your peaches are dripping away, stir together the flour and salt, then cut in the shortening and butter with a pastry blender. Yes, I know, butter’s not vegan, but I think most vegans are clever enough to know they can just sub vegan margarine, and “butter” is faster to type.

Back when I was unwise to the ways of baking, I thought a pastry blender was some fancy, high-priced electric gadget I couldn’t afford. Turns out a pastry blender looks like this:


(The pastry blender is in the foreground. Compare to the ancient electric blender also pictured.)

See? Not too frightening. You can pick one up at Goodwill for 50 cents.

Keep cutting in the shortening/butter until the mixture looks like coarse cornmeal. Add ice-cold water, a tablespoon at a time, just until the dough holds together. Alicia’s recipe calls for 7 tablespoons, but that wasn’t near enough. Maybe it’d work if you were using a food processor, but since those cost more than 50 cents and I blew all my baking money on a KitchenAid mixer, I don’t own one yet.

Smoosh that dough into a ball, divide it, and roll it out to make the bottom crust. Once you’ve rolled out the top crust, you can use any extra pastry scraps to fix gaps in your bottom crust. Use a little cold water as glue. It doesn't need to look perfect. You'll be devouring it in an hour anyway.




Mix together the well-drained peaches with the spices.


Damn if those aren’t some seriously bright peaches. P.S. I have a fancy new camera now, so photo quality will be better in future posts. Cross my heart.

Plop the peaches onto the crust, cut some butter over the top, and throw the top crust over the whole shebang. Pinch the crusts together with your fingers and prick the top with a fork. And then bake it. I’m not sure if the fork-pricking step is really necessary, but it looks nice, so why not? You can even get artsy with it if you’re so inclined.
 

Om nom nom.


Peach Cobbler (or Peach Pie)

Ingredients: Crust
2.5 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp salt
2/3 cup shortening + 1 Tbsp butter
10-12 Tbsp ice-cold water (put it in a bowl with ice cubes)

Ingredients: Filling
30 oz peaches (fresh, canned, or frozen (thawed). Take your pick.)
1/3 cup white sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp allspice
dash of cardamom
1.5 tsp cornstarch or arrowroot
1 Tbsp butter, cut into small pieces

1.   Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Some ovens take freaking forever to heat up, so always do this step first.

2.   Put the peaches in a strainer set over a bowl to drain if you’re not using fresh fruit.

3.   Stir together flour and salt, then cut in the shortening and butter. When the mixture is coarse and no clumps of fat remain, use the pastry blender to mix in the water, 1 Tbsp at a time, until it just holds together.

4.   Divide the dough into two unequal halves. Roll out the larger half until it’s large enough to cover the bottom and sides of an 8x8” baking pan. Good. Now put it in the pan (but grease the pan first). Roll out the smaller half for a top crust and set it aside for a minute.

5.   Mix together the drained peaches, sugars, and spices. Sprinkle the cornstarch over the top and mix it in.

6.   Pour the peaches into the bottom crust and dot with the pieces of butter. Top with the set-aside crust and crimp the edges together.

7.   Bake for 45 minutes or until the top is a lovely, satisfying golden brown. If you’re using a glass pan, it’ll need to bake for a few minutes longer.


*I was baking chocolate chip cookies when I started writing this post, but then I got side-tracked… for more than a week. The cookies have all gone to a better place now. I should make some more.

2 comments:

  1. Hey! I recognize that old blender.

    ReplyDelete
  2. This means I get peach cobbler next week???

    ReplyDelete