When I saw KCRW & LACMA were holding a pie contest, I was interested. When I saw that there was a category just for pies inspired by Tim Burton, I was hooked. I instantly started churning out ideas and sketching them out on scraps of paper….Jack the Pumpkin King Pumpkin Pie, Sweeney Todd “Meat” Pie, the Queen of Hearts’ Strawberry Tarts….the possibilities were endless! I couldn’t have asked for a more inspiring and creative special category and I was disappointed to find out we could only enter one pie per category. So instead of disguising my cast-off Tim Burton creations to be suitable for other categories (fruit, nut, savory, or cream/chiffon), I decided to focus all my creative and baking energy to making one really great pie: James and the Giant Peach Pie.
I felt, despite the fact that the judges were a total all-star panel, that pumpkin and strawberry and meat pies are so subjective to a judge’s mood on any given day…but that no one can actually turn down a really good peach pie, no matter what their mood. Since it was for Tim Burton, I knew I had to go all out on themeing the pie and if there’s one thing I love it’s a challenge that combines baking and crafting. In “James and the Giant Peach,” the characters live inside a peach floating across the English Channel, at one point being pulled by a large flock of birds. So I went to the co-op, found the largest peach in the bin, and proudly carried it home, knowing it would be my centerpiece. I held up the line at FedEx-Kinko’s while the guy at the desk and I printed out the characters in a few different sizes for me to experiment with (and mirror images of them, so no matter what side you looked at the pie from, you wouldn’t be staring at the white back of paper). And I dashed through the craft store, wondering if I really needed a pair of needle nose pliers and wire cutters to pull off this project (I did). The final result was a “giant” peach, the cast of characters merrily perched on top, being pulled by birds through waves of
the English Channel pie crust.
There were some hurdles to jump first, though. I admit, though I love making pies, I normally have no patience for pie crust and just use frozen crust from the store (it could be because I make most of my pies around Thanksgiving when I have other things to worry about, like if I remembered the cranberries for the stuffing). These pies had to be 100% homemade and, truthfully, I’m glad for it, because the process reminded me that crust really is so simple to throw together that I should take the time to do it more often. The other hurdle was that in order to pull off my design element, I needed a little stand to hold the peach up at crust level and I didn’t know a single pizza store that still used those plastic stands to keep the box from drooping into the cheese. Imagine my delight when the hero boyfriend called from a conference he was at in San Fransisco to say that he had triumphantly found and saved two pizza box stands and he would be home on Friday with them!
So with all challenges behind me and nothing left to do but bake a pie, I plunged ahead, making the crust on Saturday night and the pie early on Sunday morning, hoping it would cool off enough before having to bring it to LACMA for judging. And when all that was said and done….
I placed first in the Tim Burton category! My very first blue ribbon! I was so nervous seeing my pie up on the judges’ table, but after my name was called, I was absolutely jumping for joy and so proud of what I had accomplished. The boyfriend had been hiding inside the pie tent so that he could have first dibs at tasting some of the 250 pies entered in the contest, but came out to celebrate with me and join in my first paparazzi moment (after 3 years in LA, it’s about time, eh?). I’m so grateful to all the friends who showed their support either by coming to the event or just offering moral fortitude for my first baking contest–it certainly paid off! And now, dear readers, I pass the recipe on to you to share with your family and friends. Award Winning Bourbon Honey Peach Pie, submitted for your pie-eating pleasure:
Pie Crust (enough for 2 crusts, a top and bottom)
- 2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon table salt
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 12 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch slices
- 1/2 cup chilled solid vegetable shortening , cut into 4 pieces
- 4 tablespoons vodka , cold
- 4 tablespoons ice water
- 3 lb ripe peaches
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
- heaping 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- heaping 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup honey
- 2 tbsp bourbon
- 1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste (or extract)
- 2 tablespoons water
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 egg white
- sugar for sprinkling
- Process 1 1/2 cups flour, salt, and sugar together in food processor until combined, about 2 one-second pulses.
- Add butter and shortening and process until homogenous dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, about 10 seconds (dough will resemble cottage cheese curds with some very small pieces of butter remaining, but there should be no uncoated flour). Scrape down sides and bottom of bowl with rubber spatula and redistribute dough evenly around processor blade.
- Add remaining 1 cup flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl and mass of dough has been broken up, 4 to 6 quick pulses. Empty mixture into medium bowl.
- Sprinkle vodka and water over mixture. With rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix, pressing down on dough until dough is slightly tacky and sticks together. Flatten dough into 4-inch disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days.
- Place a foil lined baking sheet on the middle rack in your oven and preheat to 425 degrees. This will ensure ,when you put the pie in the oven to bake on the already hot sheet, that the butter and shortening will melt and coat the flour faster, before the peach juices get to the flour. If the butter and shortening melt first, you’ll get a flaky crust. If the peach juices get to the crust first, you’ll get nothing but a soggy crust. If you have been chilling your dough overnight, pull it out now so that it can soften.
- You can choose to peel the peaches or not. If you do want to peel them, blanching them will make the process a lot easier. I personally just didn’t want to take the time to peel them and the pie was, obviously, fine.
- Slice the peaches into 8 pieces per fruit, tossing them in a bowl as you go.
- Pour the lemon juice over the peaches slices.
- In a small bowl, mix the cornstarch, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Pour the mixture over the peach slices and toss the peaches until evenly coated.
- Bring 1/2 cup sugar, honey, vanilla, and bourbon and water to a boil in a 1 1/2- to 2-qt heavy saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Boil without stirring, swirling pan occasionally so the mixture darkens in color evenly, until dark amber, about 5 minutes. (Tricked you! You’re basically making vanilla honey caramel here! But we’re not going all the way to caramel, instead we’re just cooking the sugar long enough to deepen the flavors and give it a hint of caramel flavor.)
- Remove from heat and add butter, swirling pan until butter is melted. Pour over fruit and toss the peaches until evenly coated.
- Sprinkle a generous amount of flour on top of the first dough round and roll out 1 piece of dough into a 13-inch round on a generously floured surface. Gently roll the dough around the rolling pin and then unroll it into the pie plate, gently lifting the edges and settling it into the plate (at this point it is suggested that you chill the pie plate and crust while you roll out the other crust but truthfully, I was rushing and forgot and it was fine). Roll out the second pie crust using the same flouring methods.
- Spoon (or dump) the peaches into the pie crusted plate and lay the second rolled out crust on top. Trim the overhand so there’s just about a 1/2 inch left. Going around the edge, you’ll seal the juices in best if you fold the edge of the crust underneath itself before crimping or decorating it. Cut a hole about 2″ wide in the center of the top pie crust for steam to vent out.
- Brush the crust with the egg white and then sprinkle with sugar. Both will make the crust shiny and delicious!
- Bake pie on hot baking sheet 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 375°F. Continue to bake until crust is golden-brown and filling is bubbling, about 50 minutes more–tent tin foil over the top of the pie if the crust starts to brown too much. Cool pie to room temperature, 3 to 4 hours.