Peaches and Pastry

Peach season is one of my favorites—whether I am baking a peach pie or crisp, dicing peaches for salsa to accompany chicken or simply biting into a blushing peach out of my hand, with the juice running down my arm.

According to tradition, each summer I bake a peach pie for Dan, whose birthday falls smack in the middle of the best of all seasons.

Pies are a treat for special occasions. However, after Dan had his heart attack, I still wanted to reduce the saturated fat in this occasional indulgence, so I switched from shortening to canola oil pastry. (The American Heart Association recommends replacing solid fats such as butter and shortening with healthier oils, with less saturated fat.)

I kept experimenting with the recipe to see if I could make the oil crust a little flakier. Two keys to a flaky pie crust are to begin with cold ingredients and handle the pastry as little as possible. When you use a solid fat, such as butter or shortening, pebbly flecks of fat permeate the pastry dough. As the pie bakes, the fat melts, leaving tiny air pockets in the pastry, for a light, flaky crust. However, when baking an oil crust, the oil is already a liquid, so the results are slightly different.

I tried refrigerating the oil and then I experimented with freezing it. That not only made it easier to work the dough, but the crust seemed a bit flakier.

Although I was pretty happy with the results, I still wanted a flakier crust, reminiscent of the pies my mother has always made with shortening. This led me to try light-tasting olive oil, with a more neutral flavor than extra-virgin olive oil. Olive oil has more saturated fat than canola oil but is higher in monounsaturated fat, which is considered a healthy fat.

I froze the olive oil for 30 minutes, which transformed it into a mushy semi-solid. I tossed together unbleached flour and salt and then lightly mixed in the olive oil until it was just combined. Then, I stirred in ice water, one tablespoon at a time. I formed the dough into two balls.

As I rolled out the pastry, I found that this dough required more flour than the canola oil crust and the dough softened much more quickly. I suspect that because I rolled out the dough on the table in my sunny kitchen, it probably warmed even faster than it would if I had worked on a cooler day.

I laid the bottom sheet in a pie plate and rolled out the top sheet. After filling the bottom crust with the peach filling, I slid the top pastry sheet onto a floured cutting board and sliced it into strips. I wove them into a lattice top crust, trimmed the excess dough from the sides of the pie, and then crimped the edges. I brushed the lattice top with milk and sprinkled it with cinnamon and sugar.

The pie was a success, with a flakier crust. I’m going to continue tinkering with the recipe, experimenting with whole wheat pastry flour in the future.

After I have fine-tuned the recipe, I’ll be sure to post it! Please feel free to share your own healthier versions of pie crust!

One response to “Peaches and Pastry”

  1. I am definitely going to try this. I hate buying shortening. Since I really only use it for pies, it ends up turning rancid and I have to toss it. Happy to have a healthier alternative!

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