It’s always a race to see who gets to the peaches first — the birds, or us. This year, we were feeling particularly protective of our small crop, as a late frost took just about all our stone fruit; a handful of peaches looked like all we’d get. To our surprise, as the peaches started to ripen and turn to a more obvious and easy-to-spot color, we were thrilled to see that we’d actually have a decent, albeit smallish, crop of peaches this year — enough to make some jam, and this simple, scrumptious rustic tart. I love love love this recipe because it’s so simple — flour, sugar, butter, peaches. All you need. Of course, when you’re working with so few ingredients, they all should be the best you can find… especially the peaches. Make sure they’re fragrant, fresh, and ripe but ripe!
These peaches came from a tree that my grandfather started from a peach-pit! The little sprout is now a tremendous tree, and it makes some of the best and prettiest peaches I’ve tasted. When storing peaches, remember to set them on their stem ends, with their pointy blossom ends facing up; they’ll keep better that way.
OK, now for the recipe!:
B H Ranch Rustic Peach Tart
For the crust:
1 1/4 c flour
1 stick (1/2 c) salted butter (or unsalted butter plus a generous pinch of salt)
1/2 tsp sugar
about 1/4 c vodka + ice water *
*Trust me on this one! It sounds weird, but it works. Fill half a 1/4 c measure with vodka; top it off with ice water, and proceed as usual with your recipe. Too much water allows gluten chains to form and toughens the dough, but the vodka — being alcohol, not water — lets you add extra liquid to the dough without toughening it. It’s magic — perfect pastry every time. Cooks Illustrated Magazine ran an article on this technique several years ago in their December issue, and I’ve used it ever since. You can apply the same trick to any pie-crust recipe; just swap out half the water for vodka. The alcohol evaporates during baking, but if you’d rather skip the vodka, you can go ahead and use all ice water; just be careful not to over-mix.
For the filling:
2 lbs peaches, preferably freestone, peeled and sliced
2 Tb sugar
1 Tb flour
1 Tb butter
Place flour and sugar in food processor; pulse to blend. (You can also use a pastry cutter for this recipe if you prefer.) Add butter in 1/2″ chunks; pulse until the mixture becomes a coarse meal with plenty of butter chunks visible. Sprinkle the water/vodka mixture over the dough and mix (carefully, just barely) until the liquid is evenly distributed. (You may need to add slightly more than 1/4 c. The dough should look chunky, kind of like cottage cheese.) Place dough on a sheet of plastic wrap; shape into a flat circle, wrap, and chill for about an hour (can be made in advance).
Make the filling: place sliced peaches in a bowl; gently toss with flour and sugar.
Roll out the dough between sheets of waxed paper, making a circle a little larger that 12 inches in diameter. Transfer the dough to a sheet of parchment paper and place on a baking sheet — I use a small pizza pan — preferably something with a rim, in case it gets a little juicy while baking.
Pile the peaches in the centre of the dough circle, and gently lift and fold the edges of the dough over the filling. Pinch the dough to seal and hold it in place. Dot the peaches with bits of butter. Use your fingers to dab a bit of water on the pastry, and sprinkle with sugar.
Bake the tart at 375 degrees for about half an hour, until the crust is golden and the peaches are tender. I like to sprinkle a little extra sugar over the hot peaches as soon as I remove the tart from the oven; the sugar melts and forms a pretty glaze. Serve the tart warm, preferably with whipped cream or ice cream!