Shaking my tree

June 7, 2012 § Leave a comment

I was watching The Next Food Network Star (my third favorite cooking contest show — I much prefer Top Chef and Chopped, but they seem to be out of season right now) the other day, and one of the things they were asking each contestant was to describe their philosophy about food/cooking. So I thought about this for myself, and my philosophy about food/cooking (and about any kind of art, really) is this:

Learn the basics so you can make what you like.

That’s it. With all of the things I do, the ones I’m most successful with are food and fiber. And the reason I’m most successful with them is because I’ve learned the basics and learned them well, and knowing the basics means I can do some very unbasic things to get what I want. This is what has made me comfortable replacing ingredients in recipes (for instance, the black pepper/paprika switcheroo in my Lamb Ragout) and really what has given me the confidence to play around and come up with recipes all my own.

But, you ask,  how did you learn this stuff, oh Amazing One? I am so glad you asked. Because here’s the thing: when I say “learn” I don’t mean “follow the recipe a couple times”. I mean, read things in cookbooks, watch cooking programs, ask your friends questions about the delicious food they’ve prepared, think about how the chef made the food that’s on your plate in a restaurant. Always be thinking about what is happening, especially with things you have a strong like or dislike for. And then — and this is really the most important part — get your ass in the kitchen and start playing.

Some of the things you make will fail. If you’re really lucky, they’ll fail spectacularly and you’ll at least get a good story out of the deal but more often, they fail with a whimper and you have a dish that says “meh.” You can learn from those things. Think about what worked and what didn’t, and figure out how to fix the non-working things (ideally in such a way that they don’t break the working things). Then go and make the new version. Repeat, until you have what you wanted, or an entirely new and more awesome thing that has evolved along the way (for really fantastic examples of this in action, I cannot recommend Cook’s Illustrated magazine highly enough).

This is the way most of my recipes happen. I get an idea and I go through several iterations until I love it. Sometimes, though…ah, sometimes it’s as if I’m possessed by some sort of mad genius kitchen spirit and everything comes together beautifully and culminates in tastebud bliss. Such was the case with the peach galette I made over the weekend.

The story goes like this: I was at the store and saw some peaches. I grabbed them, and then as I was driving home I started thinking about making mini pies with them. Except I don’t really like fruit pie as a general rule (yeah, I know, I’m a weirdo). Maybe a cobbler? Not exciting me. Then I remembered that I’d been wanting to make a galette. Perfect! Not quite a pie, but yummy crust, so how can that be bad? (A galette, for those of you who don’t know, is a very rustic version of a pie/tart, wherein you roll out a single crust onto a flat baking sheet, put your filling on, then fold the edges up to hold it all in. I call it a “too lazy to take the pie plate out pie”.)

I started out with my regular crust, then decided I wanted it to be a sweet crust, so I threw in 1/4 cup of brown sugar. The peaches were clings (as opposed to freestones…as much as I think clings are a pain to cut they invariably have a much stronger flavor), so I cut them in 1/4″ slices while still on the stone, then popped the slices off. The peel was thin (and I’ve never been able to successfully blanch peaches for peeling) so I left it on.

Oh, and I learned a new fancy trick for rolling out crust: put it between two sheets of parchment!

No more cleaning hunks of dough off my precious marble rolling pin!

I didn’t put any flour on the paper, but I think next time I’d do a dusting as it was a little clingy. The final little spark of genius was the rum-honey glaze that goes on at the end. I was sitting on the couch, smelling the baking smell and slavering impatiently when I suddenly realized that a little glaze would bring it from yummy to exquisite. And indeed, the flavor profile was delicate but still complex. It tastes just like you’d expect early summer to taste.

Recipe

Ingredients:

For the filling:

  • 1 lb peaches (about 4, give or take)
  • 1/4 c. sugar

For the crust:

  • 1/2 c. butter, cold
  • 1 1/2 c. flour
  • 1/8 c. brown sugar
  • 3-4 tablespoons ice water

For the glaze:

  • 1 Tbsp. dark rum
  • 2 Tbsp. honey

Crust:

In a food processor, pulse together the flour and butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add in sugar and pulse once more. Begin adding water 1 Tbsp at a time until 3 Tbsp have been added, pulsing as you go. Now add the water about 1 tsp at a time, stopping when the mixture just comes together. Turn out onto plastic wrap and form into a disc. Chill to firm, about 15 minutes.

Filling:

While the crust is chilling, preheat the oven to 425°. Slice peaches into app. 1/4″ thick slices.  Roll crust out to 11-12″ diameter and put on cookie sheet. Place peach slices in concentric circles on crust, mounding higher closer to the center. When all slices are placed, fold the edges of the crust in towards the center. Sprinkle sugar evenly over filling. Place in oven and bake for 25-30 minutes, until crust is browned.

Glaze:

When about 5 minutes are left for the galette to bake, combine rum and honey in a small microwaveable dish. Heat together for 20-30 seconds (long enough to fully liquefy honey). Stir gently. When you remove the galette from the oven, use a pastry brush to apply glaze generously to peach slices, making sure there’s plenty to drip down between them. You may wish to apply several coats.

Allow to cool for 10-15 minutes, then slice and serve.

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