Eat a Peach

Someone needs to explain something to me about baking.

Because if this tart is any indication, I just don’t get it. Baking, I mean. I don’t get baking. The tart looks beautiful, doesn’t it? Don’t be deceived. It tasted… well, it tasted good but I definitely didn’t need to run back to the kitchen for another slice. This tart failed to make me giddy, so I’m pretty sure this tart was a failure.

Here’s what happens: you hunker down over a recipe, obsess over measurements, only half your mind on the food– which is, of course, the whole point of this fussy venture–and in the end, you get something to ooh and ahh at, you get something that looks impressive, but no part of you is growling for more. No part of you wants to swim in a sea of tart.  

Sound familiar? I hope it’s not just me. It’s not that the tart wasn’t good, it’s that it wasn’t sublime, and if you’re going to take the time and the fruit to put this thing together it better damn well be awesome.

I have a theory, one that I suspect will be unpopular: it’s stupid, maybe disrespectful, maybe ungrateful, to bake with peak-season produce. When I eat–for instance–peach pie, I am certainly never displeased with the pie, but mostly I just wish it was a peach. I realize that this takes my constitution about simplicity to wild new extremes. But peaches are a delight to eat on their own.

Good news is, I refused to use the fuzzy, beautifully flawed peaches from Saturday’s farmer’s market for the tart. I used some flawless and remarkably less beautiful nectarines from Whole Foods. No offense to Whole Foods, but the farmer’s market peaches were sold to me by the men who picked them, and they were soulful and warm from the sun and utterly perfect tasting on their own–and no offense to baking, but it’s a sin to put heat to peaches like these.

A recipe for happiness: You peel a peach with your front teeth, eat the skin, then eat the peach, yellow-fleshed and pink-veined and just… dripping, everywhere. These peaches take the sun with them. They are a joy to eat. Alone. A deeply moving, deeply personal, pleasure.

I’m giving you the Alice Waters recipe for tart crust anyway. I know not everyone feels as radically as I do about stone fruit, and this is a good recipe and you should have it. You can lay the dough into a tart pan, or go free-form, like I did. You can fill it with peaches, plums, nectarines, apples, oranges. Or you can make us both happy and ditch the whole tart thing (because it is a fussy thing and it’s summer and who needs that now or ever?) and just… eat a peach. You’ll probably be happier if you do.

Nectarine and Blueberry Tart

For the crust (from Alice Waters):
– 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
– 1/2 teaspoon sugar
– 1/8 teaspoon salt
– 6 tablespoons (3/4 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled, cut into 1/2–inch pieces
– 4 tablespoons chilled water

For the tart:
– 2 yellow and 1 white nectarines, ripe but firm, sliced thin
– Small handful blueberries
– 1 egg, whisked with 1 tbsp water
– 3 tbsp sugar, plus 2 tbsp

Directions:

Make the dough. Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Cut in 2 tablespoons of the butter, mixing until the dough resembles coarse cornmeal. Cut in the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter with a pastry blender or spatula, until the biggest pieces are the size of large peas, or a little larger.

Dribble 4 tablespoons of ice water into the flour mixture, tossing and mixing between additions, until the dough just holds together. Keep tossing the mixture until it starts to pull together; it should look ropy, with some dry patches. If it looks like there are more dry patches than ropy parts, add another tablespoon of water and toss until it comes together. Press the dough into a 4-inch disk, and wrap tightly in plastic. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before rolling out.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and let it sit until it is malleable but still cold. Smooth out the edges and on a floured surface, roll the dough into a 14-inch circle. Move the dough to a baking surface. I used the bottom portion of a nine-inch tart pan.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Arrange nectarine slices on the dough, starting from the outside and moving in. The slices should fit snugly, and achieve an altitude of 2 to 3 inches. Sprinkle sugar evenly over the fruit.

While rotating the tart, fold the border of exposed dough up and over itself at regular intervals, crimping and pushing it up against the fruit. Pinch off any excess dough. Arrange blueberries over the nectarines. Brush the border of the dough with egg wash, and sprinkle it with 2 tablespoons sugar.

Bake in the lower third of the oven (preferably on a pizza stone) for about 45 to 50 minutes, until the crust is well browned and its edges are slightly caramelized. Allow to cool for 15 minutes. Serve warm, preferably with vanilla ice cream.

11 thoughts on “Eat a Peach

  1. Kaitlin says:

    You just made me realize something. All too often I look at fruit and think, “how could I bake that into something?” because I feel like the fruit needs sugar and fat for it to be enjoyable. My best friend gives me crap for it, but that’s just how I feel. It just isn’t good when it’s naked. But when I pick the peaches from the tree in my yard, I never want to bake with them, because it IS a sin to do so.

    I think it’s because store-bought produce is so bad. I hate what supermarkets have done to seasons. Nothing is picked when it should be, even when it’s at its peak.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that I don’t feel so guilty baking off my Walmart fruit now.

    Although, I am still guilty of baking some beautiful specimens from time to time 🙂

    Great post!

  2. dre says:

    Baking has seemed to me a way of salvaging older foods to extend their life. Banana bread is best made with extremely ripe bananas, and my family uses stale french bread to make Puerto Rican bread pudding. It avoids wastefulness when you need to throw something away.

  3. Patti says:

    Fresh peaches unadorned, but we just happened to have homemade caramel ice cream in the freezer to go with them. Sensualist indeed!

  4. Pete says:

    Thank you, Angela, for keeping it personal with the peach. Not to go on a rant, but…

    Try this: bite the sun-warm peach on the tree, no hands. And nibble the berries right off of the bush.

    When picking strawberries or huckleberries or raspberries, my mom always had us boys eat our fill before putting them in the basket. They’re never better, and it makes the harvest so much more intimate and sensational.

    If there are more peaches and berries than will fit in your belly, put them in the basket. If there are more in the basket than you can eat fresh, give them to your neighbors.

    If there are more than your neighbors can take (well, are you really trying?) then put them up. If there are more than you want to preserve, then bake with them.

    I agree with you: baking should be the last resort for fresh fruit.

    ( PS. If you have more of both peaches and blueberries than you want to put up, try this: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Balsamic-Blueberries-and-Peaches-1222198 )

  5. Angela Mears says:

    Pete, you’re a poet of fruit. And you’re completely right. Thanks for the recipe. I happen to have–yes–peaches and blueberries. But something terrible will have happened to me if I am unable to eat them all.

  6. Julie says:

    you baked! if i do recall, there was a conversation we had last week which was ended with a “i don’t bake.” It is confirmed once again, AM conquers all.

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