Flaky, Crisp, and Fast: How to Make a Peach Galette (Freeform Pie)

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[Photographs: Vicky Wasik]

Ever since I shared the science behind my foolproof cherry pie, folks have wanted to know if the same ratio of sugar, fruit, and starch could be used for a peach pie instead. My answer has always come with an unfortunate caveat: While the formula itself will thicken any fruit from frozen cherries to plump blueberries, the actual technique isn't ideal for larger stone fruits.

That's because tender peaches, nectarines, apricots, and plums are too soft to survive the 75 minutes at 400°F needed to fully crisp the crust. So you have to either accept the soggy bottom that comes from a shorter baking time, or resign yourself to cooking that beautiful summer fruit to a pulp. A crime, I tell you. A crime!

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While some bakers would solve this problem by par-baking the bottom crust, I'd rather streamline a recipe than add an extra step. In this case, the simplest solution is a freeform design. Whether stoneware, glass, or aluminum, all pie pans insulate the dough and filling from the heat of the oven to one degree or another (more on that here). But, more crucially, pie pans corral the filling into a relatively deep layer.

Ditching the pie plate a) removes that bit of insulation, b) decreases the overall depth of the pie, and c) increases the surface area of the pie, all of which help the crust and filling cook through more quickly. On top of that, the open-face design of a galette, as the French would call it, encourages evaporation that concentrates the flavor of the pie.

The result is nothing short of glorious: a crust that bakes up flaky and crisp, peaches that remain juicy but firm, and filling that's neither runny nor dry.

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And this is all without the time-consuming hassle of par-baking the crust or macerating the peaches to drain and reduce their juices in advance. What you lose in presentation (no deep-dish wedges here), you gain in speed—the whole thing can be baked, cooled, and ready to serve in 45 minutes flat.

This recipe works best with a half batch of my Old-Fashioned Flaky Pie Dough, rolled into a 14-inch round and chilled two hours (or up to a day) before use. The filling itself couldn't be simpler. You don't even need to peel the peaches—their skins turn buttery-soft in the oven and add a gorgeous dash of color.

Simply cut the peaches into half-inch wedges and toss with 5.5% of their weight in tapioca starch, nothing more. Holding off on the sugar keeps each slice dry and easy to handle, so you can assemble the pie at your leisure without sticky juices running every which way.

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Arrange the peaches atop the chilled dough in a 10-inch ring, then sprinkle with 25% of their weight in sugar. The top-heavy sugar distribution will make the filling look so freakishly dry that you'll doubt my sanity, but that's only because the sugar has had zero opportunity to dissolve. Trust me, even rock-hard supermarket peaches are more than 80% water, so your pie will get plenty juicy in due time.

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To form the outer crust, cut a few one-and-a-half-inch slits around the perimeter of the dough. Truth be told, it doesn't matter how many there are; I like one for every serving, but you can certainly add more. Each is folded over the fruit with a slight tug to one side, a motion that ensures each flap of dough will overlap its neighbor, forming a tight seal. Brush the whole thing with egg wash to help the pieces adhere, then bake it at 400°F until it's bubbling-hot, about 35 minutes.

Slide it onto a cool surface (another baking sheet or a cutting board will do), and give it 10 minutes before digging in. If you're not in a hurry, transfer to a cooling rack instead, which will allow air to circulate underneath and prevent the crust from turning soggy with condensation.

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Admittedly, a dollop of freeze-dried cherry whipped cream is a bit of lily-gilding, but it's so fast and easy, I couldn't resist (more on that here). Plus, I'm a sucker for pastries that combine different types of stone fruits.

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On that note, this recipe works equally well with apricots, nectarines, and plums (cherries too, though their thick skins are well suited to the longer baking time of a traditional pie).

Thanks to its short stay in the oven, this pie is easily adapted to accommodate berries as well. Roughly 20% of the stone fruit can be replaced with an equal weight of your favorite berry, scattered over the top just before baking. (Don't worry—my recipe includes specific measurements for those baking with cups instead.)

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However you slice it, freeform pies are your best bet for preserving the wonderful texture of tender summer fruits. They're also the fastest route to pie, making them ideal for last-minute desserts...or just for those of us with no sense of patience.