The last thing I want to do in the heat of summer is bake. Turning on the oven means that the temperature in my already steamy apartment will rise another 10 degrees or so, and I often wonder whether the effort is worth the discomfort.
And if the heat doesn't bother me, it surely bothers my ingredients. I call it the "Summer Baking Demon," and it usually strikes just as I am rolling out a delicate, buttery dough for a pie or tart. Then, without warning, the heat of the kitchen (I'm probably preheating the oven just about then) softens the dough to the texture of mashed potatoes. If I'm feeling brave, I scrape the sadly melted dough onto a baking sheet and refrigerate it, hoping for the best and secretly fearing the worst for my poor pie.
It's ironic, because this is the season when baking is best. After a trip to one of the city's farmers' markets, I usually realize that I have bought enough fruit for my household of one to feed a family of 12 for a month.
As I unpack pint after pint of berries and shift the contents of the refrigerator one more time to accommodate them, I begin to think about cobblers and tarts. When I attempt to empty the bag of apricots into a basket and realize that I will need a second and probably a third basket for them, the idea of a small crumb cake to hold a few of them crosses my mind.
And when I realize that the perfectly ripe peaches (which I took half an hour to choose, all the while hoping that the farmer had not noticed that I was poking every peach on his stand) will last a couple of days at best, I begin to see pies floating before my eyes.
After many encounters with the demon, I began thinking about a solution, specifically one in which the heat of a summer kitchen would work to benefit--rather than harm--the dough. I developed a No-Roll Pie or Tart Dough, in which the dough is either pressed or spread into the pan, eliminating the need for awkward rolling.
This produces a dry, crumbly mass of sweet buttery particles that becomes a smooth, cohesive pie or tart shell after being pressed into a buttered pan. It's a great, quickly made dough that is perfect for anyone who wants to have a great homemade pie or tart but doesn't have the patience to acquire a Ph.D in dough rolling.
The desserts here need no fancy finishes to make them ready for the table. They all belong to what I call the mix-bake-eat category of desserts--those that may be served as soon as they cool or within a day or so thereafter.
Use this dough to form a pie or tart shell without the extra work of rolling the dough. It will be just as tender and delicate as any other dough.
NO-ROLL TART OR PIE DOUGH
1 1/4 cups flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
6 tablespoons cold butter
1 large egg
Combine flour, sugar, salt and baking powder in mixing bowl. Cut butter into 6 or 8 pieces and distribute over dry ingredients. Rub in butter finely, using fingertips or pastry blender, until mixture resembles fine powder. Do not work mixture until it becomes pasty.
Beat egg with fork in small bowl and stir into flour-butter mixture. It will remain dry and crumbly. Turn dough into buttered 11- or 10-inch removable bottom tart pan or 9-inch glass pie plate. Distribute crumbly mixture evenly around bottom and side of pan, pressing it into place with floured fingertips. Pressing dough into place will make it adhere together and line pan. Avoid pressing dough too hard or it will become thin in places.
Inspect surface for any excessively thick or thin spots and press them even before proceeding. Slide into plastic bag and chill several hours or overnight, or while preparing filling. Makes 1 (11- or 10-inch) tart shell or (9-inch) pie shell.
This pie is also good made with a combination of peaches and raspberries. The crumb topping complements the melting texture of the peaches perfectly.
PEACH CRUMBLE PIE
1 No-Roll Pie Dough Shell
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 1/4 cups plus 1 tablespoon flour
2 1/2 pounds fragrant, ripe Freestone peaches
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
Prepare and refrigerate 9-inch pie shell.
Melt butter and stir in brown sugar. Stir in 1 1/4 cups flour. Let stand 5 minutes. Break up into large crumbs, using fingertips. Set aside.
Cut shallow cross in blossom end of each peach and plunge few at time into pan of boiling water about 30 seconds. Remove to bowl of cold water and slip off skins. If peaches are ripe, skins will slip off easily. If not, use paring knife.
Halve and pit peaches, then cut each half into 5 or 6 wedges. Place in bowl and sprinkle with granulated sugar, remaining 1 tablespoon flour, nutmeg and lemon zest. Toss well to coat. Spoon into pie shell. Sprinkle reserved crumb topping evenly over filling.
Bake at 350 degrees on lowest rack 30 to 40 minutes, until filling is bubbling and crumbs appear well colored. Cool on rack. Serve lukewarm or at room temperature. Makes 6 servings.
This variation on the classic Viennese pastry uses fresh raspberries along with a bit of raspberry jam as the filling.
FRESH RASPBERRY LINZERTORTE
1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup ground blanched almonds
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup butter
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg yolk
1/3 cup raspberry preserves
2 baskets fresh raspberries
1/3 cup toasted sliced almonds
Mix together flour, blanched almonds, granulated sugar, cloves and baking powder in bowl. Rub in butter finely by hand. Whisk lemon zest and vanilla with egg and yolk and stir into dough with fork. Dough will be very soft.
Set rack in middle of oven. Butter 12-inch tart pan with removable bottom. Spread dough evenly in pan, spreading it thicker at edge to form side wall of tart shell.
Bake at 350 degrees about 25 minutes, until well risen and firm. Cool in pan on rack.
Spread preserves in cooled tart shell and arrange raspberries on top. Edge with toasted almonds and dust lightly with powdered sugar. Makes 6 servings.
Use this cheese filling with Linzer dough alone or with the raspberries.
1 pound cream cheese at room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup whipping cream
Beat cream cheese with hand mixer set at medium speed or with heavy-duty mixer fitted with paddle. Beat in sugar until smooth, adding vanilla, lemon zest, eggs, egg yolks and cream in order. Scrape bowl and beaters often. Pour into unbaked Linzertorte shell. Bake at 350 degrees about 30 minutes. Cool. Add jam and raspberries as directed in Fresh Raspberry Linzertorte recipe or leave plain.