Other than jasmine or Earl Grey, flavored teas don’t excite me. I like to taste tea with the least amount of unnecessary manipulation. I want to be able to appreciate the tea growers’ art and coax the best flavors out of the leaves by sensitive and attentive brewing. Think of Darjeeling with its varied flavor profiles. It’s a tea-growing microclimate that offers an amazingly diverse range of teas, from first flush varieties with a delicate, almost ephemeral light sweetness, to fresh, somewhat green examples, to second flush teas with their subtle grapey aroma and taste known as muscatel. The terroir that defines the Darjeeling area in northeast India (encompassing climate, soil, and altitude) makes it possible for growers to harvest some spectacular, complexly flavored, and hauntingly memorable teas. Among the best of the teas from that region, there are ones with a peachy essence that cry out to be combined with that summer stone fruit, leading to a combination that I wait all year to savor. (Since a tea’s flavor personality changes from season to season, year to year, and garden to garden, it’s almost impossible to recommend any one tea for this use; feel free to experiment to find your favorites.)
But no matter which Darjeeling you settle on, you will find that there’s a satisfying dialogue between the round mellow tea and the sweet/tart peach. When the fruit is cooked in tea, sugared lightly, accented with a whisper of spice, and wrapped up in buttery quick puff pastry dough, the combination cannot be beat. Try it as the myriad varieties of peaches crowd your local farmers market tables (white, yellow, cling, freestone, sweet, low acid, and sweet/tart, the last one being the variety I prefer to use here).
Plan ahead so the dough can be chilled for two hours before rolling it out. The peaches can be peeled, pits removed, cut, and cooked in advance in the brewed tea, thickened with starch, spiced, and ready to go. In fact, if the filling is cold, it’s easier to put the pie together. Once the pie is assembled, you can choose to bake it immediately or wait a few hours, baking it a few hours before serving. (I never serve a pie hot out of the oven; like roasted meats, pies need to settle during cooling so that they may be cut cleanly and all of the flavors have had a chance to marry and mellow).
Recipe for Darjeeling Tea Peach Pie
Yields one pie, serving 6 generous portions.
Here’s a quick puff pastry dough that I like to use for this pie, but feel free to use any dough that you like. It’s best to make the dough first since if it’s well chilled, it’s easier to work with and will yield a flakier end result.
For the dough:
8 ounces (scant 2 cups) all-purpose flour
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold but malleable, cut into pieces, measuring approximately 2 inches long by 1 inch wide
½ t. salt
4 ounces (one-half cup) ice water
Place the flour, butter, and salt into a large mixing bowl. Using your fingers, lightly toss the ingredients together until the butter is evenly coated with flour. Add the water all at once and mix gently again to distribute the water evenly throughout the dough. Do not overwork. At this point, the dough will be shaggy, not yet cohering into a rollable dough.
Turn the ragged mixture onto a lightly floured surface and using a rolling pin, tap firmly on the dough to help it come together, frequently scraping it free from the work surface until the ragged mass starts to cohere. Using more pressure, roll the dough into a rough rectangle. Then fold one end of the dough toward the middle and the other end on top of that so you have a three-layer roughly rectangular shape. Flour the work surface lightly again and with the short end of the dough facing you, roll the packet into a rectangle again, being sure that the dough is not sticking to the work surface. Fold the dough again into a three-layer packet and chill. When the dough is well chilled, divide it into two unequal parts using one third of the dough for the bottom crust and the remaining two-thirds for a lattice top for the pie. Return the two pieces of dough, wrapped well, to the refrigerator. While the dough chills, make the following filling.
20 grams whole-leaf Darjeeling tea (fragrant and fresh)
16 ounces (2 cups) water
10 medium-sized ripe yellow peaches (you will get a better yield of usable fruit from freestone, but cling varieties will work too)
6 ounces (scant cup) granulated sugar, approximate (more or less to taste, depending on the sweetness of the fruit)
1-1/2 T. cornstarch
1 t. cinnamon
½ t. freshly grated nutmeg
2 ounces (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut up into ¼-inch cubes
For final pie assembly:
Heavy cream, as needed
Granulated sugar, as needed
Use a small paring knife to remove the skin of the peaches. Remove the pit and then cut the fruit into ½- to ¾-inch slices.
Bring the water to a boil. Add the tea leaves. Immediately remove the pot from the heat and allow the tea to steep for 3 minutes. Pour the liquid through a fine meshed sieve into a heatproof bowl. Discard the leaves. Add the sugar and stir to dissolve. Remove 5 ounces of the liquid and allow it to cool.
Whisk the cinnamon and nutmeg into it and dissolve the cornstarch in that liquid, stirring until perfectly smooth. Then add the spice-cornstarch mixture back into the remaining sugared tea liquid. Cook over a medium heat until the liquid thickens and the starch is fully cooked. Add the sliced peaches to the liquid and simmer until the peaches are tender, but not mushy. Add the butter and stir until melted. Allow the mixture to cool while you roll out the chilled pastry to line the pie pan.
Rolling the dough:
Place the empty pie pan onto a sheet of parchment paper and then trace the outline onto the paper. Set aside.
Roll the smaller of the two pieces of dough into a thin circle, large enough to cover the inside of the pie pan with a one-inch overhang all around. Place the dough into the pan without stretching it, allowing for an overhang of one inch (this overhang will be folded in once the lattice is in place). Pour the fruit filling into the dough and place the pie into the refrigerator while you roll out the remaining dough for the lattice top of the pie.
(If you wish, instead of a lattice, simply roll the remaining dough into a thin sheet, trim it into a circle, one inch larger than the top dimensions of the pie. Use a round, square, or other shaped small cookie cutter to cut out decorative shapes in a symmetrical pattern. Cut a circle to fit nicely on top of the pie, fold in the overhang, and crimp using a fork or other tool, sealing the two layers together.)
For the lattice, roll the larger piece of dough into a sheet, about ¼-inch thick, large enough to fully cover the top of the pie. Cut the dough into thirteen even strips, each about ¾ inch wide. (The dough should be soft enough so that it doesn’t break when you manipulate it, but not sticky or melting.)
Turn the paper with the circle drawn on it over (marked side down) and place 6 of the strips within the drawn circle o
nto the paper, ¾ inch apart and parallel to one another. Fold back every other strip halfway and place a strip of dough perpendicular to the line of strips. Return the folded-back strips to their original positions and then fold back the other strips. Place another strip parallel to, and ¾ of an inch apart from, the center cross strip and continue the process of folding back the strips and positioning the cross strips to complete the lattice on both sides of the center strip. Chill the lattice until firm, about half an hour.
Any leftover dough may be turned into cookies. Simply coat the dough with a bit of cinnamon sugar and bake until puffed and golden brown.
Final assembly of the pie:
Remove the lattice and pie from the refrigerator and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Brush the edge of the bottom crust lightly with water. Carefully place the lattice onto the pie and fold the overhang over the edge of the lattice to enclose it all around the pie. Use a fork or other tool to crimp the bottom and top doughs together to seal. Brush the lattice lightly and carefully with heavy cream. Sprinkle with granulated sugar.
Place the pie on a heavy rimmed cookie sheet (to catch any drips from the pie) and bake for approximately one hour and 10 minutes, or until the fruit is bubbling and the crust is golden brown. Allow to cool to lukewarm and then serve.
Now take a bow!
Thanks to the author’s daughter, Lauren Wemischner, for the photos.