I know I promised a tour of the spice market in Istanbul , but I had to show you the plum pie I made for my stepmother’s birthday first. When I returned home after a month away my refrigerator was bare, nothing but a jar of capers and a bottle of sriracha sauce. After shopping in Europe the grocery stores here in MN seemed obscene with selection. The produce isle was filled with every fruit and vegie you could ever want, despite the fact that many of them wouldn’t be in season for months. It was both overwhelming and a bit thrilling to have all this at my fingertips. I’d been eating juicy plums and peaches in Italy and had decided to make my stepmother a pie with them for her birthday. They were perhaps a little firm, but they looked and smelled gorgeous. Because it was a special occasion I cooked the plums in champagne and vanilla. I made a tender crust and folded it a few times to add some flaky layers. This is my kind of birthday pie!
Sugar Plum & Champagne Pie with Tender Flaky Crust
makes one 10-inch pie
3 dozen small firm sugar plums (also called “fresh prunes,” Italian plums,” “European plums”)
2 large peaches, peeled, and cut into 1/2-chunks (see below if the peel is difficult to remove)
2 cups champagne (or sweet white wine or water)
1 vanilla bean
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch (I like my filling a bit loose. If you want a pie that really holds together when sliced then add an additional tablespoon of cornstarch.)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups unbleached cake flour from King Arthur  (or 1 cup all-purpose + 1 cup bleached cake flour)
2 tablespoons sugar
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold and cut into 1/4-inch cubes
about 1/3 cup half and half, with ice cubes in it (may need up to 3 more tablespoons if the dough is too dry)
To make pie dough:
In a large bowl add the flour, salt, sugar and butter. Using your hands or a pastry cutter work the butter into the flour until it is sandy looking and has large pea sized pieces of cold butter left in it. If the butter is getting soft put the bowl into the freezer for about 10-15 minutes, until they are very firm. Information to make the dough in a food processor .
Add the half and half to the chilled flour/butter mixture.
With your fingers toss the dough together, but don’t knead it. You want the butter to stay in chunks. Squeeze some of the dough together in your hand to see if it holds together. If the flour still feels dusty and the dough is crumbling apart then add the extra half and half 1 tablespoon at a time.
Turn the dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap and press it into a 1/2-inch thick rectangle.
Then fold the dough over itself. See all that butter, that is what will create the flaky layers in your dough.
Fold the dough over one more time, so it is a square and has several layers.
Wrap the dough in plastic and press it together into a circular disk. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight.
To prepare the filling:
When the plums are firm they are difficult to peel. You do want to remove the peels for this pie in order to get that smooth and luscious texture. Sometimes I leave them on, but not this time.
To get the peels on easily you’ll need to plunge them into boiling water and then dip them in ice water. First you need to cut a small “x” in the bottom of the plum, opposite to where the stem is.
Bring water to a boil in a large pot. Using a slotted spoon lower the plums into the water several at a time. Let them simmer for a minute and then remove and place them in a bowl of ice water. Repeat with all the plums and peaches if they too are firm and difficult to peel.
Once they have been blanched the skins should easily peel off.
use a small paring knife or just your fingers to do this. I find the knife makes the job go faster. If the skin is still stubborn then plunge them back in the boiling water for another minute.
Now cut the smooth plums into pieces, removing the stone (pit).
Place them in a pot with the champagne, 1/2 cup of the sugar and vanilla bean (split the pod and scrape out the seeds , throw the whole thing in the pot).
Simmer the fruit until the liquid is the consistency of honey. Add the peaches at the very end, after the heat has been turned off.
mix together the remaining sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl.
Stir it into the cooked fruit and let it sit to cool. (This can be made the day before and refrigerated.)
Remove the dough from the refrigerator. If it is very cold and stiff, let it sit on the counter for about 5 minutes. You still want it to be very chilled, but not so much that it will split when you roll it out.
Use enough flour on the rolling surface to prevent the dough from sticking. If those large chunks of butter are making the dough stick to the rolling pin or the counter then dust that area with extra flour. Roll it to 1/8-inch thick circle.
Place the dough round in your pie plate, there should be plenty of dough hanging over the edge.
I put the filling in, dotted it with the butter and folded the dough like a galette, it is rustic and beautiful in its simplicity. You can do this pie with a lattice top as well using these directions . Place the pie in the freezer while you preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
Set the pie on a baking sheet in the middle of the oven and bake for about 30 minutes at 400 degrees. Turn the heat down to 350 degrees and continue to bake for another 30 minutes. The filling should be bubbling and translucent.
As you can see the filling overflowed slightly, so be sure to have a cookie sheet under the pie.
Let the pie cool for about an hour. It is equally good served warm or cool with ice cream, whipped cream or nothing at all. Don’t forgot to save some for breakfast the next morning.
Next up the spice market in Istanbul!