A New Cookie. An Old Habit.

What’s that saying? Old habits die hard—which just makes me think of Samuel L. Jackson in Die Hard with a Vengeance saying, in his most perfect of a voice, “Bro? Get away from the goddamn phone!”

But moving on from my distracto moment, old habits do seem to linger on. And on. This past weekend, I decided to try a new cookie recipe I had saved from an email newsletter from The Splendid Table. I feel like I’ve pretty much mastered my basic chocolate chip and pecan cookie, so it was time for another trial.

The original recipe for these Sour Cherry and Dark Chocolate cookies is by Yasmin Khan of The Saffron Tales. It peaked my interest because of a recent education by a friend on the benefits of tart cherries. So I thought, instead of drinking tart cherry juice, why not put them in a cookie? It’s gotta be about the same, right?

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Gathered up the ingredients, which did look delicious all on their own, and thought I was set to go.

Well, that old habit I thought I had finally kicked to a curb far, far away came strolling back around the block and didn’t even knock. Next thing I know I’m partway through the recipe realizing I never read it all the through. DUH. Hi, habit. How’ve you been?

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At that point, everything came to a screeching halt as the recipe called for the dough to chill for at least an hour. Really, people. I can’t say it enough—read recipes through once, twice, three times a loon. Luckily, I had actually started baking far enough in advance of Sunday dinner that I had the time to spare.

In my late rereading of the recipe, I also figured out that I hadn’t used all the sugar that was called for. Now, it’s true, I usually do cut sugar content anyway, but this time it wasn’t on purpose.  I also didn’t chop up the dried cherries…but the dough looked and smelled amazing, so I wasn’t going to stress about it.

20170626_192329After an hour or so of reading with intermittent Instagraming and doing random tasks in the garden, I got the dough out of the fridge and balled it up. Dough balls are fun. BALLS. Speaking of dough, last week I had a discussion with coworkers about doughnuts/donuts/dough nuts. I decided I like it spelled separately and also wondered why they aren’t called dough nuts & bolts instead of doughnuts and holes.

Anyhooooo, the dough made 12 big balls. Recipe said use an ice cream scoop, I think. I don’t have one, so I just rolled them up into 12 equally-ish sized nuggets of yum. Popped those buddies in the oven at 325 for 7 minutes. They were just beginning to unball and melt out a bit, so when I turned the pan, I also sprinkled them with sea salt. Back in for another 10 minutes and they seemed done.

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I let them cool almost completely before the taste test. They were decadent. A heavy weight of a cookie, but not overly sweet—I think my sugar mishap and the addition of sea salt balanced it out. The texture was somewhere in between a cake and a brownie. Hard to describe, really. In retrospect, I may do a hotter oven for less time when I try them again. I’d prefer a crispier edge/bottom and keep them gooey in the middle.

Overall, I’d call them a success and the Greeks were pleased. Another Sunday family dinner dessert dynamo.

Original recipe by Yasmin Khan here:

Sour Cherry and Dark Chocolate Cookies 

My habit rearing it’s ugo head:

I used dried tart cherries, which I didn’t chop up (next time I definitely will), and left out the extra tablespoons of granulated sugar…I also didn’t have a full 1/4 cup measured out either. Whoops.

READ THE RECIPE ALL THE WAY THROUGH FIRST

Wheeeeeeeeee!

 

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Jenn Gin Cookies: An attempt to bring the happy back to the hour.

The funtastic start to the long weekend quickly took a turn by Saturday night when I started having some psychologically deflating side effects from the high dose of Prednisone I was put on last Wednesday. I had forgotten how intense this level can be and ended up feeling awful on Sunday. By Monday, I needed something to get me back on the positive mental track and since gardening out in the heat was out of the question, I went to the other space where I can always find something to invent, experiment with, or edit— my kitchen.

The drive to edit doesn’t stop when I leave the office. I’ve realized that it infiltrates most of my life. From the high-walled, razor-wired personal stuff to the blatant spray painting of an antique chandelier, I’ll make a tweak if I see fit.

Baking is not immune to my editorial revisions, to be sure. As I’ve said many times before, I can’t seem to follow recipes to the letter. It must be some sort of mental block. Or I’m just too damn stubborn.IMG_20170529_131438_897

So when I needed a pick-me-up on Monday, I searched the kitchen to see what I could create from what was on hand. I knew I needed a dessert for the Greek family Memorial Day dinner, so I first gathered up the basics of flour, sugar, and butter. Found three limes that were leftover from a gin and tonic weekend…and then it hit me—new cocktail cookie! I already knew a good iced-lemon cookie recipe, so I decided to adjust it into a liquored-up treat.

20170529_132811I always like a splash or two of whiskey or bourbon in a pie, and I’ve done a cookie with tequila, so gin seemed like the natural next step in editorial experimentation. Starting with the original recipe, I changed the call for lemon zest and juice to lime, added a big dousing of gin and an extra egg white (because it was there and needed to be used). I’m no chemist, and I barely math, so this was risky and I knew it. But it felt right and I was starting to feel better myself. The dough came together nicely. Perhaps a bit sticky, but the taste was spot-on. Sweet tart scrumptious. As with the lemon cookie recipe, it was hard not to sit there and just eat all the dough raw. I controlled myself and rolled out tablespoon-sized clumps onto the cookie sheet.

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While those sticky, little dough balls were in the oven, I whipped up the icing for their tops. Knowing the liquor in the dough would mostly bake off, I decided to bring back the full strength in the icing. Powdered sugar, lime zest, lime juice, and gin—what could go wrong?

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Nothing. Nothing went wrong with that. It was delicioso! Meanwhile, the dough balls were puffing up into what looked like wee biscuits. It was bizarre and I wondered if it was the addition of the gin or the extra egg white. Either way, they were looking almost fancy and I was getting excited. The previous day’s pains and discomforts were melting away as this new baking adventure was coming together.

Ding! The cookies were done, out da oven, and onto a cooling rack to set a bit before drizzling with the icing.

The smell was like the feel of summer evening drinks with a sweating glass pressed cool against a hot brow.

20170529_140426.jpgOnce they were cool enough to drizzle, the idea of a drizzle wasn’t enough anymore. I coated those biscuity looking babies to the hilt. I mean, why not? They ended up sitting in puddles of ginny sweet goodness and it was glorious to gaze upon.

The final cocktail cookie had a texture that carried the heft of the glaze well and the combination felt just right. The full-force gin in the icing gave it a kick that everyone was surprised with but enjoyed…especially my coworkers. What? *Clears throat*

Moving on…the pick-me-up experiment is going down in the books as a success, and I’ve named them Jenn Gin Cookies. Gin and tonics are restricted to a glass no longer!

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Jenn Gin Cookie Dough:

2 cups all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons finely grated lime zest

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 stick of unsalted butter, room temp

1 cup granulated sugar

1 large egg (plus one egg white if you want to do what I did)

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 tablespoon Gin

Gin Glaze:

2 cups confectioner’s sugar

2 tablespoons lime zest

1/3 cup fresh lime juice with a big splash of Gin in it

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, and zest in a bowl. In another bowl (I used my KitchenAid), beat the butter and granulated sugar until fluffy. Add the egg, vanilla, and lime juice, gin, and combine. Finally, add in the flour mixture gradually with the mixer on low.

Drop heaping tablespoons of dough onto the cookie sheet about 1 inch apart and bake until golden on the edges. About 15-20 minutes depending on your dough ball size. Be sure to flip them halfway through.

Let cool completely and then “drizzle” with the glaze. They should set for about an hour before devouring.

Bottom’s up!

 

Pi(e) Day: the most wonderful day of the month.

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Today was an obvious choice of a day for me to make a pie. I don’t math, but I do know what pi means and since I’m pretty all right with letters, I knew that adding an ‘e’ would really level up this day. *insert Link opening a treasure chest music here* Also, I can’t remember the last time I made one, which is true sadness.

When discussing what kind to make, Yvonne, who knows I always bring them into work for taste testing, said any kind but blueberry because that would turn her teeth blue. So to me that meant it was definitely going to be blueberry. Luckily for her, blueberries weren’t quite in season yet, so they were still ridiculously priced. The strawberries and raspberries were on sale and to add in a color and texture variant, I threw a pack of blackberries into the cart. A lemon for fresh juice and I was ready.20170314_192753.jpg

Shockingly, I actually planned ahead for this day and made my dough the night before. I’ve seriously mastered that pie dough, yo. As seasoned bakers already know, the quality of butter makes ALL the difference in it coming together. When I got home from the store, I rolled out half of the dough and pressed it into the plate.

The dough went back into the fridge while I prepped the filling. Sweet, sweet berries, come to momma. I cut the strawberries into 20170314_193128.jpgdifferent sizes and left the blackberries and raspberries whole. A bowl of beauty. The recipe I loosely followed called for adding granulated sugar, lemon juice, and salt to the berries. I cut the sugar by about a quater cup and added in an overflowing tablespoon of good quality maple syrup. Once that was mixed, add in the thickener, flour, and then it was time to get the other half of the 20170314_192702.jpgdough out of the fridge to roll out for the top crust. I knew I wanted to do something to represent pi, so I stared at the rolled out dough and contemplated how to do it without just doing the pi symbol. The problem is that I’m still an amateur with creative pie lattice tops. The brainstorming resulted in an idea I thought I could handle, so I filled the plate with the berry delicious filling and got at it. After some serious finangling, I finished my top and popped that heavy baby into the oven.

About an hour later, my gooftastic Pi Day pie was done. As usual, it was juicier than I’d like it to be. I think this happens because I usually add more fruit than the recipes call for, I can’t abide a sunken belly, and then forget to compensate with more thickening agent.

Do you see my pi representation?

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The taste testers were pleased—the pi pie disappeared with a quickness. I did get a slice and I have to admit that regardless of the slightly pooling liquid, the taste was spot on. Not too sweet or too tart. I’ll mark it as a success and make yet another note to watch the thickener when making fruit pies.

I didn’t get a “pretty” picture of a cut piece, but here’s a jank one with sliding crust on a Target brand generic paper plate because we can’t care about everything…

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Pie Dough:

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1 tablespoon sugar (I used slightly less)

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 1/2-1 tablespoon pieces (I used Kerry Gold)

1 1/2 cups cold water

Put the cold water into a 2 cup liquid measuring cup with a spout and handle. Set into the freezer. Measure out the flour into a mixing bowl, add the sugar and salt, then the butter pieces. Lightly toss them until they are coated and then take handfuls of the mixture into your hands, pressing the butter into the flour between your fingers until it’s incorporated and the butter pieces are pea to walnut size.

Next, get the water from the freezer and drizzle it in for a count of about five seconds. Then toss it like you’re tossing a salad. Don’t knead. Keep doing that with the water until you can put together a small ball of dough, toss it in the air, and when it lands in your hand it stays together. At this point, make two thick discs of dough, wrap in plastic wrap and keep in the fridge for up to three days.

Pie Filling:

5-5 1/2 cups of mixed berries of your choice

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 heaping tablespoon maple syrup

2-3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

pinch of salt

1/4 cup flour (or more if you add extra fruit)

2 tablespoon chilled, unsalted butter cut into small chunks

1 egg white for wash

Demerara sugar

Preheat oven to 425.

Mix the berries, sugar, syrup, lemon juice, and salt together. Taste and adjust to your preference. Stir in the flour and set aside while you roll out the top crust. Pile the fruit mix into the dough, dot with butter, and then add your version of the top. Brush on the egg white wash and heavily sprinkle with the demerara sugar.

Middle rack for 15-20 minutes, with an edge protector. Then turn oven down to 375, rotate pie, and bake for another 35-45 minutes. Take the pie edge protector off for the last 10-15 minutes.

Cool on wire rack for at least an hour and then devour.

 

 

Plate of Greens–Stuffed Poblano Peppers

I realized today that it’s been a while since I ventured away from my easy dinners list. Sometimes, between seasons in the veggie garden, I fall prey to eating the same foods week after week while waiting for the garden to produce the new bounty. With a recent cold snap here, I cut a bunch of poblanos so I wouldn’t risk losing them to a possible freeze. Luckily, my yard is pretty protected, so there weren’t any freezing temps here, but I now had an abundance of peppers to use before they went bad. I gave quite a few to neighbors and family, which is one of the main reasons I grow food—not only to feed myself, but also those around me.

The poblanos have done very well since fall hit. Large and firm with a deep green, shiny coat, I knew they would hold up to a good stuffing. Stuffed peppers are a pretty easy dinner and can be easily customized to a variety of dietary preferences. Poblanos add a mini-kick and a depth of flavor that other peppers just don’t come close to. Since I had one last chicken thigh to use up, I figured a classic chicken and rice combo would be good to stuff ’em up. I also got excited to see bok choy in the grocery this weekend, so I thought I better use that before it got all wilty. My bok choy seedlings are doing well, but far from harvest time.

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So here we go with my version of a use what ya got stuffed pepper. While the rice was cooking in the cooker with coconut oil, turmeric, black pepper, and cumin, I got to chopping the veggies. Sliced yellow onion went into a saute pan with the chicken, apple cider vinegar (my way to keep meat from drying out), the juice of one limequat, olive oil, cumin and oregano. Since it was a boneless, skinless thigh, I knew it would cook quick enough so that the onion wouldn’t turn to complete mush.

img_20161212_183502.jpgThe poblanos went on the cast iron griddle with olive oil to blister. Yum. It was hard not to just eat them straight off the griddle.

Meanwhile, in a lidded pot, I steamed the rough chopped bok choy with water, butter, and a little garlic powder. Once the chicken started to brown, I threw a whole chopped shallot and two crushed garlic cloves into the pan. When the delicious scent of garlic started filling the air, I added a bit of water to pull the browned bits off the bottom of the pan and a couple scoops of the cooked rice and let all those flavors simmer together.

All of the spices and oils were melding into a hanging-open mouth moment of kitchen zen in my kitchen. It was time to stuff. My original plan was to include the bok choy in the mix for some crunch, but they had browned so beautifully, I decided to leave them on their own as a side. So I left those in the pot, pulled off the heat, while I cut the peppers and removed the seed pod. These poblanos had a massive amount of seeds, so had to remove most of them to have room for the filling. I stuffed the three peppers to overflowing and piled on the fresh grated pecorino romano, popped those babies under the broiler, and poured a glass of red wine. Since everything was pre-cooked and still hot, I just needed to get that cheese melty. Oh, yes. So melty.

I’m calling this dinner the Plate of Greens. And how about my timing with Pantone announcing the color of the year for 2017 as a vibrant shade called “Greenery”? Yep. I’m just that good. Not on purpose, mind you. Purely accidentally that good.

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Plate of Greens:

3 medium poblano peppers

1 boneless, skinless chicken thigh (you can substitute a non-meat option here easily)

1/4 medium yellow onion, sliced

1 large shallot, chopped

2 garlic cloves crushed

1 small head of bok choy

Pecorino Romano (or any cheese you like), fresh grated, enough to coat

1 cup Jasmine white rice

1 heaping tablespoon coconut oil (for rice)

Olive oil (use whatever you’re comfortable with for sauteing)

1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter (for the bok choy)

Spices I used:  turmeric, black pepper, and cumin in the rice. Oregano and cumin in the chicken mixture. Garlic powder for the bok choy.

 

C for Chemistry and a Cookie

Pretty sure I got a solid C in high school chemistry. I took it over the summer months and I’m confident the only reason I got that C was because my teacher was friends with my dad, who was a guidance counselor at my school. I remember spending most days getting out of class on the pretense that I was going to see my dad for some important reason or another, which for me was asking him for a snack from the vending machine or to snag me one of the donuts that were intended for faculty only.

So any chemistry I might have learned at one point, well, that didn’t happen. Side note: I also took every math class from 8th grade on twice. My spectacular performances in chemistry and math may be why I avoided baking for so long. I learned to cook through jobs in kitchens in college and I always enjoyed the freedom to experiment and create. But baking? Frankly, it scared me. It seemed too exacting and scientific.

I got over that fear. The need to be learning new things all the time overpowered the fear and I dove in a few years ago. Starting out mostly sticking to recipes, I recently began branching out on my own into the scary nether regions of recipe substitutions and adaptations.

Let’s get chemical! Chemical!     (I also like to substitute words in songs, creating ridiculousness.)

Moving on, cookie time. The other day at work we were informed about a office-wide meeting. I’m a hater of meetings. Not only do I not enjoy groups of people collected in a small space, I hate dumb questions. Those people that say there are no stupid questions are idiots. Call a pointless meeting and you’ll hear a stream of stupidity in the form of questions. They exist.

So I thought, if we’re going to have to sit through a meeting, might as well have something good…like a cookie. I went home and looked around at what I had on hand and found the rest of the white chocolate chips from a previous cookie endeavour. Decided I needed to get rid of those faux chocolately things and since I didn’t have any macadamia nuts, I kept looking for something to go with those little bastards.

Finding nothing that peeked my interest inside, I did what I often do when I need inspiration in the kitchen—I went out to the garden. Running my hands through the rosemary and basil bushes, pulling rose petals of he loves me/he loves me not, plucking chamber bitters from under the peppers, and crushing thyme in my palm. It wasn’t until my foster puppy ran through the lemon verbena, her paw stomping on a branch, releasing that sharp, clean, grassy-citrus scent, that I knew what would pair with the white chocolate.

I clipped a few pieces with both mature and baby leaves and headed back inside to try a new cookie–lemon verbena and white chocolate chip.

20160817_183432.jpgDeciding to use my usual cookie recipe as the base, I thought infusing the herb into the butter would work best. Instead of bringing the butter up to a fast browning, I put it on low and chopped about 12 leaves into it to warm for twenty to twenty five minutes. After that time, I then turned up the heat to medium high and browned the infused butter.

I tasted the butter before adding the rest of the ingredients and it wasn’t quite lemony enough for me. Lemon desserts are my favorite and I need more to balance with the sweetness of the chocolate, so I added about 6 raw, chopped leaves into the flour.

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Cut the sugar by a quarter from the regular recipe and only did one tablespoon of vanilla extract. I took the risk of messing up the chemistry of the cookie because I didn’t want the savory verbena to be overpowered. The dough ended up coming together despite my changes. Dropped large portions onto the baking sheet hoping the bigger size would even out the flavors and give me the texture I wanted.

After an excruciating twelve minutes, with a flip halfway through, I pulled the sheet from the oven and stared at them while they cooled. They were a beautiful blonde, slightly darker around the edges, the white chunks were highlighted by the visible bits of verbena and the smell was intoxicating. I was pleased with the appearance. Once I felt like I had waited long enough, I made my chamomile tea, grabbed one of those fancy pants cookies, and dove into the deliciousness.

Chemistry and math be damned, I did it.

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Lemon Verbena and White Chocolate Cookies (mine made 12 extra large cookies):

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

14 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup dark brown sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 large egg yolk

1 large egg

3/4 cup white chocolate chips

15-20 leaves fresh lemon verbena

Melt 10 tablespoons butter in pan on low along with about 12 chopped verbena leaves. Allow that to warm for about 20-25 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 and get a cookie sheet ready with parchment paper.

Sift the flour, add baking soda and 6 raw, chopped verbena leaves. Set aside.

Bring the butter on the stove up to medium high heat and brown it. Once it has that nutty aroma, pour it into a bowl with the remaining 4 tablespoons butter cut into 1/2 inch pieces. Stir in the salt, vanilla extract, sugar, and eggs. Whisk for 30 seconds, let sit for 3 minutes. Repeat that two more times.

Add the flour mixture to the bowl and stir until just combined. Fold in the white chocolate chips.

Measure out dough into about 2 inch balls. I ended up with exactly 12. Bake on middle rack for 6 minutes, flip sheet around and bake another 6 minutes. Pull from oven and set the sheet on cooling racks. Allow to cool long enough to set…

then try not to eat all of them at once.

Bye, Guy! and a Pie

A friend wanted a pie. Isn’t that how all pie stories begin?

The plot of this one is simple–last day of work for a coworker and he wanted a peach pie. It’s the sequence of events that get a bit blurry in my medi-fuzzed mind. Since I can’t seem to write down recipes as I go, and I have some preternatural aversion to measuring, the particulars of this one may be a bit sketchy. In spite of all that, here we go.

Bourbon Peach Pie with a Bacon Lattice Maple Syrup-Drizzled Topping

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When I think of peach pie, I tend to think of bourbon. When I think of bourbon, I think of bacon. Now, we’re not going to get into an argument about whether Jack Daniel’s is a whiskey or a bourbon or a bourbon whiskey. For my purposes, it mixes with the flavors of peaches, bacon, and honey just riiight.

20160809_192636.jpgWith ingredients like that, the only way to screw up is to use a store-bought pie dough. Just say no, people. Making your own is pretty damn simple. It may take six or three times to master it, but it’s worth it every single time. So get to learning if you don’t know how already.

Yep. There’s mine in all its near perfection glory. And yes, I’m bragging, but in all seriousness, there’s something about melding together the basics of flour, butter, salt, and water with your hands until it becomes not just the carrier of all the other flavors, but often becomes the star of the show.

*I have to admit that somehow my crust shrunk a little too much during the par bake this time around. Gah! and shhhhh.

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While the par-baked pie crust cooled, it was time to skin, slice, and season the peaches. I ended up using a mix of regular and white peaches because I wanted ripe ones. After a lot of feeling up of a lot of peaches, I found five firm, juicy big ‘uns. Tossed with the JD, lemon juice, honey, brown sugar, nutmeg, salt and flour, they were ready to set aside while soaking up all those flavors.

For the bacon lattice top, I chose a thick cut, lower sodium bacon. Personally, I have to
watch my sodium intake for health reasons, but the more I’ve learned about it through 20160809_195530.jpgnecessity to keep myself healthy, I’ve realized most people need to cut back. PSA aside, when it’s floating on a delicious peach mixture and drizzled with maple syrup, nobody is going to notice if it has a little less sodium. I cooked the bacon on the stove-top just long enough so it wasn’t completely done, but not totally flimsy either. Browned, but not crunchy. Mmmmm, bacon.

Once the peach filling was poured into the homemade pie crust and the latticed top drizzled with maple syrup, it was time to pop that sweet lovin’ baby in the oven and sit back with glass of JD. The perfume of the mapled meat and honeyed peaches mingled with the warmth of the liquor sliding along, soothing away the tough moments of the week, month, year, so far. Pie baking is my therapy.

And then it was done. And then it was brought to the party. And then it was gone.

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Pie Dough:

1 1/4 cups all purpose flour

1 stick of unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes

Pinch of salt

1/4 cup ice water

Sift the flour, toss in the salt, and work the butter in until the butter pieces are about the size of a walnut. Make a well in the center and slowly pour in the ice water a tablespoon at a time kneading it until the dough just comes together. Wrap in plastic wrap and put in fridge for at least thirty minutes before rolling out. Put back in the fridge after setting in pie plate before par-baking it.

 

Peach Filling:

2-3 pounds peaches (about 5-6 large)

1/2 cup honey

1/4 cup sugar (I used dark brown)

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2-3 tablespoons bourbon or whiskey (I used 4 tablespoons. heh)

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Pinch of salt

5-6 tablespoons of flour

 

Bacon Topping:

8-10 slices of bacon (I used thick cut, lower sodium)

Maple syrup, enough to drizzle all over

 

425 degree oven for 15 minutes and then drop the temp to 375 for 25-30 minutes.

I had to cover it with aluminum for a few so the bacon didn’t overcook. Just keep an eye on it and let it go to your liking.