James and The Giant Peach Bourbon Peach Hand-Pies

by Cara Nicoletti on June 23, 2010


I promised myself that I would write about a grown-up book this week. But then all of a sudden it was late June and the whole farmers market was heavy with the smell of peaches—enormous, sunset-colored, fuzz-covered peaches—and all I could think about was Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach. Was any book ever so delicious? If one can get past the somewhat Freudian implications of a young, motherless boy crawling into a warm, sticky, cavernous peach, Dahl’s descriptions of the enormous stone fruit are just magical. I fell in love with the cover first (not judge a book by its cover? Please.)–the creamy lilac purple of the sky, the soft buoyant peach floating on the choppy cerulean sea holding one very small boy. After James and the Giant Peach third grade was a Dahl-filled year for me—Matilda, The Witches, George’s Marvelous Medicine—I ate them up. That year I also got addicted to Hostess hand-pies. As a kid I would choose a food, often a strange one, and eat and eat and eat it until the very thought of it made me sick (the previous year I’d insisted on a bowl of instant mashed potatoes covered in Italian dressing every day after school, it’s hard for me to talk about). But that year it was hand-pies. Every Wednesday was a half-day at school and my cousin and I would walk to Fell’s Market and buy those half-moon-shaped pies wrapped in crinkly wax paper. They were covered in flaky sugar and filled with a thick fruit-flavored goop and chunks of something that no longer resembled fruit at all. They were just fantastic. I preferred cherry, Cam was partial to blueberry. While re-reading James and the Giant Peach the other day I could actually taste those sugary little abominations, the meaty crust squidging between my still-baby teeth, so when I came across this recipe for Bourbon Peach Hand-Pies on Smitten Kitchen I couldn’t believe my luck, it all tied together too perfectly! These hand-pies are a grown-up (but still heavenly) version of those Hostess pies. Make them now while peaches are at their peak, you won’t regret it.

James and the Giant Peach Bourbon Peach Hand-Pies

From Smitten Kitchen




Makes 14 to 24 (depending on cutter size)

For the pastry:

    2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
    1/2 tsp. salt
    16 tablespoons (2 sticks, 8 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into
    1/2 cup sour cream
    4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
    1/2 cup ice water

For the filling:

    2 pounds of peaches
    1/4 cup flour
    1/4 cup sugar
    Pinch of salt
    1 teaspoon bourbon
    1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

One egg yolk beaten with 2 tablespoons water (for egg wash)
Coarse sanding sugar, for decoration



1. To make the pastry, in a bowl, combine the flour and salt. Place the butter in another bowl. Place both bowls in the freezer for 1 hour. Remove the bowls from the freezer and make a well in the center of the flour. Add the butter to the well and, using a pastry blender, cut it in until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Make another well in the center. In a small bowl, whisk together the sour cream, lemon juice and water and add half of this mixture to the well. With your fingertips, mix in the liquid until large lumps form. Remove the large lumps and repeat with the remaining liquid and flour-butter mixture. Pat the lumps into a ball; do not overwork the dough. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour. If preparing ahead of time, the dough can be stored at this point for up to one month in the freezer.

2. Divide the refrigerated dough in half. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out one half of the dough to 1/8-inch thickness. Using a 4 1/2-inch-round biscuit cutter, cut seven circles out of the rolled dough. Transfer the circles to a parchment-lined baking sheet, and place in the refrigerator to chill for about 30 minutes. Repeat the rolling, cutting, and chilling process with the remaining half of dough. (I used a 4-inch cutter–if you can call a “cutter” the tin edge of the container that holds my smaller round cutters–and managed to get 12 from each dough half, after rerolling the scraps.)

3. Make the filling: Peel and chop the peaches into small bits (approx. 1/2-inch dice), much smaller than you’d use for a regular-sized pie. Mix them with the flour, sugar and pinch of salt, and add the bourbon and vanilla (I also added a teaspoon on cinnamon which I think added great flavor)


4. Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator, and let stand at room temperature until just pliable, 2 to 3 minutes. Spoon about 1 to 2 tablespoons filling (use the smaller amount for a 4-inch circle) onto one half of each circle of dough. Quickly brush a little cold water around the circumference of the dough, and fold it in half so the other side comes down over the filling, creating a semicircle. Seal the hand pie, and make a decorative edge by pressing the edges of the dough together with the back of a fork. Repeat process with remaining dough. Place the hand pies back on the parchment-lined baking sheet, and return to the refrigerator to chill for another 30 minutes.


5. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Remove the chilled hand pies from the refrigerator, cut a small slit in each and lightly brush with the egg yolk wash. Sprinkle sanding sugar generously over the pies, and place pies in the oven to bake. Bake until the hand pies are golden brown and just slightly cracked, about 20 minutes. Remove the pies from the oven, and let stand to cool slightly before serving.




Homer Price Chocolate Glazed Heath Bar Doughnuts

by Cara Nicoletti on May 17, 2010

homer cover

The summer I was seven-years-old, my mom and her twin sister would get into bed with me and my cousin every night and read us stories from Robert McCloskey’s Homer Price. I hadn’t seen that blue crumbly paperback since that summer and when I stumbled across it yesterday at The Strand all kinds of memories came rushing back. Not only memories of how it felt to be tucked in, slightly sunburned with wet hair, or the way Cameron’s ears would get so red when he got tired, but also (of course…) food memories. My and my cousin’s favorite of the stories was “The Doughnuts,” in which Homer’s Uncle Ulysses invents a machine that can make doughnuts at lightening speed. Things go awry when the machine malfunctions and begins spitting out doughnuts faster than they can sell them, and soon the entire store is filled, floor-to-ceiling with doughnuts (not the worst problem). McCloskey not only writes but illustrates the stories and while the entire collection of stories is wonderful, the illustrations for “The Doughnuts” are particularly tempting. Something about those grainy ink drawings on the yellow paper was enough to make my mouth water.

batter picture

donut store

We not only read a lot about doughnuts that summer, we also ate a lot of them. My dad would go to the store and buy boxes of Entenmann’s old fashioned doughnuts, slice them in half, toast them and butter them and pile them high on plates. We would eat them with big glasses of whole milk, the adults with big mugs of hot milky coffee. Nothing fueled us up better for long days of hunting for crabs and swimming in the freezing salty North Atlantic ocean. When I happened upon this book yesterday I knew immediately that I had to spend the rest of the afternoon making doughnuts (don’t you ever feel that way?).

yeast duck

Homer Price Chocolate Glazed Heath Bar Doughnuts (Dough recipe taken directly from Food & Wine)


    1/2 cup milk
    1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon solid vegetable shortening
    2 packages active dry yeast
    1/2 cup warm water
    1/2 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling
    1/2 cup sour cream, at room temperature
    2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
    1 extra-large yolk, at room temperature
    2 teaspoons salt
    1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
    About 5 cups sifted all-purpose flour, plus more sifted flour for dusting
    Vegetable oil, for deep-frying

sticky hands


In a small saucepan, warm the milk with the shortening over low heat until the shortening is almost melted. In a large bowl, stir the yeast into the warm water, sprinkle with a pinch of sugar and let stand until foamy, about 3 minutes. Stir the warm milk mixture into the yeast along with the 1/2 cup of sugar and the sour cream, the whole eggs, egg yolk, salt and vanilla. Gradually stir in 4 3/4 cups of the flour until a soft, sticky dough forms. Scrape the dough out onto a floured surface and use a pastry scraper to knead the dough until smooth, adding as much of the remaining flour as necessary. The dough should be soft and slightly sticky, but smooth and elastic.

raw donuts

Gather the dough into a ball, transfer it to a lightly oiled bowl and cover with a sheet of oiled plastic wrap. Let the dough rise in a warm, draft-free spot for 2 hours. Punch down the dough and turn it over in the bowl. Cover and refrigerate the dough for 2 hours or overnight.

donut holes

On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the chilled dough 1/3 inch thick. Using a 3 1/2-inch doughnut cutter dipped in flour, cut out as many doughnuts as possible and transfer them to a sheet of floured wax paper. The scraps can be rerolled once to cut out more doughnuts. Loosely cover the doughnuts with wax paper and let rise until soft and billowy, about 20 minutes. In a large, heavy skillet, heat 4 inches of vegetable oil to 365°. Line a rack with several paper towels. Working in batches, fry the doughnuts until golden brown, about 1 minute per side. Check the temperature of the frying oil to make sure it doesn’t get too hot or cool. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the doughnuts to the paper towel?lined rack to drain.

wire rack

Chocolate Heath Bar Glaze

    4.5 oz chocolate (any chocolate you like, I used semi-sweet chocolate chips)
    3/4 cup sugar plus 2 Tbs
    4 Tbs Unsalted Butter
    3/4 tsp vanilla
    3/4 cup heavy cream

Place chocolate in a heat-safe bowl. Heat sugar and cream together in a saucepan until the sugar dissolves. Pour sugar and cream over chocolate and let it melt (should take about 5 minutes). Whisk together until smooth, add remaining ingredients and let sit for 10-15 minutes to cool and thicken. Dip doughnuts in icing and sprinkle with crushed toffee. Serve with good coffee (or milk!)

Happy to serve you

In the spirit of full disclosure I will tell you that the final result was a little heavier than I was hoping for and lacked that airy sugary goodness that make yeast doughnuts impossible to stop eating. This could definitely be solved by letting the yeast take effect more before adding it into the batter (I was feeling a little impatient). I also think I might have gotten a dud batch of yeast. Usually it takes about three to five minutes for yeast to get active and foamy in warm water, but if it isn’t bubbling wait until it does. If it never bubbles, toss it and try a new packet. Also give the dough enough time to rise before rolling it out, really let it double. That being said, the doughnuts were still delicious! Not too sweet, not too fried, and the heath bar added a nice unexpected crunch.


The Secret Garden Lavender Lemon Shortbread

by Cara Nicoletti on May 11, 2010

It has been unusually windy in New York City these past few days. Yesterday, when I walked into the Union Square Farmers Market I was hit by a big gust of wind thick with the smell of fresh donuts and root vegetables and above all, lavender and it got me thinking about nature as nourishment.

lavender pot

Frances Hodgson Burnett’s, The Secret Garden is a book full to the brim with mouthwatering, stomach grumbling foods; “home-made bread and fresh butter, snow-white eggs, raspberry jam and clotted cream…sizzling ham sending forth tempting odors from under a hot silver cover,” “potatoes and richly frothed new milk and oat-cakes and buns and heather honey” (320). Despite the wealth of food, however, it seems that it is the garden itself that nourishes Colin and Mary and Dickon. The garden not only gives the children a new sense of purpose, the fresh air and physical exertion make them hungry, and they find themselves eating more than they ever have before.  After she finds and starts restoring the secret garden Mary, who has just been moved from India to the moors of England after losing both of her parents, quickly begins to change: “I’m getting fatter and fatter every day,” she said quite exultantly. “Mrs. Medlock will have to get me some bigger dresses. Martha says my hair is growing thicker. It isn’t so flat and stringy” (209). Mary begins telling Colin, her young cousin who is afflicted with a mysterious (bogus) illness and virtually parentless, about the secret garden and immediately sees a change in him as well. It is Dickon who insists Colin come see it, saying, “It’d be good for him, I’ll warrant…Us’d just be two children watchin’ a garden grow, an’ he’d be another. Two Lads an’ a little lass just lookin’ on at th’ springtime. I warrant it’d be better than doctor’s stuff” (204). And Dickon is right. Colin is soon restored to full health from his days spent out in the garden.

When I smelled the lavender in the market yesterday I couldn’t resist it. Even though this isn’t a recipe explicitly mentioned in The Secret Garden I thought it was a great way to combine flowers and sweets—plus, what is more English than shortbread and lavender? I also could not resist buying some pink Himalayan sea-salt to sprinkle on top. There is nothing more delicious than a salty-sweet shortbread unless it’s a salty-sweet shortbread that comes studded with purple, green, and pink.

pink salt

Secret Garden Lavender Lemon Shortbread

    8 Tbs (1 stick) of cold unsalted butter, chopped into pieces
    1/4 cup sugar
    1/4 tsp salt
    1 cup flour
    1/4 cup corstarch
    1 Tbs fresh or dried lavender (I think fresh is better, the dried is too hard and perfumey for my taste, blech)
    2 Tbs lemon zest
    sea salt for sprinkling (any color is fine!)


cut lavender


With an electric mixer cream the butter until soft. Add sugar and beat until incorporated. In a separate bowl mix together the flour, lavender buds, lemon zest, salt and cornstarch. Add flour mixture to butter mixture slowly and mix until dough begins to form.


Take dough out of the bowl and place on a piece of floured parchment paper. It will be crumbly, so knead it until it forms a nice solid ball. Roll out onto the parchment paper until about 1/4 inch thick.


I trimmed the edges of mine to make cutting them into bars easier, but you can keep the edges crumbly if you prefer it. Poke dough all over with the tines of a fork. Transfer the dough, still on parchment paper, to your baking pan. Garnish with lavender buds and sea salt.

raw lavender dough

Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes, or until edges brown.

cooked lavender

The result is a buttery and crisp crumbly shortbread with just enough lavender and nice kicks of lemon and salt throughout.

teacup lavender