Few desserts evoke summer like a pie filled with ripe, seasonal fruit. Many fruits, such as peaches, have a relatively brief season, so for most of the year, bakers must rely on hard, trucked-in produce or frozen peaches. If you opt for frozen fruit, you can either thaw them first or bake from frozen.
Fresh vs. Frozen
Nothing compares to local, fully ripened fruit plucked fresh from the tree. Unfortunately, peaches are delicate, and the fruit shipped to less fortunate climes are selected more for durability than flavor. They're usually picked underripe, then soften as they sit at room temperature. Good-quality frozen peaches make a better option for baking. At processing plants located in peach-producing areas, the freshest and ripest fruit get blast-frozen to retain their juiciness and flavor. Baked into a pie, they're almost indistinguishable from fresh fruit.
The Problem of Juiciness
Eating a superbly ripe peach is a messy project. They're bursting with juice, which can leave an enthusiastic peach lover sticky from head to foot. That's a good thing when you're eating them fresh, but it complicates pie-making. A too-juicy filling can leave your crust soggy rather than crisp, and frozen fruit are especially prone to juiciness. The juice in the peaches' cells expands when it freezes, rupturing some of the cell walls. When the fruit thaws, the damaged cells release their juices more freely than fresh fruit would, making it that much harder to thicken the pie filling.
Baking From Frozen
Many bakers prefer to bake their peaches from frozen, because it eliminates several steps along the way. The editors of the "Joy of Cooking" recommend that approach because of its simplicity. Just double the amount of thickener you'd use with fresh peaches, and prepare the pie as normal. As it bakes, the additional thickener will bind up the extra juices released by the frozen peaches. The finished pie will have an extra-saucy filling, so let it cool to just warm before cutting into it. Otherwise, the liquid filling can soak into the crust and make it soggy.
Thawing Them First
Other bakers prefer to thaw the peaches first, because it gives them better control over the consistency of the finished filling. Fill a bowl with your frozen peaches the night before, and let them thaw overnight in the refrigerator. Drain the peaches into a bowl the next day, and whisk your sugar and thickeners into the collected juices. You can either mix the juice and thawed peaches in the pie crust, or pre-cook the juices to thicken them. Chill the sauce before filling the pie crust and baking it. A pie filled with thawed peaches bakes the same way as one made with fresh peaches.
- On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen; Harold McGee
- Joy of Cooking: Peach Pie