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Recipe: White Peach and Nectarine Pie with Cornmeal Crust



There’s a little game we toss back and forth across the bench at the bakery. It’s called Word of the Day in which we select a word not used in everyday banter and try to incorporate it into our vernacular. This is completely separate from our most favorite  entertainment, Baker’s Puns (something I spearheaded because I’m terribly kneady).


Thursday began innocently enough until Word of the Day was sidestepped by Foreign Phrases Least Likely to Appear on a Cake.

Barely inside the bakery door, bobbing and weaving amidst the caffeine challenged, I arrive at the bench where the conversation revolves around a birthday greeting. Before I can even roll out my turnover dough, I’m assaulted by one of the baristas, imploring me to write on a cake.

Inscriptions are not really my thing but I am no better, no worse than my fellow bakery inmates. To be honest, I’m selected for the task because my compastryots are not keen on spelling and they have seen me write copious salutations on cakes of all sizes. Depending on the intricacy of the greeting, it is generally best not to consume one’s double espresso prior to writing so as to avoid pastry bag tremor.

Rolling up my sleeves, I glance at the order form. Before I continue, a little backstory on my initial foray into the land of pastry bags fitted with number two Ateco brand writing tips.

I honed my birthday cake penmanship under the tutelage of Mr. Robert Avery at the Home Dairy in Ithaca, New York. Surrounded by an infinite palette of buttercreams, it was evident early in the game that many of the colors were not found in nature. Mr. Avery patiently demonstrated the spacing of H-A-P-P-Y B-I-R-T-H-D-A-Y.  Over and over again, I practiced on squares of parchment paper. Looking back, that was the beginning of my spatial relationship inadequacy. It probably would have been better to practice on parchment circles.

That’s buttercream under the bridge… Suffice to say that my first few attempts (I use the word ‘few’ generously here) were lacking in both finesse and letters. More often than not, my greetings were along the lines of “Happ Birt” with the y-space-h-d-a-y dangling precariously over the side of the cake. My hope was that the recipient would be blinded by the rhapsody in blue buttercream roses and the illuminated birthday candles, oblivious to my not-so-handiwork. Over time, my writing skills improved. Incrementally.

There is one cake inscription that haunts me still, linked to my farm stint in Bucks County. Long after my tutelage at Home Dairy, before Cake Wrecks had a following, I was responsible for the following birthday cake salutation, and I quote: “Feliz Cumpleaños Quinceañera Doris.” Boasting that previous experience, today’s little writing exercise shouldn’t pose too much of a problem.

Pausing for a moment to relocate the 3 flats of blueberries and blackberries that have just been delivered, I cut the corner a little too closely and elbow meets oven. Funny bone is a total misnomer; it if were possible, my elbow would be seeing stars. Ouch. Clearing a small yet serviceable space for the needy cake which is to be picked up momentarily, I fish my glasses out of their case and read the order particulars. “Wait a minute! What the heck does this say?” The barista who took the order tries to cajole me claiming she was under the impression that I knew foreign languages. I counter with, “I may in fact write the letters on the dreidl cookies for Hanukkah, but this is Greek to me.” One of my co-workers assures me the hieroglyphics on the order form are obviously Latin.

“You know,” I hear myself saying in my indoor voice, “this would all go swimmingly if one of you could kindly fill one of those (I nod toward the espresso machine) recyclable cups with ice and a few shots of espresso and maybe a splash of milk.” They have seen that look before and realize it’s best for all of us if they enable my morning caffeine dependence. Barista bids a hasty retreat.

The gentleman who ordered the cake I am about to inscribe is back. From behind the bakers racks I peer through the loaf pans of gluten-free breakfast bread. If ever a person resembled a cartoon character, this fellow is a dead ringer for Boris Badenov, of Rocky and Bullwinkle fame. Studying the inscription once more, I use my years of pastry experience to replicate the symbols on top of the six inch cake. (Of course it’s a six inch cake affording me as little room as possible. I’m having a Home Dairy flashback, “H-A-P-P B-I-R-T”…)

There’s nothing like having someone pacing within your peripheral vision to spur you on your way. I have successfully captured the first two lines and I’m in the home stretch. The last word is a blend of both letters and symbols. Glancing at “Boris,” I instinctively start to write Natasha. On closer inspection the last word is a cross between Anushka and Verushka. Aargh!

There is no white-out for buttercream. Boris is starting to grow impatient and it concerns me that his next move may be to bring in Fearless Leader. With an offset spatula, I painstakingly remove Natasha and replace it with a variation of Anushka/Verushka. Done and done.

It just so happens that the greeting on the Boris cake was actually a Bulgarian salutation. Had I but known, jumping on the interweb would have acquainted me with the tutorial Easy Bulgarian. The material is presented in an “easy-to-grasp fashion” allowing me to learn the language almost “effortlessly.” Next time I’ll know better. Next time, someone else can do the writing.

In addition to our regular group of bakers, this week we have the good fortune of hosting an enthusiastic high school senior who is tirelessly working as an intern. Not only is she polite, she is infinitely capable of performing all manner of bakery tasks despite her diminutive size. Swimming in her commercial linen service apron, she is adorable and oh-so-happy to be one of us. I hate to squelch her enthusiasm but old habits die hard.

Trying to engage our intern, I inquire where she is headed to school in the fall. Without much fanfare, she utters three letters identifying a prestigious university situated in Massachusetts, reserved for only the very brightest. Her chosen field of study? Physics, which prompts our word of the day; “Spaghettification.”

My immediate thought is that she has said Spaghetti Fixation. Oh no, Young Intern assures me, Spaghettification (it does have a lyrical quality) is also known as the ‘Noodle Effect” pertaining to astrophysics. I’m still thinking along the lines of Spaghetti Pie, but apparently the Noodle Effect has something to do with an object caught in the gravitational field of the black hole. I may not know astrophysics, but I do know about being pulled toward the black hole, figuratively. Every time I answer the bakery phone, each time I accommodate a last minute order, and most recently, when I set aside the turnovers to write in Bulgarian, I’m being pulled toward the black hole.

And in the end, who gets blown up? Me.

Here’s a summer peach pie recipe from my kitchen that you’ll love.

White Peach/Nectarine Pie with Cornmeal Crust


Cornmeal Crust (enough for a 9” lattice topped pie)


(Baker’s note- these components started out at Stella Notte as a scone recipe and then a shortcake biscuit. Somewhere along the way, we set aside the eggs and leaveners, arriving at this. It is more hearty than flaky, not overly sweet, qualifying it as breakfast and equally delicious teamed with berries of the red and blue variety. Check the oven during the baking process; if the crust is browning too much for your liking, add some foil strips around the edge.)


2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

½ cup finely ground cornmeal

2 Tablespoons dark brown sugar

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons orange zest

1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

½ cup + 3 to 4 Tablespoons buttermilk

egg wash for painting the lattice (I use one egg yolk + a few Tablespoons of cream)

1-2 Tablespoons granulated sugar to sprinkle on top of lattice or cut-outs


I like to start this out in the food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse together the flour, cornmeal, brown sugar, salt and zest. Then add the cubed butter and pulse a few times. Turn this crumbly mixture out into a large bowl and gradually add the buttermilk, using either your fingers or a fork or a rubber bench scraper to moisten the dry ingredients. Gather the dough together, divide it in two discs and wrap in plastic. Chill in the fridge for at least an hour before rolling out.

One disc will fit a 9” pie plate; the lattice or cut-outs can be rolled and cut from the second. There may be some scraps of dough remaining which I usually bake off for snacking purposes. Chill the unbaked crusts while you prepare the filling.


The White Peach/Nectarine filling


6 cups total of ripe sliced peaches and nectarines (If you are shy on one or the other, not to worry. The goal here is to have 6 cups of fruit; the sweeter the fruit, the better the pie. Depending on their size, you will need approximately 2 ½ – 3 lbs. of fruit prior to peeling, pitting and slicing. I only peel the peaches, I don’t bother to peel the nectarines.)

½ cup packed dark brown sugar

¼ cup granulated sugar

2 teaspoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon lemon zest

3 Tablespoons of quick-cooking tapioca (that has been pulverized in the food processor- do one whole box at a time and then you have it on hand)

¼ teaspoon spice of your choice (Spices are a personal preference- less is more here because you want to taste the fruit. A grating of fresh nutmeg and ¼ teaspoon of cinnamon should suffice. Folks I work with use allspice or ginger.)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine peaches, nectarines, lemon juice and zest, tossing to coat.

In a small bowl, whisk together sugars, tapioca and spice.

Sprinkle over fruit, tossing a bit until combined.

Turn the filling into your prepared pie plate, top with lattice strips or cut-outs.

Seal the edges, trim the excess and crimp with fingers or a fork.

Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with granulated sugar.

Place the pie on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees for 25 minutes. (If edges are getting too brown, cover with strips of foil.)

Reduce temperature to 350 degrees and bake an additional 35-40 minutes until the fruit is bubbling.

Set aside to cool on a rack.

Read more from Helena Seana at No More Mr. Nice Pie 

Ellen Gray

Dividing her passion between baking and theatre, Ellen has enjoyed professional careers in both fields. Criss crossing the country as a personal assistant and stage manager fueled her appetite for regional cuisine and the stories behind the recipes. Ellen's travels led her to Philadelphia where she owned and operated a strictly-from-scratch restaurant for 10 years. Currently, Ellen spends her days baking pies and sweets at a small bakery in Maplewood, NJ. Check out her professional pietism and seasonal sarcasm at

Ellen Gray

Dividing her passion between baking and theatre, Ellen has enjoyed professional careers in both fields. Criss crossing the country as a personal assistant and stage manager fueled her appetite for regional cuisine and the stories behind the recipes. Ellen's travels led her to Philadelphia where she owned and operated a strictly-from-scratch restaurant for 10 years. Currently, Ellen spends her days baking pies and sweets at a small bakery in Maplewood, NJ. Check out her professional pietism and seasonal sarcasm at

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