how to make a pie

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So far this summer, I’ve made strawberry, strawberry rhubarb, blackberry, blackberry raspberry nectarine, and blueberry. I’m dragging my feet big time in the kitchen when it comes to recipe testing for this new book, but I swear I’d make a pie every single day if I had the berries to fill them. It is my favorite method of procrastination these days.

blackberries

I make every pie using essentially the same formula, and I thought this might be a good moment to share it here. Because perhaps there are berries where you are too? Or stone fruit? Or something you’re supposed to be getting done that makes you need to procrastinate by baking?

blackberry pie

I’m a one-trick pony when it comes to crust, and my trick is a good one. This is the crust I’ve been using forever, and it never fails me. It’s the recipe in both of my books, and a few places on the site here. It doubles or triples well, so you can go ahead and make a bunch all at once, too. There are a few adjustments I’ve been making these days, too:

  1. I always swap out at least 1/4 of the all-purpose flour with spelt flour or whole-wheat pastry flour. This deepens the flavor and improves the texture.
  2. If I’m working in a hot kitchen (and I always am), I stay really close to the fridge or freezer throughout the process. If I have to pause for a moment, the pastry or dough goes back in the fridge or freezer. And I always freeze the pie for about 20 minutes before I put it in the oven. This prevents the dreaded butter leakage (and cardboard pie pastry) that can result from warm butter in the crust.

pie at Jacob's Pillow

I’ve also been having fun with my top crusts. I feel like a straight up top crust often ends up looking wonky on my pies, and I’ve been doing a lot of cookie cutter crusts, like this:

strawberry pie

It makes use of scraps, and I just pile them on top of the pie. I’m also loving the simple four-piece lattice, like in the pie at the very top of this post. It achieves the whole lattice magic without the frustrating race to weave endless pieces of crust as they soften and melt under your fingers.

Here is my pie formula for one double-crust pie:

6 to 7 cups fruit
1/2 cup granulated sugar (you can increase this to 2/3 if you like your pie sweeter or your working with really tart fruit)
The zest and juice of 1 lemon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup cornstarch or arrowroot powder

  1. Start by preheating the oven to 375°F. Butter a 9 or 10-inch pie dish. Check your freezer to make sure there’s space in there for a pie.
  2. Combine the filling ingredients, and let that bowl sit and do its thing while you roll out your crust.
  3. Roll out 1 disk of dough. Lay it in the dish, and trim around the sides so you have about an inch of overhang. If you’re going to do a cookie cutter crust you can go ahead and crimp that bottom crust now, but if you’re going for a lattice or top crust, wait until you’ve set that over the filling. Then roll out your second crust. Keep it whole, slice it for a lattice, or go to town with a cookie cutter.
  4. Transfer the filling (along with any juice) into the pie pastry. It should really pile in there, and feel like it will overflow. Top with the crust method of your choice, and if you haven’t done it yet. crimp the edges. Don’t stress it. You can use your hands, or you can go lazy and just press it all down with a fork. If you’ve used a full second crust, cut a few steam vents.
  5. Now is the moment to freeze your pie for a bit. If you’re in a hurry, this could be as little as 5 minutes (it makes a difference!) but it could be as much as 20 minutes.IMG_2096
  6. Remove the pie from the freezer, and paint the crust with a wash. Ideally you’ve got an egg yolk mixed with a little milk or cream, but just milk is fine too. Then sprinkle it with coarse sugar (or regular sugar, if that’s all you have).
  7. Put the pie on a baking sheet. This is important because it will probably leak in the oven, and if it leaks straight into the oven it will fill with smoke and set off your fire alarm and you will never want to make pie again.
  8. Bake the pie until the crust is golden and the filling bubbles, about an hour. Let it cool for at least 45 minutes before you cut into it.

And a few notes:

You can add spices to your filling if you want to be a little wild. Be gentle because this is pie and it should be simple. Cinnamon and blueberries is an especially good idea, though.

You can keep fruit pies out at room temperature for a day. Wrap in plastic wrap, and leave it out on the counter. Save a piece for breakfast.

You can stop before you bake the pie, wrap it in plastic AND THEN foil, and freeze it. Bake it later.

Don’t forget ice cream.

And that’s it! Easy, peasy. Easy as, well, I won’t say it. But tell me about your pies? What have you made? What are you dreaming of?

 

Comments

  1. Megan says

    It took me 36 years to finally make a good pie crust, and it’s because I found yours. NEVER fails me. And now I make pie ALL THE TIME. Right now, I’m planning a blueberry and peach pie. If I can be patient enough with the clingstone peaches!

  2. Jess says

    I use and love your pie crust recipe – made amazing hand pies with homemade jam earlier this summer – but I consistently have trouble with crust shrinkage. It looks fine when I put it in the oven, covering the edges of the pie pan, but then it shrinks and barely comes to the top of the pan (forget about edges). Any tips? Thanks for your help!

    • alanac says

      Hi Jess, So glad the crust works well for you! I’ve found two things to help with shrinkage. The first is to get that pie in the freezer before it goes in the oven. I’ve found the crust shrinks much less when it’s really cold. I also find there’s less shrinkage when you bake the pie at a lower temperature. If I start the pie at 425 (as many recipes ask for), the crust always shrinks more.

  3. Jacquie says

    Also try blubarb,blueberry and rhubarb ,with the cinnamon of course sooo lovely.Good breakfast pie!!

  4. says

    oooooh, this kills me!!! I LOVE pie but I cannot stand to have the oven on that long in the summer. It is so painful, but pie is a cold weather food at my house. Any tips!?

    Love the idea of the cookie cutter crust on top. I typically do a crumb topping.

    • alanac says

      Ha! My only tip is to pass along one from my friend Mary, who, like me, is crazy enough to turn the oven on in the summer all the time. “A fan on your face and a gin and tonic.” That’s the best I’ve got, but it works pretty well :)

  5. Theresa M. says

    I’ve actually been making savory pies in the form of quiche. Quiche lends itself so well to “clean out the fridge” suppers and to using odd bits of garden produce that decide to ripen before anything else. Any using your pie dough recipe has made me a pie maker on a more regular basis! It’s the first crust recipe that works for me every time I make it. Thanks so much for that!

  6. Kate says

    Can I just say I love the way you write. I found your book, the homemade kitchen, in my mother’s cabin when visiting Alaska this summer. I read it cover to cover in two days, swooning over your writing and your recipes. And then we checked out your homemade pantry from the library and I repeated the process of enjoyment. And even your blog does it. You say things like “check your freezer to see if there’s space for a pie” which is not at all part of a recipe, but completely part of a recipe!! And I feel as though we’re in a kitchen together and you make me feel like a dear friend with your warm nature and immense number of wonderful stories on the tip of your tongue. So good. And so enjoyable to know you from afar. Carry on. I’ve asked for homemade kitchen for Christmas so I can pour over it weekly in my own daily world.

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