To my mind, nothing celebrates summer quite like fresh fruit pie. It's as if we're taking the best the season has to offer -- beautiful, vibrantly colored fruit nurtured to ripeness under a hot sun -- and packaging that bounty in a tender, flaky crust. Like a gift.
The key to a great fruit pie is choosing the right fruit. Underripened fruit can be tough and often has not had a chance to develop enough sugar for good flavor; conversely, overripened fruit can be too sweet and unbalanced in flavor, not to mention too soft for good pie texture.
The trick is to keep it simple. Let the fruit speak for itself by not disguising it with a bunch of other flavors -- a fruit pie is about the fruit, after all. It's all a matter of taste, but I tend to go a little lighter with the sugar in my pies because of this, to keep the complexity of the fruit flavor at the forefront.
With fruit pies, it often seems that the consistency of the pie filling can be almost as important as the fruit itself. As the fruit cooks, it softens, releasing its juices. To keep these juices from turning the pie into a soup as it bakes, a thickener is added. There are several to choose from, with the most common being flour, cornstarch and tapioca.
Sometimes the best summer fruit pies are the ones in which the fruit isn't cooked at all; it's just piled high in a pie shell and coated with a beautiful glaze.
Blackberry Pie Crust
2 1/2 cups (10.6 ounces) flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into large cubes
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour and salt.
Cut in the vegetable shortening using a pastry cutter, two knives or a fork, just until the shortening is reduced to the size of large peas.
Stir in ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the ingredients come together to just form a dough, about 4 tablespoons ice water.
Press the contents together into a disk and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate the dough at least 1 hour to give it time to relax and chill.
Filling and assembly
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup sugar, plus extra for dusting the top of the pie
5 tablespoons flour, plus extra for rolling out the dough
1 pound blackberries
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Water for brushing the dough to seal the crust
Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a large bowl, whisk together the salt, sugar and flour. Gently stir in the blackberries, then drizzle over the lemon juice and gently stir to combine. Set aside the bowl while you shape the crust.
Remove the crust from the refrigerator and roughly divide in half (make one half slightly larger for the bottom crust). Wrap and refrigerate the smaller half of dough while you roll out and fill the bottom crust.
On a well-floured board, roll the dough to a diameter of about 13 inches; the dough will be very thin and fragile. (It might help to roll the dough on a large sheet of floured parchment or wax paper. The dough then can be more easily lifted and inverted over the pie dish.)
Gently lift and center the dough over a 9-inch pie dish; if the dough cracks, simply press the crack together to seal, or patch with a little leftover dough. Press the dough into the pie dish, making sure to remove any air bubbles from underneath the dough.
Fill the pie shell with the fruit filling. Brush the edge of the dough lightly with water (this will help the top crust adhere to the shell).
Remove the remaining dough from the refrigerator and roll in the same manner as the bottom crust to a diameter of 10 to 11 inches; this will be the top crust. Gently center the dough over the filling. Tuck the edges of the top crust around the bottom crust to seal the pie, pressing the two dough halves together, using your fingers to crimp the edge.
Sprinkle a generous coating of sugar over the top of the pie, then slit the top crust to create vents.
Bake the pie in the center of the oven until the crust is lightly golden and set, and the filling is bubbly, about 1 hour. Cool the pie before serving.
Flaky Pie Crust
1 1/2 cups (6.4 ounces) flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
3 tablespoons cold shortening
5 tablespoons cold butter, cut into 1/2 -inch cubes
1 1/2 teaspoons cider vinegar
3 to 4 tablespoons ice water, more if needed
1 egg or egg white, for an egg wash, if desired
To make the dough using a food processor, pulse together the flour, salt and sugar until thoroughly combined. Add the shortening and pulse until incorporated (the dough will look like moist sand). Add the butter and pulse just until the butter is reduced to small, pea-sized pieces. Sprinkle the vinegar and water over the mixture, and pulse once or twice until incorporated. Remove the crumbly mixture to a large bowl and gently press the mixture together with a large spoon, rubber spatula or the palm of your hand just until it comes together to form a dough. Mold the dough into a disc roughly 6 inches in diameter. Cover the disc tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.
To make the dough by hand, whisk together the flour, salt and sugar in a large bowl. Add the shortening and incorporate using a pastry cutter or fork (the dough will look like moist sand). Cut in the butter just until it is reduced to small, pea-sized pieces. Sprinkle the vinegar and water over the mixture, and stir together just until incorporated. Gently press the crumbly mixture together with a large spoon, rubber spatula or the palm of your hand just until it comes together to form a dough. Mold the dough into a disc roughly 6 inches in diameter. Cover the disc tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough into a round roughly 13 to 14 inches in diameter. Place in a 9- to 10-inch baking dish, trimming any excess and crimping the edges as desired. (One trick I use is to roll out the dough onto well-floured parchment or wax paper, invert and center the pie dish over the dough and then flip the dough into the dish.) Brush the outer edge of the shell with the egg wash, then freeze the formed shell for 20 to 30 minutes before filling and baking.
If prebaking (or blind-baking) the crust, line the shell with foil and fill with pie weights. Bake in a 400-degree oven for 20 minutes, then remove the weights and foil, prick the sides and bottom several times with a fork and bake until the crust bottom is dry and lightly colored, 5 to 10 minutes more.
Notes: This makes enough crust for 1 (9- to 10-inch) pie. The cider vinegar is used to help "shorten" the crust, improving the texture. Though you might smell the vinegar as you roll out the crust, you should not taste or smell it in the finished pie.
Sweet Cherry Pie
3/4 cup sugar, plus extra for sprinkling over the pie
1/4 cup cornstarch
6 cups sweet cherries, stemmed and pitted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons orange liqueur, preferably Grand Marnier
Prepared flaky pie crust for 1 double-crust pie
Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a large bowl, whisk together the three-fourths cup sugar with the cornstarch. Stir in the cherries, coating completely, then stir in the vanilla and orange liqueur until evenly combined.
Line a 9-inch pie plate with half of the pie crust. Pile in the cherries, sprinkling over the cherries any additional sugar-cornstarch mixture that did not stick to the fruit.
In a small bowl, whisk the egg to form a wash.
Prepare the top crust, adding decorative cutouts or cutting lattice strips if desired. Cover the top of the pie with the prepared top crust, sealing the edges with the egg wash and cutting vents if needed.
Brush the top of the crust with the egg wash, and sprinkle over a light coating of sugar.
Place the pie in the oven and bake until the crust is a rich golden color and the filling is bubbly and thick, about 1 hour and 15 minutes; rotate the pie halfway through for even coloring, and tent if needed to prevent overcoloring.
Cool before serving.