It was the best of pies … it was the worst of pies. If I’m being completely honest, however, even a bad pie is pretty good.
I hope that Charles Dickens will forgive the liberties I took in the opening to this column. Dickens, of course, wasn’t talking about pie. He was describing the era of the French Revolution, a time fraught with excitement and terror … a time when everything in life seemed to be hanging in the balance.
In other words, a time not so different from our own.
I don’t know about you, but between the congressional hearings and the Supreme Court (and not to mention the continuing presence of COVID-19), it seems as though life today is changing at a breathtaking pace. It’s hard to keep up, and it’s hard sometimes to stay positive.
Let’s be real. I’m not saying that a good slice of pie is going to make a huge difference in anyone’s life. It will, however, give you a moment to slow down and catch your breath and just tune out the world for a little while.
There’s just something about pie. Baking it is cathartic. Rolling out the dough and watching it bubble away in the oven is soothing.
Then there’s the smell. Oh, the smell. When you’re baking pie, your house fills with the most wonderful of odors.
It’s a little like Xanax in a crust, but, of course, it tastes a lot better. Especially if you add a little ice cream.
In fact, playwright David Mamet — a guy with whom I rarely agree when it comes to politics — said it best when he wrote, “Stress cannot exist within the presence of a pie.”
Luckily, we are often in the presence of pie this time of year. We are in the heart of summer pie season. Seriously, walk through the Farmer’s Market on a Saturday morning, and you will be overwhelmed by the raw ingredients of pie just about everywhere you look.
It’s like a fireworks display of flavor. Blueberries! Rhubarb! Strawberries! Cherries! They are all just waiting for you to take them home, stir in a little (or a lot of) sugar and spice, and then slip them between two layers of dough.
See what I mean? Catharsis!
Sadly, I only have room for a few recipes below. Rest assured, however, there are many, many ways to make a pie. All it takes are the right ingredients, and a little imagination.
Soon, you’ll have the best of pies … and … that’s it. Because, like I said, even a bad pie is pretty good.
Of course, it all begins with the right pie crust.
I am not saying that this one is the best. It is, however, one I’ve come to rely upon. That’s because it’s simple, it’s forgiving, and it tastes good.
It’s simple because you mix it up in your stand mixer (though you can do it by hand if you don’t have such a machine). It’s forgiving in that it combines shortening with butter. The shortening helps make the dough easier to work, while the butter gives it flavor.
The recipe comes from the good people at King Arthur Flour.
2½ cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup shortening
10 tablespoons butter, cold, and cut into small pieces
8-10 tablespoons water, cold
Combine the flour and salt in your mixer (or by hand). Beat in the shortening. Next, beat in the pieces of butter. Don’t beat them until they disappear into the batter, however. You want a few larger pieces to be visible. Now, add the water. Begin with 4 tablespoons, and then mix. Next, add the remaining water a tablespoon at a time, beating briefly between each addition. You want the dough to be wet enough to hold together without being soupy. Typically, I will add all 10 tablespoons, but use your best instincts here.
Divide the dough in half. Press each half into a disk and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for at least an hour before rolling.
To Blind Bake Your Crust
Each of the pie recipes below call for a blind-baked crust. “Blind Baking” simply means baking the crust half-way. This helps firm it up for the wet filling you will add when making the pie.
What Will I Need?
Dried Beans or Pie Weights
Once you’ve rolled out your crust and pressed it into the 9-inch pie plate, you are ready to bake.
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.
Press a piece of aluminum foil onto the surface of your crust. Pour in the dried beans (I keep dried beans just for pie baking. You can use them multiple times). Bake the crust for 12 minutes. Remove the foil and the beans and allow the crust to cool before filling.
Cherry Pie with Almond Crumble
One of my favorite pies this time of year is a cherry pie. There is something about cherries that is so summery.
I use sour cherries because they are in season right now, and because they have just the right tartness to add complexity to the pie. You may also use sweet cherries, however. You will just have to use less sugar when making your pie.
This recipe comes from Smitten Kitchen.
1 (9-inch) pie crust, blind baked as directed above
For the Almond Crumble:
⅔ cup oatmeal, ground fine in your food processor
½ cup flour
½ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¾ cup almonds
6 tablespoons butter, melted
For the Pie Filling:
1 cup sugar (use ½ cup if you use sweet cherries)
3 tablespoons cornstarch
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
2¼ pounds fresh cherries, pitted or 2 pounds frozen cherries
To make the crumble:
Grind the oatmeal in the food processor. Add the flour, sugar, cinnamon, salt and almonds. Grind them until the nuts are coarsely ground. Mix in the melted butter (you might want to do this last step by hand if you want larger pieces of crumble).
To make the pie filling:
Combine the cherries, sugar, cornstarch and kosher salt.
To bake your pie:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil or parchment paper (this will protect the bottom of your oven from spills).
Pour your filling into the blind baked crust. Sprinkle on the almond crumble evenly. Place on your prepared baking sheet, and bake for about 1 hour and 10 minutes.
Allow pie to cool completely before slicing.
This recipe caught my eye a few months ago. I love the combination of lemon and blueberry. They just seem to bring out the best in one another. Moreover, the two layers of lemon and blueberry together just looked beautiful in the recipe photos. I had to try it.
It is more labor-intensive then most pies as you have to make and bake several layers. I am also wondering — though I haven’t tried it — if you could substitute pre-made lemon curd for the lemon layer. That may be something to try out in a future bake.
The recipe is from King Arthur Flour.
1 (9-inch) pie crust, blind baked (see instructions above)
For the Streusel Topping:
1 cup flour
⅓ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon cinnamon
5 tablespoons butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla
For the Lemon Filling:
8 tablespoons of butter, melted
½ cup lemon juice
¼ teaspoon salt
1½ cups sugar
1 tablespoon yellow cornmeal
1½ tablespoons cornstarch
For the Blueberry Filling:
3 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen
⅓ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1½ tablespoons cornstarch
To make the lemon filling:
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Place the melted butter in a mixing bowl. Mix in the lemon juice, salt, sugar, cornmeal and cornstarch. Mix in the eggs, one at a time, until the mixture is combined. Pour into your blind-baked pie crust.
Bake for 25-28 minutes until the filling is almost set (it should jiggle a bit in the middle; that’s OK because it will continue to bake after you take it out of the oven). Do not turn off your oven!
To make the blueberry filling:
Place the berries in a 2-quart saucepan. In a bowl, whisk together the sugar, salt and cornstarch. Stir this mixture into the berries. Place over medium-low heat and cook, stirring frequently, until the berries give up their juice. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens. Remove from the heat, and give it a few minutes to cool. Then gently spoon the filling over the lemon layer. (Do not bake at this time, however).
To make the streusel:
Whisk together the flour, sugar, salt and cinnamon. Melt the butter and add the vanilla. Pour over the flour mixture, and toss with a fork to form irregular crumbs. Sprinkle the streusel over the blueberry layer.
Bake (still at 375 degrees) for 15-20 minutes, or until the crumbs are lightly browned.
Remove from the oven and cool to room temperature. Then chill thoroughly before slicing.
This article originally appeared on Iowa City Press-Citizen: These two pie recipes will help take your mind off things