A fruitful season

A great pie begins with a great crust.

The quintessential apple pie (photo credit: ANDREW SCRIVANI)
The quintessential apple pie
(photo credit: ANDREW SCRIVANI)
The hazy days of summer are upon us and the stores are brimming with refreshing, juicy summer fruit. What better way to celebrate than with a variety of delectable fruit pies to spice up your dessert repertoire.
A great pie begins with a great crust. There are different types of crusts: crumbly, crispy and chewy. All are made with the same basic ingredients, but the method of preparation varies depending on the type required.
You first combine the dry ingredients – flour, sugar, salt – followed by the addition of some solid fat, butter or margarine. It is possible to make pie dough with liquid oil instead of solid fat, but quite frankly such pie dough is substandard. You can obtain healthier margarines with zero trans-fats, or if you don’t mind the pie being dairy, use butter.
The secret to creating successful pie dough is to keep things cool. Since you are working with a solid fat, an elevated temperature will make the mixture soft, messy and unworkable. Keep the fat in the refrigerator until the last minute and then cut it into little pieces and add them directly to the flour mixture.
The flour mixture and fat are combined by hand, “squishing” the butter/margarine together with the dry ingredients until the mixture is crumbly. The size of the crumbs will determine the final texture of the crust. If the resulting crumbs are large, the final crust will be crumbly; if medium, the crust will be crispy; if small, the crust will be chewier.
The final stage is combining a small amount of water to the flour/fat mixture. The water should be as cold as possible – remember, keep it cool. The time of mixing the final mixture, after the water is added, will also contribute to the final crust texture. Very short incorporation time results in a crumbly crust while longer mixing develops the gluten in the pie dough and the crust will be chewier. The water helps “stick” the crumbs together, giving you pie dough that can easily be rolled out. Pie dough should be refrigerated until use.
Give your pies an “edge.” You should make sufficient pie dough so that when you roll it out and drape it over a pie dish, the dough hangs over the edges of the dish, almost to the level of the surface. After you fill the pie with the filling, this extra “edge” will be folded back over into the dish and crimped in a variety of fancy designs and patterns.
If you want to cover the filling with an upper crust, or weave strips of pie dough over the filling in a basket-weave pattern, you need to take this into account when determining the quantity of pie dough to make. Don’t be shy to flour the pie dough well when rolling to make it workable and prevent it sticking to the surface and the rolling pin. If you want a round crust, start with a round, ball-shaped piece of dough.
Next up is the filling. You are going to be using seasonal fresh fruit, diced according to taste. If you prefer the filling to be chunky, dice the pieces larger; if you prefer it smooth, dice them smaller. The fruit is then combined with a spice mixture. This usually contains sugar, cornstarch and other spices such as salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, etc.
The purpose of the sugar is to create osmotic pressure and draw the juice out of the fruit. The cornstarch works as a jellying agent, so that when the pie is baked the filling coheres together. The rest of the spices just add flavor.
Thoroughly mix the diced fruit with the spice mixture and immediately add it to the pie crust. Then fold the edge of pie crust hanging over the dish back on itself until it is inside the dish. For interesting decorating ideas for the top of the pie, search the Internet for “pie crust designs.”
If you like a shiny finish and a deeper hue, baste the upper crust with egg wash (half egg, half water mixed) and sprinkle with sugar to taste. If you want the pie to be vegan, skip this step.
Finally, you bake the pie in the oven. Baking time also determines the resulting texture of the filling. For a crunchier filling, bake for a shorter time, around 40 minutes. For a smoother filling bake for longer, around 60 minutes. Let the pie cool. Some pies taste best cold, others warm, but never piping hot out of the oven.
There you have the science of pie baking in a nutshell. You supply the art.
Enjoy your summer, be fruitful and multi-pie.
The writer, a master baker originally from Johannesburg, South Africa, lives in Ginot Shomron with his wife Sheryl and four children. He is CEO of the Saidel Artisan Baking Institute (www.saidels.com), that specializes in training and education in the field of organic, healthy, artisan baking and the inventor of Rambam Bread. He also lectures and works as a consultant in the fields of cereal chemistry, health and nutrition.
Fruit Pie Recipe
Dough (enough for lower crust, if making upper crust double quantities)
1 cup flour
2/3 tsp. salt (approximately)
½ Tbsp. sugar
100 gr. butter/margarine
Just under a ¼ cup water
Mix dry ingredients. Add fat and crumble. Add water and incorporate. Refrigerate till use. Roll out and drape over pie dish.
1 kg. fresh fruit diced
1 cup sugar
3 Tbsp. corn starch
Salt/cinnamon/nutmeg to taste
Mix spices and cornstarch and add to fruit. Mix well and deposit fruit/spice mixture into pie crust. Decorate crust, baste with egg wash and bake at 180ºC for 40 to 60 minutes.