Summer is here, which for me means it’s farmers’ market season! One of our favorite Saturday summer activities is going early to our local market and letting the fresh produce inspire us for the next week’s meals. I especially love checking out (and sampling) the fresh berries — I can eat them like candy. And then, of course, there is pie. Delicious berry pie.
For the past couple of years, I’ve been working on improving my pie game. My first couple of homemade crust attempts were pretty scary and not so pretty, but each time I’ve learned something new and I finally feel like I’m getting it down. I know there are a million tips out there for making perfect pie crusts; and I think every pie maker eventually learns what works best for him or her. But for what it’s worth, here are some things that have helped me improve my pies.
Cold ingredients = more tender, flaky pie crust. Everyone emphasizes this because it’s true. I chill my flour and freeze my butter at least 1/2 an hour before mixing up a crust. If you ever feel your butter starting to get too soft, just stick your operation in the fridge for 10 minutes so you don’t end up with melty butter.
Fraisage and roll. I’ve started using these techniques for my last few crusts. It’s not necessary, but it does seem to make the crust flakier and easier to roll out in the end. I especially recommend these couple extra steps with partially whole-grain crusts.
Chill out. Pies bake up best from a chilled state. Your crust won’t shrink as much and the lattice you spent so much time doing will have a better chance of not collapsing into your filling. I like chilling my completed pie at least 20 minutes before baking (or until crust is firm). You can also roll out your bottom crust the night before and chill it in the pie plate, covered. Chill your lattice strips before weaving too; they’ll be easier to work with.
Macerate your fruits. With fruit pies, toss your fruit with a few tablespoons of sugar and let sit for an hour or more. This will draw out the juices which you can either leave behind or boil down and add to your pie in a concentrated syrupy form (i.e. your pie will be flavorful but not soggy from all the excess juices).
Take it easy with the decorations. I love looking at beautiful, fancy pie crusts on Instagram and Pinterest; and designing a fancy top is a great way to flex your creative muscles while making a traditionally rustic dessert. Just be careful not to overhandle your crust and go too thick on your cutouts / braids / lattice. Otherwise your top crust will take a lonnng time to bake and end up being tough and gross; and that would just be sad. Also, if you do want to make one of those extra fancy crusts with the braids and lattice and cutouts, plan to make at least 1.5 times a regular amount of crust. (For the pie pictured here I used a normal double crust recipe but used every last scrap.)
Happy pie making!
Berry Balsamic Pie
Adapted from Four and Twenty Blackbirds
For the crust:
- Your favorite double all-butter double pie crust (9-10 in.); I like this for a classic all-butter and this for a partially whole-grain
For the filling:
- 3 Tbsp. granulated sugar
- 2 lb. mixed berries, rinsed and quartered if large (5 to 6 cups) — I used a mix of strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries
- 1 small baking apple (such as Northern Spy or Golden Delicious)
- 2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
- 2 dashes Angostura bitters
- 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
- 3 Tbsp. minute tapioca, finely ground
- A few grinds fresh black pepper
- 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
- Egg wash (1 large egg whisked with 1 teaspoon water or cream and a pinch of salt)
- Demerara sugar, for finishing
- Sprinkle the granulated sugar over the berries. Stir gently to combine and allow the fruit to macerate at room temperature for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
- Roll out half of your pie crust and place it into your greased pie plate. Refrigerate while preparing the filling. Roll out your top crust and either leave whole or cut lattice strips if desired. Transfer to a parchment-lined sheet and refrigerate as well.
- Peel the apple and shred on the large holes of a box grater. Drain the berries of excess liquid and combine with the shredded apple.
- Sprinkle on the balsamic vinegar and Angostura bitters. In a separate bowl, mix together the brown sugar, tapioca, black pepper and salt. Gently fold the sugar mixture into the berry mixture.
- Pour the filling into the refrigerated pie shell, arrange the lattice or pastry round on top, and crimp as desired. Chill the pie in the refrigerator for 10 to 15 minutes to set the pastry. Meanwhile, position the oven racks at the bottom and center positions, place a rimmed baking sheet on the bottom rack, and preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
- Brush the pastry with the egg wash; if your pie has a lattice top, be careful not to drag the filling onto the pastry (it will burn). Sprinkle with the desired amount of Demerara sugar. Place the pie on the rimmed baking sheet on the lowest rack of the oven. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the pastry is set and beginning to brown.
- Lower the oven temperature to 375 degrees, move the pie to the center oven rack, and continue to bake until the pastry is a deep golden brown and the juices are bubbling throughout, 35 to 40 minutes.
Allow to cool completely on a wire rack, 2 to 3 hours. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature. The pie will keep refrigerated for 3 days or at room temperature for 2 days.