If you’ve hung around this site much, you probably know that I’ve got a thing for sourdough. Most often I use my sourdough starter to make bread — both crusty and soft — but I’ve been known to sneak it into things like chocolate cake and crackers. Repurposing “discard” (the portion of starter that is typically thrown away at each feeding) into something delicious is a challenge I really enjoy — not just because it reduces waste, but also because starter can add deeper flavor to so many baked goods! And pie crust is no exception.
Adding sourdough starter to pie dough is fairly straightforward. I’ve based this recipe on my go-to all-butter pie crust (which is in my book) by replacing all the liquid and part of the flour with ripe/discard starter. Since this recipe calls for a decent amount of starter, I usually save up a few days’ worth of discard in the fridge before making this crust. Since the starter isn’t for leavening, it doesn’t need to be at peak readiness as if you were mixing bread dough. As long as it still looks bubbly and isn’t overly soupy or acrid-smelling, it should work just fine. (I generally try to use my discard within 5-7 days.)
I’ve used sourdough pie crust for both sweet and savory pies and galettes. The starter adds a lovely depth of flavor. I don’t find it sour at all (though this will depend on the health/taste of your own starter!). It bakes up a little more tender than my regular pie dough, but is still plenty flaky as long as you handle it correctly (namely keep your ingredients cold and don’t overwork the dough!).
A few notes:
I keep a 100% hydration (equal parts flour and water) starter, which is what I use for this recipe. I’ve never had to add any extra liquid, but if you keep a stiffer starter (or live in a drier climate) you might need a touch of ice water or milk to help bind your dough together.
Make sure your starter is well-chilled before using it to make pie dough. I like to measure it out and refrigerate it for at least a couple hours before mixing.
In general, I like to keep my butter pieces fairly large when making pie dough, especially if I’m going for maximum flake. I find it’s especially helpful when making sourdough pie crust since you have to work the dough a little more than normal to incorporate the starter.
When you first add the starter to your dough it may seem like it won’t incorporate. Avoid the temptation to add liquid or knead — just fold the mixture over itself and it should eventually start coming together.
The folding in step 4 is optional, but I almost always do it for extra-flaky and easy-to-handle dough.
You can halve all the ingredients to make a single 9″ pie crust, but I always make a double batch to maximize my time in the kitchen. Pie dough freezes incredibly well, and having a couple batches in the freezer stash makes me feel like a baking ninja: I’m already halfway to an awesome galette or pie!
Have crust, make pie!
Once you’ve made this sourdough pie crust, use it your favorite sweet or savory pie or try it in one of these recipes:
250g flour (I typically use 125g all purpose and 125g whole grain such as spelt, whole wheat, einkorn, or rye)
1 1/2 tsp (6 grams) kosher salt (I use Diamond Crystal brand)
2 Tbsp (25 grams) granulated sugar
250g unsalted butter, cold and cut into 1/2″ cubes
250g ripe or discard 100% hydration sourdough starter, cold (see notes above)
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and sugar. Scatter the butter over the top. Use the pads of your fingers to flatten the butter pieces, tossing them with the flour mixture so each piece is coated on all sides. The butter pieces should remain fairly large, about the size of walnut halves. Work quickly so the butter remains cold.
Scrape the sourdough starter over the flour-butter mixture. Use a flexible spatula to fold and mash the starter into the flour-butter mixture. Once the starter is well dispersed, use your hands to continue folding the dough over itself, giving the bowl a quarter-turn between folds, until there aren’t any dusty bits of flour remaining on the bottom of the bowl and the dough just holds together when you squeeze a bit in your hand. (Depending on the consistency of your starter and the humidity of your environment, you may need to add a drizzle of cold water or milk to bring the dough together; but I usually don’t need any.) You should still see visible pieces of butter—this is a good thing! Fold the dough over itself several more times, giving the bowl a quarter turn after each fold, to make a cohesive but ragged mass.
If the dough is still cool to the touch at this point, continue on; if it feels at all soft or sticky, cover and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes before continuing.
Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface. Using a floured rolling pin, roll the dough into a roughly 13-inch (33-cm) square. Brush off any extra flour and fold the dough into thirds like a letter. Fold into thirds again so you end up with a roughly 4.-inch (11-cm) square. Roll into a 3/4-inch (2-cm)-thick rectangle twice as long as it is wide and cut in half. Wrap each half and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or up to 1 day. (The dough can also be frozen at this point and defrosted in the fridge overnight before using.)
Nothing is more quintessentially summer to me then a morning of fruit picking followed by an afternoon of pie-making. Despite an overall wacky 2020 so far, I’m thankful that we’ve still been able to make it out to the orchards. Candy-like strawberries, plump cherries, deeply hued blueberries, and blushing peaches — I love them all.
When we inevitably pick a little too much to eat out of hand (which is becoming increasingly rare — my kids are fruit fiends!), pie is the answer. I usually make one regular pie, then let my kids play with the pie dough scraps to form mini pies. When there aren’t enough scraps for a full top crust, I toss on a bit of crumb topping. Once, while enjoying one of these “scrap” pies, my husband asked me, with a twinge of guiltiness, “Is it wrong if I like crumb topped pies more than double crust ones?”
I had to laugh because I’ve suspected for awhile (and my very scientific IG polls confirm) that crumb-topped pies are the secret fan favorite. While we might ooh and ahh over intricate double-crust beauties, the crumb pies are always the first to disappear.
Now I personally love a double crust, especially a la mode. But I totally understand the appeal of a crumb topping. It’s an extra layer of texture and sweetness, and another opportunity to sneak in more flavors — spices, nuts, oats, and so on. Plus, I think crumb-topped pies keep better than double crust. I love a slice cold from the fridge after the topping has crisped up. All that to say — it’s high time for this streusel topped pie recipe!
A few notes:
Fruit preparation and amounts: It can be tricky estimating how much fruit you’ll need for a pie. I don’t think approximate numbers of fruits are very helpful because it all depends on the size of your fruit! My sweet spot for summer fruit pies (using a typical 9-inch pie plate) is roughly 1 kg (or between 2 and 2 1/2 pounds) of prepared fruit — i.e. the fruit is skinned (if needed), pitted, and sliced/chopped. So if you’re baking with something like blueberries which can be used as-is, you can just weigh the fruit directly. If you’re using something like peaches which need skinning and de-pitting, you’ll want to start with a bit more, maybe 3 1/2 pounds. When filling the dish, I’m looking for the fruit to come up to the crimps with enough to slightly mound in the center. Fruit shrinks in the oven, so this ensures a nicely filled pie after baking. For large fruits like peaches and nectarines, I slice into 1/4″ slices; large berries I halve or quarter; small berries I leave whole.
Pie thickeners: My personal favorite thickener for juicy fruits is arrowroot starch — it’s clear when cooked and has the least “gloopy” taste compared to cornstarch and tapioca starch. There’s a mix of art and science when it comes to thickeners, as well as personal taste. I like my pie slices to hold their shape once the pie has fully cooled, but not to be overly jelly-like. King Arthur Baking has a helpful pie thickener chart and their suggested amounts are usually pretty on for my tastes (if anything, I use just a touch less). The amount of starch below worked perfectly for both an all-peach pie and a pie with a mix of nectarines and blueberries.
Streusel tips: My favorite way to make streusel is with cold butter. I like the resulting texture, and the crumbs hold their shape better than streusel made with melted or room temperature butter. Keep your streusel in the fridge and don’t put it on the pie until just before you’re ready to bake — if the butter warms up, the streusel will flatten and spread. I like streusels that are roughly 1 to 1.5 : 1 : 1 ratio of flour + add-ins : sugar : butter, which results in a shortbread-like texture with mild sweetness. You can keep it as simple as all purpose flour, white sugar, and butter (and please, just a pinch of salt!); but I love having a bit of fun with my streusels. Here I’ve added oats, almond flour, and a touch of warm spices.
Bake your pie fully! If you’ve ever struggled with soggy bottoms and pies that don’t set up, you’re probably not baking your pie long enough. In general, with the amount of fruit I use, my full-size fruit pies rarely take under an hour to fully cook — usually closer to 70-80 minutes. You’re looking for the filling to bubble in the very center of the pie (where it takes the longest to cook). Thickeners don’t activate properly unless the liquid reaches a boil, so if the center of your pie isn’t bubbling your pie probably won’t set up. Be patient and tent your pie with some foil if the top is browning too fast.
Cool your pie fully! Likewise, if you’re wanting clean slices, you’ll have to let the pie cool down fully — about 4 hours. Now between you and me, if the pie is just for family, I’m not waiting quite that long — I don’t mind a messy slice, and fresh warm pie + a scoop of melting ice cream is one of life’s great pleasures. But even at home, I try to wait at least 2 hours so that the juices don’t completely run all over the place and I don’t burn my tongue.
Enough pie dough for a single 9″ crust, homemade or store bought (see notes above)
For the spiced streusel topping:
100g (3/4 c) flour, all-purpose or whole grain
20g almond flour
30g (1/3 c) rolled oats
100g sugar (1/2 c) — I like half granulated, half brown
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp kosher salt
98g (7 Tbsp) unsalted butter, cold and cubed
For the stone fruit filling:
About 1 kg (2.2 lbs / 7-8 cups) prepared summer fruit (see notes above)
50 to 100g (1/4 to 1/2 c) sugar, or to taste
50g (6 Tbsp) arrowroot or cornstarch (see notes above)
1/2 tsp kosher salt
30g (2 Tbsp) bourbon (or 1 Tbsp lemon juice)
1 Tbsp almond flour or cookie crumbs, or 1 tsp each all purpose flour and sugar
Prepare the pie crust: On a floured surface, roll the dough into a 13- to 14-inch round between ¼- to ⅛-inch thick. Roll from the center out, giving the dough a quarter turn after every roll to avoid sticking and ensure an even thickness. Dust off any excess flour. Carefully roll the dough onto the rolling pin and unfurl into a standard 9-inch pie plate. Gently lift the edges and press the dough into the bottom and sides of the plate, being careful not to stretch the dough to fit. Trim the overhang to 1 inch all around, then fold the excess dough under itself to form a border. The edge should be flush with the pie plate. Crimp the edges as desired. Cover and chill until the pastry is firm, at least 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven: While the crust is chilling, preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C) with a rack in the lower third. If you have a baking steel or stone, preheat that as well. If not, preheat a large foil-lined baking sheet.
Prepare the streusel topping: In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, oats, sugar, spices, and salt. Scatter the cold butter pieces over the top. Use your fingers to rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles a clumpy cookie dough with no dry bits of flour remaining. Refrigerate until needed.
Prepare the fruit filling: Place the prepared fruit in a large bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar, arrowroot starch, and salt (this helps prevent the starch from clumping). Sprinkle the sugar mixture over the fruit and stir until combined. Add the bourbon and stir to combine.
Assemble and bake the pie: Remove the prepared crust from the fridge and place on a foil-lined baking sheet (unless the sheet is pre-heating in the oven — see notes above). Sprinkle the almond flour over the bottom — this helps absorb extra juices and keep the crust from getting soggy. Scrape the fruit filling (and all the juices) into the crust. Sprinkle the streusel mixture evenly over the top. Bake for 30 minutes, then turn down the temperature to 350F and continue baking until the filling is bubbling in the very center and the streusel is deeply golden, about 35-55 more minutes. Cool to room temperature before slicing, about 4 hours. Refrigerate leftovers for up to 4 days.