I’m pretty sure that I’ve discovered total baking zen lately: that glorious moment when you are completely and utterly in the zone, when everything comes together smoothly and calmly and, above all, you are at peace with the world. Yep, my baking happy place is pie. Fruit pie. Summer fruit pie. Cherry pie. Peach pie. Raspberry pie. Pie, pie, pie. My God, I love baking pies. If I had a pie shop I’d call it What Pies Ahead. Or maybe Pies From The Sky. Or Pie It Forward.
Something about making beautiful pate brisee (shortcrust pastry) from scratch, followed by blanching fruit, stoning fruit, sitting fruit in a mixture of sugar and cornflour is just total baking bliss for me. And then eating pie… y’know, as much as I love the eating of the pie, I think I like the making of the pie a little more. Which is both weird and good – weird because who doesn’t love eating pie?! Good because I need to stop eating pie. Stop Jackie. Stop it now.
But that’s okay because I’m going to pass my pie torch to you (tee-hee, pie torch) and you can make pie and then I can stop being so fat. Okay? Got it? Good.
The key to a great fruit pie is a balance of fruity flavours and gloriously crusty crust – soggy crust is no bueno, crusty crust is muy bueno. Summer time is the perfect time to make fruit pies because you get all of these beautifully seasonable stone fruit, which are just perfect for pies, as well as berries which give you that tart lift (ha, “tart”) that sometimes overripe sweetness needs.
Genuinely, you can make any sort of fruit pie you fancy. Personally, I’m rather keen on peach and raspberry and cherry, so those are the two variations I’m giving you here, but go wild! The world is your pie.
Perfect Pate Brisee
Makes 1 (9″/22cm) pie.
350 g plain flour
1 tsp salt
2 tbsps caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
225 g unsalted butter, cold and cubed
60 – 120 ml ice cold water
1 egg, beaten with a little milk
9″/22cm pie dish
1. In a large bowl, sift together the flour salt and caster sugar. Add the cubes of unsalted butter and, using two blunt knives or a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles fine crumbs. This will take about 15 mins. Alternatively, if you’ve got the machinery and none of the time, but let’s face it, when you’re making pie all you have is time, put everything into a food processor and blitz the heck out of it until you get the same result.
2. Make a well in the centre of your flour-butter mixture and add the ice cold water slowly, starting with 60 ml and only adding more if you need it. Use your fingers to combine the mix into a dough that holds together when pinched but does not feel sticky. If you add too much water, add a little more flour to bring it back together. Be careful not to overwork it at this stage or your crust will be dry and tough.
3. Tip the whole thing out onto a sheet of clingfilm and wrap and press the dough together into a ball – using the clingfilm keeps your work surface and hands clean and stops you from having to add more flour! Very useful. Wrap tightly and store in the fridge for at least an hour, ideally for 8 and no more than 24.
4. When ready to use, separate into two balls (store the one you’re not using in the fridge), then roll out on a lightly floured surface to the desired width (for a 9″ pie, roll the dough out a little wider by a couple of inches, to allow for overhang). Fill with desired fruit filling, make a lid, trim the bottom pastry to about 1/2″ over the sides of the dish, then fold the remaining overhang over the sides of the pie lid and flute (I favour the pinch method but you can also use the tines of a fork to create fluting, or twist the dough between your knuckles to create a fluted overlap).
5. Brush the top of the pie with the egg and milk mixture, sprinkle with a little caster sugar, then bake in a preheated oven at 200 degrees C for 25 mins, then reduce to 180 degrees C and bake for a further 25-30 mins. If you find the crust is getting a little brown after the first 25 mins, cover with foil and continue baking, but it depends on how hot your oven is. You may also find that you need to rotate the pie to ensure even cooking so know your oven – if all else fails you can have several attempts until you get it right… more pie for you!
6. Let your pie cool to room temperature before slicing – usually takes about 3 – 4 hours. Serve as is or a la mode (topped with ice cream).
So let’s talk about pie lids.
The lattice pie lid is undoubtedly the “Disney Pie” look. It just looks great and there’s no need to cut any ventilation holes because… well, it’s basically one giant ventilation hole. It’s also so much easier than you may think to make.
After laying your base crust and filling it with your desired fruit, simply roll out the other half of the pate brisee, cut it into equal strips and then lay half of the strips across the top of the pie. So let’s say we’ve got 6 strips going across, as in the above photo – in your head, number those strips 1 – 6 then lift 1, 3 and 5 to their halfway point and lay them down for the moment. You now have strips 4 & 6 remaining. Take a new strip of pastry and lay it horizontally across strips 4 & 6, then replace the remainders of 1, 3 & 5 on top and lift the remainder of 4 & 6 over the new strip you just put down. Take a new strip and lay it across strips 1, 3 & 5, then lift those up over the new strip and lay the remainder of strips 4 & 6 on top, and repeat until you reach the outer edge of the pie. Turn the pie around and repeat the process with the other half of the pie.
I know it sounds complicated, but all you’re doing is creating that weave pattern and once you figure out what’s going on, it’ll all make perfect sense. Be sure to trim the edges of the lattice pattern to the edge of the pie dish, then fold the overhang on top of this and flute as normal.
Then of course there’s the traditional lid. As I can never leave well enough alone, I like to use pie crust pastry cutters to create extra shapes, such as leaves or stars, to place on the top of the lid (I just stick them down with a little water). As you can see in the above photo, I went with three leaves in the centre of the pie though, thinking about it, I probably should’ve created some cherries (because it was a cherry pie, duh).
Making a traditional lid is very simple, just roll out the pastry (not too thick because crust is great but too much crust is just a mouthful of sawdust), trim the edges, fold the overhang on top of the edges of the crust and flute. Just be sure to cut ventilation holes into the top of the pie or you’ll have a pie explosion in your oven – never good.
And so we come to the filling. Fill your pie with whatever you like but for a rough guide to amount, you’ll want around 1kg of de-stoned fruit per pie. Great fillings include: peach, nectarine, raspberry, strawberry, rhubarb and blueberry. The choices and combinations are endless! So here are my peach and raspberry and cherry filling suggestions.
PEACH & RASPBERRY PIE FILLING
7 – 8 ripe peaches
1 punnet ripe raspberries
Big bowl of ice water
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
115 g caster sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tbsps cornflour
25 g unsalted butter, cubed
1. Wash peaches carefully then, using a sharp knife, cut a cross in the bottom, being careful not to score too deeply – you just want to cut through the skin. Bring a large pot of water to boil, then plunge the peaches in for 30 – 60 secs. Remove with a slotted spoon and plunge directly into the ice water to stop the cooking process. It may sound odd but doing this will enable you to peel the peaches easily – remove the peaches from the ice water and the skins should slip right off. This will only work with ripe peaches, though.
2. Slice the peaches, discarding the stones, and combine with the raspberries then squeeze the lemon juice over everything to stop it from browning. Add the sugar, cinnamon, salt and cornflour, toss well and leave aside for about half an hour.
3. When ready to assemble your pie, lay the raspberries on the bottom, then arrange the peach slices on top, pour in about 3 – 4 tbsps of the liquid that will have come off the fruit (this will help to thicken the filling), and dot with the butter. Cover with your pie lid and bake as above.
CHERRY PIE FILLING
1 kg cherries, de-stoned
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
150 – 170 g caster sugar (depending on how sweet your cherries are)
Zest of 1 orange
4 tbsps cornflour
25 g cold unsalted butter, cubed
1. Put de-stoned cherries into a large bowl and squeeze the lemon juice all over. Add vanilla extract, caster sugar, salt, orange zest and cornflour and mix well. Set aside for about 1/2 hr.
2. When ready to assemble your pie, pour about 3 – 4 tbsps of the liquid that will have come off the cherries on top of the mixture (this will help thicken the filling), then dot with the butter. Cover with your pie lid and bake as above.
So that’s it, Pie 101. Now go forth and find your baking zen with pie. Until next time, peace and love,