And as I reached for the cornstarch to seal the deal, something in the pantry caught my eye. Tapioca. That could thicken the juices just as well, if not better.
As soon as the fat spheres of pearl tapioca went clattering into the bowl, I knew I had repeated a mistake. Last year I reached for the same bag of tapioca and ended up baking a watery blueberry pie marred by hard white globules of starch. This large pearl tapioca is not the same as the finer kind used as a thickener. What an idiot.
But I wasn’t going to give this pie up easily — not after all that peeling and slicing. Adapting the tapioca pudding instructions on the bag, l let the filling sit for 30 minutes to plump the grains of starch. Then I turned the filling into a pot and cooked it slowly until I had a kind of raspberry-pink peach glop.
I didn’t think I could pour this thick, ready-to-eat filling into a raw crust and bake it for an hour, so I blind baked the bottom crust. It went into the oven covered with a piece of foil and the contents of a basket of loose change and baked until it started to brown.
The cooked pie filling went in, followed by a bit of egg wash and the top crust. When it came out of the oven, it looked awfully like a supermarket bakery pie rather than a homemade one, flat rather than domed, and evenly brown rather than mottled.
For a near disaster, it was a success. With its crisp crusts and softly gushy filling, it reminded me a bit of a McDonald’s apple pie. But less sweet, more buttery. We all had pieces, then second pieces, then evened off the edges, and then it was gone.
Welcome to high pie season, a time when peaches are always ripening on the windowsill and pounds of unsalted butter are always in the fridge.
During the week we make healthier fruit crisps with fresh berries and streusel toppings of oats, flax seed, wheat germ with enough butter to hold it together and enough brown sugar to make it taste good.
But on the weekend we make pie. Never raised with the tradition (my mom bought graham cracker crusts and made instant pudding fillings), I’ve had to teach myself the feel for pastry dough over the years. It’s an ongoing process, like learning Spanish, and I get better and faster at it each year.
I love working with local peaches and blueberries, but have to admit that nectarine pie is my favorite. Nectarine pie may be the best dessert ever.
Thanks to my opening gambit, I think I’ll be playing around with cooked fillings and blind-baked crusts this season. It’s a little extra work, but there was something about that combination of buttery crunch and meltingly soft filling that hit my pie button.
If you don’t make pie yet, start. Your first one will be good, the second will be better and then you’ve got a lifetime to make them great.
The accompanying recipe will get you started.
Flaky Pastry Dough
Hands-on: 15 minutes Total time: 45 minutes Serves: 10-12
In a bowl, combine flour, sugar and salt with a rubber spatula. Working quickly to prevent softening, cut the butter into quarter-inch pieces. Add the butter to the dry ingredients. Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut the butter into pea-size pieces.
Add the shortening. With a few quick swipes of the pastry blender, cut the shortening into large chunks and distribute throughout the bowl. Continue to chop with the pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs with some pea-size pieces. Do not let the mixture soften and begin to clump; it must remain dry and powdery.
Drizzle 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon ice water over the fat and flour mixture. Cut with the blade side of the spatula until the mixture looks evenly moistened and begins to form small balls. Press down on the dough with the flat side of the spatula. If the balls of dough stick together, you have added enough water. If they do not, drizzle 1 to 2 tablespoons more ice water over the top. Cut in the water, then press with your hands until the dough coheres. The dough should look rough, not smooth.
Divide the dough in half, collect each half in a square of plastic wrap and pull the plastic tight to form a cohesive round, flat disc. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, preferably for several hours, or for up to 2 days before rolling. The dough can also be wrapped airtight and frozen for up to 6 months. Thaw completely before rolling.
Adapted from “The 1997 Joy of Cooking” by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker and Ethan Becker (Scribner)
- by John Kessler for the Food & More blog