So I’ve been organizing all of my old posts into categories. It’s a huge process — over 3,500 posts covering a 15 year span — but it’s also oddly satisfying; like cleaning up a hoarder house. My goal is for you to be able to click “cakes” and to see every cake recipe I’ve ever posted.
On a personal level, reading through my archives is like watching myself grow up. My early posts were so dopey (remember when I wrote a song about frozen yogurt?) but also so innocent. Now I’m a jaded old man in my 40s! I started this blog when I was *gulp* 25. At least there’s the wisdom that comes with age. And nothing embodies how much I’ve grown than my relationship to pie dough.
Pie has always been my white whale. Even though my pie archives tell a different story, I’ve always been a neurotic mess when it comes to making and rolling out pie dough. Craig’s dad Steve has been my pie guru (see his legendary apple pie here) and I’ve long admired the casualness with which he makes it.
Now I have my own pie philosophy: for starters, the food processor is your friend. True you’ll get a flakier pie if you use your hands, but with a food processor, you can work fast and never let the butter get too warm. I have my standard pie recipe (it’s written in magic marker and hanging on my fridge), but this weekend a new sheriff came to town and her name is Nicole Rucker.
Nicole, who I talked up in my BLT post, is a pie guru. Food & Wine calls her “The L.A. Pie Queen”; she destroyed the competition at KCRW’s Good Food pie contest, and then won a blue ribbon at the National Pie Championships in Orlando. Her pies are legendary and she currently sells them at her Grand Central Market bakery, Fat & Flour.
Her cookbook, Dappled, which you should go ahead and buy now (it’s okay, I’ll wait) has her detailed pie-making instructions which, of course, have you make the dough by hand. I love her descriptions of how it feels to make the dough: “Once all the butter chunks have been pinched, grab small handfuls of flour and butter and rub the two together between the palms of your hands until the mixture resembles uneven pebbles on a sandy beach.”
My kitchen was ultra hot on Saturday and so, as much as I wanted to follow Nicole’s detailed instructions for making it by hand, I figured the food processor was a safer bet. Her pie dough recipe has three sticks of butter and brown sugar dissolved in apple cider vinegar. It’s a peculiar combination but it yielded the dreamiest pie dough I’ve ever worked with. It rolled out like a red carpet for the premiere of the best pie you’ve ever made.
As for the filling, my fruit strategy in the summer is to buy as much stone fruit as I possibly can, to eat as much of it as possible during the week and whatever’s leftover, I bake into dessert. So I had leftover nectarines and plums and that’s what I threw into the pie. The result?
A mature, sophisticated pie from a mature, sophisticated Amateur Gourmet. It only took sixteen years, lots of therapy, and a food processor, but I’ve come a long way from my days of recreating great moments in musical theater with eggs. Ah, those were the days.
Nectarine Plum Pie with a Brown Sugar Crust
For the pie dough:
- 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
- 1 Tbs unfiltered apple cider vinegar
- 3/4 cup hot water
- 1 1/2 tsps fine sea salt
- 4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for the surface
- 3 sticks unsalted butter, cold and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
For the pie:
- 3 Tbs all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
- 3 pounds nectarines and plums Peaches or apricots would work well here; Nicole has you peel them, but I skipped that step!
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 Tbs fresh lemon juice
- 1 tsp vanilla bean paste or extract
- 1/4 tsp ground mace I used freshly grated nutmeg
- 2 Tbs unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 3 Tbs heavy cream
- 1 Tbs raw Turbinado sugar
For the pie dough:
- In a measuring cup, combine the brown sugar, vinegar, salt, and hot water. Stir until the sugar has dissolved. Chill the liquid in the freezer until it is very cold (this should take about 20 minutes) and leave in the fridge until you are ready to start the rest of the dough.
- Combine the flour and butter in the bowl of a food processor. (Note: this is where I depart from Nicole Rucker's recipe; for her instructions on how to do it by hand, buy Dappled!) Pulse until the butter is incorporated and you have pea-sized pieces, about 8 or 9 zaps.
- Pour the brown sugar mixture through the feeding tube and pulse just until the dough is moist. You don't want to overwork it here. Dump the dough on to a well-floured board.
- Using a bench scraper, bring the dough together into a solid mass. If it's still too crumbly, you can knead it quickly with the palm of your hand; just don't warm things up too much. When you have a solid mound, cut it in half with the bench scraper and form each half into a disc. Wrap with plastic and refrigerate for 2 hours before using.
For the pie:
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment.
- Cut the fruit into 3/4-inch slices. In a large bowl, combine with the flour, granulated sugar, lemon juice, vanilla, and mace and toss to coat all of the fruit in the seasoning.
- Remove the pie dough from the fridge and remove the plastic from each disc. Dust your work surface with flour and lay your first disc on it. Dust the top with more flour and also your rolling pin. Pound the dough to flatten it and then begin rolling it out, from the center outwards, rotating as you go and adding more flour to keep it from sticking. You want to work fast to keep the dough from warming up. If your dough sticks at all, dust with more flour (I find it helps to flip it upside down so you can keep dusting).
- When you've rolled it out to a 12-inch round, transfer to a 9 1/2-inch pie dish and use your fingertips to press the dough into the shape of the pie dish, leaving a 2-inch overhang. Roll out the top dough using the same method, then transfer the fruit to the bottom crust. Dot with the butter and drape the top crust over the fruit.
- Press the edges of the pie shell together to seal. (If you have too much dough, use a pair of scissors to trim.) Fold the edge of the pie dough under itself and crimp the edge of the crust with your thumb and forefinger, pressing gently into the pie dish as you crimp. Brush the top with heavy cream and sprinkle with Turbinado sugar. Place the whole pie in the freezer for 15 minutes (I skipped this step!).
- Place the pie on the parchment-lined baking sheet, cut a few slits into the top crust, and bake the pie for 30 minutes. Then lower the temperature to 375 and continue baking until the filling is bubbling and the crust is deeply golden brown, about 30 minutes more. (Really check the color here; if it's still pale, don't be afraid to keep going.)
- Cool the pie on a wire rack for 2 hours before cutting (that's the hardest part). Store at room temperature for 1 day or in the fridge for up to 1 week.
Summer Fruit Pie (Eat The Love)
Summer Fruit Tart with Almond Cream (David Lebovitz)
Nectarine Hand Pies (Serious Eats)
Nectarine Plum and Raspberry Pie (Epicurious)
Nicole Rucker’s Key Lime Pie (LA Times)