For bakers, midsummer—when markets are bursting with berries and piled with juicy peaches and plums—means just one thing: prime pie season. Here’s everything you need to make the most of these delicious days.
1. Don’t skimp on fruit.
Whether you’re using blueberries, peaches, or plums, most fruit fillings will shrink as they soften during baking. That’s why, to avoid a disappointing gap between your filling and pastry shell, it’s best to be generous when filling up your pie plate. For standard pans, aiming for about 6 cups of fruit should do the trick—but if you’re going deep-dish style you’ll want to load it up even more.
2. Think about thickeners.
There’s nothing sadder than slicing into a gorgeous pie and encountering a soupy mess—and a soggy bottom. The key to avoiding disaster? Remember to add a little bit of thickener to your fruit filling to soak up juices and help the pie set up. Common thickeners include a spoonful or two of flour, cornstarch, or petite tapioca pearls, which can usually be found in the baking aisle under the Minute brand. Just don’t go overboard—a little goes a long way, and if you use too much you might wind up with filling that tastes floury or gummy.
3. Keep it cool. (The pastry, that is.)
Everyone knows that when it comes to pie crust, flakiness is the holy grail. Nailing that “just-right” texture might seem intimidating—but it’s really not as complicated as it seems. The most important thing to do is keep all your ingredients—flour, water, and especially butter—icy cold as you prepare your pastry. Doing so allows the chilly nuggets of butter throughout the dough to expand and create steam when they hit the heat of the oven, which creates—you guessed it!—light and flaky little pockets of deliciousness.
4. Pick the right pan.
Not all pie plates are created equal. Besides size—standard vs. deep dish—the material out of which a pan is made can make a big difference in the way it performs. The three most common pie plate materials are glass, ceramic, and metal. Which one is right for you? All have their pros and cons and in the end, it largely comes down to personal preference. But knowing what to expect can help you make the right choice. Glass plates are inexpensive, conduct heat slow and steadily, and because they’re see-through, make it easy to monitor your crust’s level of doneness—all of which makes them particularly appealing to many beginning bakers. Ceramic dishes tend to be pricier (and heavier to lift)—but they also heat evenly and are aesthetically pleasing, which makes them a winner when you want to go from the kitchen to the dining table. Metal pie tins are the lightest and most inexpensive option and they heat up fast—which makes them an especially good choice for crusts that need to be blind-baked before being filled. Pay attention to color, too: in general, lighter colored pans will heat more slowly than dark colored ones.
5. Brush up.
Want to get that dreamy burnished golden crust that you see on professional pies? There’s no secret trick—all it takes is brushing the top of the pastry with an egg wash (beaten egg thinned with a little water) or milk before baking. Also: don’t be afraid to leave your pie in the oven a few minutes longer than you might expect: it’s better to have a few deeply browned spots than a pie that’s pale and undercooked.
6. Let off steam.
What’s your final weapon against the dreaded “soggy bottom”? Making a few well-placed slits in the top of the pie before placing it in the oven. These allow steam to escape from the inside—allowing the crust to bake up crisp and golden.
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