We’re having a pie party. And you’re all invited.
Last week, I was talking with friends on Twitter, late in the evening. All of us avid bakers, we traded stories about what we had made that day. It turns out that Irvin, Garrett, Justin, and Ashley had all made pies. This didn’t surprise me. It’s summer, finally summer. (Even if the weak sunlight only shone in Seattle for a few hours, obscured for the rest of the day by grey clouds. It’s still summer.) Summer, in my mind, means blackberries fat on the vine, peaches soft and juicy to the touch, raspberries ripe enough to plop on my fingers, and nectarines plums apricots blueberries huckleberries pluots cherries. Oh, the cherries. And strawberries. Is there ever such a time for fruit as the months of June, July and August? We wait all year for this perfect storm of sweetness. When the fruit is finally in season, I seem to make a pie a week. It just seems right.
When my friends and I traded descriptions of the pies we had made, we grew excited about baking together. Oh, we can’t bake in the same kitchen, with Irvin in San Francisco, Garrett in Sacramento, Justin in New Jersey, Ashley in Seattle, and me on Vashon Island, far away from them all. I dream of having a baking commune someday: all my favorite baking people here on this island, ready to borrow sugar from each other and crimping pie dough in each other’s kitchens. It’s probably not going to happen. But at the very least, we all realized, we could make pie on the same day. Garrett posts on Tuesdays. Could we post on a Tuesday? Easy. How about July 5th?
This was meant to be a fun little virtual party for friends. However, that’s not how we are. Baking is about welcoming, about feeding people, about bringing people into the home. So we put it up on Twitter. And made it a little Facebook event.
And then it went crazy.
There are now over 1000 people making a pie between now and next Tuesday. They’re all going to post photos and recipes and stories about their experience of making pie on Tuesday, July 5th.
Want to join us?
I’ve been thinking about pie a lot lately. (Again, see summer.) As much as I love to play with recipes and take on the challenge of gluten-free cakes or muffins, quick breads, or cookies, pie is the one treat I truly make for myself. I could easily go the rest of my life without another cupcake. But make me live without pie? That’s just plain mean.
When I was first diagnosed with celiac in 2005, I despaired of ever baking again. I gave away all my baking books, my pie pans, my muffin tins. I banished their floury selves from the house. However, it didn’t take long for me to start playing. I started slowly — a crumble. A crisp. Some cookies. But I knew I was really back to baking when I made a pie.
What is it about pie? Is it all that bubbling warm fruit? Well, yes. But no. I love pumpkin pie, lemon meringue pie, and coconut cream pie too. I’m partial to fruit pies most — peach lavender pie; cherry almond frangiapane; rhubarb; blueberry with a vanilla custard base — but other pies call my name too. I think it’s the crust, that buttery beauty that is born of four ingredients: flour, salt, fat, and water. It’s simplicity and beauty all wrapped up around fruit.
As much as I love the architectural wonders of modern desserts in restaurants, and the flaky perfections of puff pastry goodies, I love pie best. Pie is homey and special at the same time. Pie’s a sometime food around here — in fact, we’ve mostly switched back to having dessert once a week, the way Americans used to eat — but when we have it, we all feel happy.
Pie makes people happy.
I love making pie with our daughter. I hope that one day she makes pies for her children and remembers standing at the counter with me, crimping the edges of pie dough and humming a little song.
But pie? Pie scares people for some reason.
I can’t tell you how many times I have heard, in the past few months, “Oh, I’m afraid of pie dough.” Why? What’s the worst that could happen? You make a mediocre pie?
However, I think I can take a guess.
So many recipes for gluten pie dough call for everything to be cold, for you to work quickly, for you to do everything you can to not overwork the dough. Reading them makes me anxious. It’s like we are dismantling a bomb with thick fingers instead of making dessert. Yes, when you work with cold butter and cold flour and cold board for rolling, you get more flakiness in the pie.
But you know what? I just want pie. If it’s flaky? Great. But tender is even better. Best yet? On the table.
And you know the best part about making gluten-free pie? There’s no gluten in there. The crust can’t get tough. You can tuck the errant piece of dough that clung to the parchment paper right alongside its brethren in the pie pan. It’s still going to be pie.
When we were in Austin a few weeks ago, I had the great good fortune to meet Nancie McDermott. She came up to us during the IACP conference to say how much she loved our work. I was amazed. But I didn’t know who she was. (She didn’t say her name!) The next day, we had the fast-talking pleasure of eating lunch with Pableaux Johnson. Later that afternoon, he and I sat talking when the lovely woman who was happy to meet us passed by. I asked him, “Pableaux, who is that?”
He pulled his head back and looked at me like I was plumb crazy. “You don’t know Nancie McDermott? That woman makes the best cakes and pies. In fact, I would drag my head through broken glass to eat one of her pies.”
That caught my attention. When I saw Nancie at the last dinner of the conference, I cornered her. (I’d also googled her.) “Nancie McDermott! Why didn’t you tell me who you are? It’s such an honor to meet you.” (The woman has written 1o great cookbooks.) We started talking, right away, laughing. I love her. And immediately, we started talking about pie.
She laughed when I told her what Pableaux had said. And then she said, “You know, people get all fussy about pie. They don’t make pie because they’re afraid of the crust. Hell, just go buy some Pillsbury from the freezer aisle and fill it up. Make some pie for your family.”
I’ve been thinking about that conversation, and Nancie, ever since. It’s true. All us food bloggers and people on Twitter and the foodie culture we’ve developed in this country? We might be doing everyone else a dis-service. Yes, I love when food is so beautifully presented that I ooh and ahh. And I love the challenge of creating new baked goods. But really, I’m not sure great food always arrives as the new.
I learned how to make pie by making pie, again and again and again. There’s something funny inherent in the nature of a recipe. We make it once, and if it doesn’t work, we blame the recipe. (Even I do this.) Some recipes are bad. But maybe you just have to know that food in your hands before it comes out right. I’d be happy if I could just make a pie a week for the rest of my life. Every time I make a pie, I am more relaxed with the process, and the pie turns out better than the one before it.
So make a pie. You can buy the crust, if you want, or buy a mix, if you are new to gluten-free. This recipe I’m about to give you is the best pie recipe I’ve ever made, mostly because it is now so simple. And so good. Make a savory pie, a peach pie for your daddy, a strawberry pie for your daughter’s birthday, a cherry pie for the Fourth of July. Just make a pie.
I can’t imagine you’ll regret it.
And we want to hear about it.
p.s. A few pie recommendations for you:
We’re loving Nancie McDermott’s new book, Southern Pies: A Gracious Plenty of Pie Recipes, From Lemon Chess to Chocolate Pecan. Damson plum custard pie? Peach pecan pie? Old-fashioned chess pie? Yes, please!
Gina Hyams has put together a fabulous fun book/gift: Pie Contest in a Box: Everything You Need to Host a Pie Contest. There’s a great book inside, with recipes, pie history, and plenty of inspiration for gathering your friends together to see who can make the best pie. Plus, ribbons! And scorecards! This would be a great party.
Finally, Lu and I have been reading and reading and re-reading her favorite new book, Easy as Pie. Jacob loves pie so much he teaches himself how to make a peach pie for his parents’ anniversary. Trust me, if you bake with your kids, you’ll love this book.
Finally, this is my favorite pie plate of all time.
GLUTEN-FREE PIE DOUGH (AND IN THIS CASE, STRAWBERRY-CHERRY PIE)
This is a super-chatty recipe. Forgive the length, but I wanted to make it feel like I’m standing in the kitchen with you, showing you how to make this pie. You can do it. Read through, gather your ingredients, and then begin.
A happy baker makes a happy pie. Remember that. Don’t be afraid. What’s the worst that could happen? It’s pie.
For the dough
350 grams Aherns’ all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon kosher salt
230 grams (2 US sticks) unsalted butter
½ cup ice-cold water, plus a few splashes more
For the filling
1 pint strawberries (as red and juicy as you can find them)
1 pint cherries, pitted
1 teaspoon almond extract
½ cup sugar (or more, if you have a sweeter tooth)
70 grams (about ½ cup) all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon Saigon cinnamon (we’ve been loving this one from McCormick Gourmet)
1 large egg, beaten
Preparing to make the dough. Cut the butter into one-inch cubes. Put them in the freezer for 15 minutes.
Making the dough. Put the flour and salt into a large food processor. Pulse them together until the flour is fluffy and aerated.
Add the butter cubes. Pulse ten times. (Count loudly, and firmly: one! two! three! as though you are a toddler proud to know how to say these numbers.) At this point, the flour and butter should look like a sandy mixture, with the butter chunks still visible.
Pour in the ½ cup of ice-cold water. Pulse five times. Look at the dough. If it still looks a bit dry, add a splash more water, not exceeding another ¼ cup. The finished dough should like curds of dry cottage cheese. (See photograph above.) Stop adding water.
Forming the dough into a disk. Dump the dough onto a clean, cool surface. (We love our marble pastry board.) Gently gather all the dough together in your hands. Working quickly, take half the dough, make it into a ball, then flatten it into a plump disk, about 2 inches tall. Wrap it in plastic wrap and let it rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Do the same with the remaining dough.
(Now let’s be honest here. If you want, you could roll out the dough immediately. Sure, the dough is better when you let it rest, because the flours hydrate more fully. But if you’re in a rush, you can roll out the dough immediately, if you work quickly.)
Making the filling. Meanwhile, prepare the filling of your choice. In this case, we’re working with strawberries and cherries. Take the tops off the strawberries. If they are large, cut them into cherry-sized pieces. If they are small, throw the whole strawberry into the bowl. Pit the cherries and throw them into the bowl. Pour in the almond extract. Toss the fruit to coat it with the almond extract. Put the sugar, flour, and cinnamon on top of the fruit.
(Now again, let’s be honest. I never measure these. These measurements are a guess. You simply want enough sugar and flour to cover the top of the fruit, lightly.)
Toss the fruit with your hands so everything is evenly coated. Let the filling sit while you roll out the pie.
Rolling out the pie. Take the pie dough disks out of the refrigerator and let them sit out for 15 minutes or so, or until it has come to a chilly room temperature. (Think Seattle in June.) Preheat the oven to 425°.
You have your choice here: a floured countertop, a floured marble pastry board, or two pieces of parchment paper. Once you have made pie a few times, you’ll know which one works best for you.
(If you’re brand-new to this, try the parchment paper trick first.)
Gluten-free dough can be a bit stickier than gluten dough. This is just a fact. So, be sure to use plenty of gluten-free flour to flour the board. When I use two pieces of parchment paper, I lightly oil them, to try to prevent sticking. (And I mean lightly.)
So, using the method of your choice, roll out the dough. Pat down the disk and put the rolling pin on it. Now, imagine that the dough is the face of a clock. Roll out once at 12 o’clock. Then, lift the pin and roll at 12:10. Moving in “ten-minute” increments, roll out the pie dough to slightly larger than your pie pan. Be patient. Think of this as meditation. Roll out the dough evenly.
Now, if you have worked with the parchment paper, lift the top paper, put the pie pan on top of the dough, and flip it over. Carefully, strip away the parchment paper. Go slowly. Voila! Pat the dough down into the pan.
Now, if some of the pie dough has stuck onto the parchment, do not despair. Simply peel it off and pat into the rest of the pie dough. With a gluten dough, this might make a crust tough. Guess what here? No gluten! No problem. Pat away.
(If you have used the marble board or countertop, roll the dough onto your rolling pin and transfer to the pie pan. Again, if it sticks, no worries.)
Crimping the edges. Crimp the edges of the pie pan by working with floured fingers. I press from the inside of the pie pan with my thumb and first finger on the left hand, then press between those with the first finger of my right hand from the outside. (That’s a lot of words. Try to visualize it. This will make sense.) This is one of my favorite activities in the world. Go slowly and enjoy it.
Fill the pie with the filling. Pat it down.
Roll out the remaining dough the same way. Lay it onto the pie gently, like you’re putting a blanket on a sleeping child. And if the dough sticks and breaks, just pat the pieces together. (That’s what happened with both the finished pies you see here. They didn’t suffer.) Tuck the edges into the crust.
Baking the pie. Cut a few slits into the top crust. Brush the top crust with the beaten egg. Slide the pie pan into the oven. Bake for 15 minutes, then turn the temperature down to 375°. Bake until the juices are bubbling out of the pie, the crust is browned, and you hear a sizzle-whump when you put your ear to the baked pie, about 45 to 55 minutes. (That last part will tell you that the juices are boiling in the pie and are thoroughly cooked.)
And, you have pie.
You HAVE to let it cool for at least 2 hours before you cut it. I know. Hard. But you want happy pie, not sad pie. Wait.
Makes 1 pie.