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We're getting to that point in the summer where—knock on wood—you may have eaten your fair share of berries and stone fruit. You may have found your pie dough groove. You may have had—I hope you've had!—at least one slice of damn fine cherry pie.
Let's say you are feeling accomplished and satisfied and ready to tip-toe to the next pie level. How should you begin?
One thing I've found when seeking inspiration from pie shops and bakers—be it in over the web or, if I'm lucky, in person—is that I'm most attracted to the pies that are just slightly little out-of-the-ordinary when it comes to flavor.
A pie with an unadulterated fruit filling and an immaculate all-butter dough is classic—and, when all goes well, spectacular!—but it's the pie with the rye crust, or a dash of balsamic mixed with the strawberries, or the caramel coating the apple pieces, or wisps of lemon puckering the blueberries, or espresso powder that deepens the chocolate—that makes me absolutely lose it. (See below for evidence.)
Have you lost it now, too?
Just as there's a time for the purist's brownies and a time for the hedonist's brownies, there's a time for straight-shooting pie and a time for pie that's, you know, showing off a bit. The time is now!
- 1 batch of your favorite pie dough (enough for a double-crust pie)
- 5 to 6 small/medium ripe peaches (about 1 1/2 pounds)
- 1 pint sweet cherries
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 sprigs fresh mint (you'll need a generous handful of leaves)
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1/2 lemon, zested
- 1 splash lemon juice
- 1 fat pinches kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon cream beaten with 1 egg
- Turbinado sugar and flaky salt, for sprinkling
First up is the Peach, Cherry, and Mint Pie. By processing fresh mint with the sugar before tossing it with the fruit, you can permeate the whole filling with a fresh, herbal flavor that won't feel as if you've jammed your nose in an herb bouquet.
Because peaches and cherries can be especially juicy when they're ripe, you'll want to collect the sugary run-off and boil it down. When you fold that reduction back into the prepared fruit, you'll sidestep the risk of a runny filling while adding intense flavor to your pie.
For the streusel:
- 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 pinch salt
- 1/4 cup poppy seeds
- Zest of 1/2 lemon
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter, cold and cut into pieces
For the pie:
- One 9-inch pie crust
- Poppy seeds for scattering over dough (optional)
- 4 cups (about 2 pints) fresh blueberries
- 2 to 4 tablespoons granulated sugar, to taste
- 1 pinch salt
- 2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 5 tablespoons crème fraîche, divided
- Zest of 1/2 lemon
- Whipped cream and lemon zest, for garnish (optional)
Next is the Blueberry Lemon Poppyseed, which is creamier, crunchier, and zingier than most blueberry pies get. The cream comes from crème fraîche, which is spread over the bottom of the par-baked dough and dotted across the top of the pie; as the pie bakes, it will bubble into a tangy, light custard.
The crunch comes from a poppy seed streusel that's scattered above and below the blueberry filling (if you'd like, you can add a scattering of poppy seeds to the dough itself, too). And the zing comes from a generous amount of lemon zest in the filling and as garnish.
Ready to run? Here are a few more ideas for taking your pie game to the next level:
- Add fresh herbs. Chop them up and mix them with the fruit; pulse them into the sugar; or take a tip from our community members: vvvanessa sweetens her White Peach Galette with lemon thyme-infused honey, and Elizabeth Stark drizzles tarragon-scented butter over her peach pie filling.
- Incorporate the seeds of a vanilla bean (or use vanilla-scented sugar). You can also try rubbing citrus zest—lemon, orange, lime, even grapefruit—into your sugar before mixing it with the fruit.
- And don't forget about another powerful baking tool: extracts. For a concentrated flavor, add a drop (go slowly) of lemon, peppermint, or almond extract (the latter of which is especially good with cherries).
- Press a rolled-out circle of almond paste into the bottom crust before filling and baking. It will turn silky in the oven and absorb any of the fruit's juicy mess.
- For another layer of toasty richness, brown a few tablespoons of butter before mixing it into the filling.
- Sprinkle a layer of cookie crumbs over the dough before piling in the fruit. Not only will the crumbs sop up any excess sogginess, but they'll also provide another chance to for play with texture and flavor. (Please take these last two tips, go into the world, and make a peach pie with brown butter and a layer of graham cracker crumbs. I beg you!)
- Alternatively, roll out your entire dough in cookie (or, heck, pretzel) crumbs. You can also add small seeds—like poppy, sesame (white or black), even flax!—to your dough, pressing them in gently as you roll.
- Skip the top crust and make any type of streusel your heart fancies: There's no need to be limited by a recipe when you follow this handy schematic. Any leftover streusel will keep for months in your freezer—and you can use it to top the crumbles, crisps, cobblers, and scoops of ice cream your future holds.
- And use that streusel not just to crown the pie, but also to line the bottom of the dough, too (just as you'd apply those cookie crumbs).
- Fold in fruit caramel for a concentrated, ultra-intense fruit flavor. In Erin McDowell's Cider Caramel Apple Pie, she makes caramel by reducing apple cider, then enriching it with butter—and you can use other fruit juices as your base. Mix together your filling, collect the juices (peach juice, plum juice, you name it), then transfer it into a small pan and cook until reduced, adding butter or cream towards the end of the process if you'd like something richer. This process, which Rose Levy Beranbaum pioneered in The Pastry Bible, will concentrate the juice's flavor and—added bonus—reduce the likelihood of a soggy filling without the addition of thickeners.
- Try adding cheese to your apple pie, either in the dough or in the filling (or both). It's a tradition that has "silently polarized the nation"—but you should decide for yourself.
How do you take pies from good to top-of-the-line, from B+ to A+? Tell us in the comments below.