11 Little Tweaks to Give Your Next Pie Big Flavor

July 20, 2017

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?

These dreamy pies are hiding a couple secrets. Photo by Julia Gartland

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.

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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.)

Chocolate Espresso Pecan Pie

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H a p p y F r i d a y 🙋 Wishing you all a lovely weekend.

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Have you lost it now, too?

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Top Comment:
“I am baking a peach and cherry pie this morning and now I do believe I shall add some lemon balm. I was pondering almond but I have done that before. Hmmm ... maybe basil too?. Yes, basil.”
— aargersi

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!

Start here: These two pies—Peach, Cherry, and Mint and Blueberry Lemon Poppyseed—both have hidden secrets that call to me in a lineup (no intricate lattice-work necessary).

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.

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.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • gwyn
  • Winness
  • Joy Huang | The Cooking of Joy
    Joy Huang | The Cooking of Joy
  • Cassandra Brecht
    Cassandra Brecht
  • aargersi
I used to work at Food52. I'm probably the person who picked all of the cookie dough out of the cookie dough ice cream.


gwyn July 23, 2017
Dang, i really want to make the Julie Jones pie pictured above. Sorry to be grumpy, but why show a photo and not include the recipe?
Winness July 23, 2017
When I make deep dish blueberry pie, I add a pinch (1/8 tsp.) of ground cloves. No one can identify that "something different" element but not a crumb is left. I am a big fan of cardamom and always add a pinch or two to whatever I'm baking. Thanks for all the new ideas!
Paula July 23, 2017
I've been wanting to use cloves in a cherry pie. I think they would go well together.
Winness July 23, 2017
Less is more, Paula. I think it would be a fabulous combination. Start with a pinch and go from there. Good luck!
Joy H. July 22, 2017
I once made a butter and bacon fat pie crust to accompany an apple pie, and it was out-of-this-world amazing! http://the-cooking-of-joy.blogspot.com/2017/02/quintessential-apple-pie-with-bacon-fat.html
Cassandra B. July 21, 2017
Fantastic ideas, all. I will definitely be trying that browned butter idea, as well as rubbing sugar with citrus zest!
Paula July 23, 2017
I'm seeing this zested sugar concept in a lot of recipes these days, and I don't understand it. Why do we need the extra step? Since they all go in and get mixed up together, what difference does it make if the zest goes into the sugar separately?
aargersi July 21, 2017
Perfect Timiing Miss Jampel! I am baking a peach and cherry pie this morning and now I do believe I shall add some lemon balm. I was pondering almond but I have done that before. Hmmm ... maybe basil too?. Yes, basil.
judy July 21, 2017
well, I happen to have peaches and cherries right now. I like the idea of mint-but hubbie doesn't like mint. I think I'll try the almond extract idea, though. I never make pie crust. have tried all the ideas here over the years (except almond paste) to no avail alas. So now I stick with cobblers, slumps, buckles, crisps and grunts. I toss my fruits with flour, a bit of sugar and whatever flavor tickles my fancy. Last time I used cardamom in my peach grunt. I like them to be a little runny to moisten the delicious topping I have concocted to compliment the fruit. Grunts are especially nice--all cook up in one pan on top of the stove........But this article gave me some new flavor combinations to try. Thanks
Sarah J. July 21, 2017
Cardamom and peach sounds like a great combination—thanks for the idea!!
BakerRB July 21, 2017
I ran across a lemon-pecan pie recipe a few years ago and love it. I'm going to try the fruit-mint pie in the article this weekend. Love that idea.
AntoniaJames July 20, 2017
Nut crescent crust. Press it in (no chilling, no rolling, perfect for beach or lake house baking). Good for tarts with fruit laid simply on and sprinkled with a touch of sugar, gussied up or not, or for pies. Pecans give it a great flavor: https://food52.com/recipes/30140-ricotta-custard-blueberry-tart-with-nut-crescent-crust
Also, about that boiling down of the extra juices: take a page out of pie-Ninja Stella Parks' book and skip that step, using her foolproof ratios, based on weight, of course, to calculate the perfect amounts of sugar and thickener: http://www.seriouseats.com/2016/06/how-to-make-the-ultimate-cherry-pie.html A clever, useful "not recipe" every baker of fruit pies should commit to memory. ;o)
ChefJune July 20, 2017
Holy Moley, Sarah. You should make this a printable page. Somehow I don't think I'm the only one who'd like to hang this on my kitchen wall.
ChefJune July 20, 2017
BTW, have you tried this one? https://food52.com/recipes/30039-blueberry-tart-in-lemon-shortbread-pastry
Allison July 20, 2017
I love these delicious suggestions! Instead of "Sprinkle a layer of cooking crumbs" I think you mean "cookie crumbs." ;) Thanks for the tips.
Kerry July 20, 2017
The chocolate espresso pecan pie sounds incredible. My go-to pecan pie recipe is Deep Dish Porter Pecan Pie from The Beeroness which is just the right amount of different to be enjoyed by everyone.

ChefJune July 20, 2017
...except for someone who is allergic to beer. :(