There are a million reasons to love a pithivier, especially as we near the holidays. This dessert can be insanely easy to make if you’re avoiding any dough DIY-ing. Just grab a high-end puff pastry from the freezer section (Dufour is my favorite). Your local bakery might even sell sheets of puff pastry around the holidays! That said, you can also make your own puff pastry for that extra special touch. Either way, this filling is simple and quick, but packs a ton of flavor, a nice balance of sweet and tangy. The real wow effect comes from a few finishing techniques, which are simple to pull off and can be tweaked to suit your baking whims. This particular baked good makes a great substitute or compliment to pie on your Thanksgiving dessert table, but is also excellent on its own as a holiday breakfast.
OK, What Is a Pithivier?
A pithivier is a freeform, double-crusted puff pastry pie. Its filling can be either sweet or savory, and it can be shaped as a full-size dessert or as small, individual portions. Traditionally, a sweet pithivier has an almond filling—but really, anything goes. It is important to note that fillings shouldn’t be high in moisture. When the pastry absorbs a lot of moisture in the early stages of baking, it creates a less crisp, slightly spongy interior. But if the filling isn’t too wet, the pastry will rise to be nice, light, and airy, with a crispy, golden brown exterior. Pithiviers are traditionally decorated with a series of score marks that are applied with a sharp paring knife. While this is totally optional and makes the pithivier no more delicious, it does create a beautiful effect—and with minimal effort. If your filling requires heating, it should be fully cooled before you begin to assemble the pithivier.
Shaping the Pithivier
Whether you’re using homemade puff pastry dough or thawed frozen dough, it will need to be rolled out. You’ll need two sheets of puff pastry—one for the base and one for the top. Yes, store-bought dough arrives in sheets, but rolling it out gets rid of any indentations from packaging and makes the puff a little thinner, which will lead to a crispier pithivier later. Roll out each piece of the dough on a lightly floured surface to about 1/4-inch thick.
Cut each piece into a 9-inch circle. You can use a plate or a cake pan as a guide, or you can just freehand it—a wonky pithivier is still a delicious pithivier. Gently transfer one circle to a parchment lined baking sheet.
Spoon the filling into the center of the dough, then spread into an even layer, leaving one inch of dough exposed on the sides all the way around. Lightly brush the exposed dough with water.
Gently transfer the remaining circle of dough on top of the filling—the sides should match up pretty neatly—and press with your fingers to seal it up.
Use a fork with floured tines to crimp the edges, and press (firmly!) to seal the two pieces of dough together.
Finishing and Scoring
The pithivier gets its signature look from decorative scoring on the surface of the top piece of pastry, achieved by lightly cutting designs into the surface of the dough. The cuts only just pierce the surface of the dough, and the designs can really be anything—a series of lines or spirals, or whatever you like. Another thing to factor in is the egg wash. It’s great to egg wash a pithivier to get it super golden brown in the oven. If you egg wash the pastry before you score it, the score marks will be more vivid; they’ll be a lighter color than the rest of the golden dough, and really stand out. If you egg wash the pastry after you score it, the markings will be more subtle, more like a pattern in the dough rather than a series of scores. Both look great, so it’s really just about what look you’re going for.
I like to create a sort of herringbone pattern on mine: I draw a series of vertical lines about 1 1/2 inches apart (I’m careful, but I don’t measure!). Then I draw short, diagonal lines in between the vertical lines in opposite directions, so they meet and make a chevron-ish shape. I go back and forth with the pre- or post- egg washing; this cranberry pithivier seemed dressier because it's so the holiday-ready, so I egg washed it before I scored it to create a stronger look.
Underbaking is the real enemy of a pithivier. An underbaked pithivier will be soggy and soft, while a properly baked pithivier will be crispy and flaky! A high temperature is also important to achieve the ideal browning of the crust. I bake my pithivier at 400° F for 30-35 minutes. The pithivier should be very (and evenly!) golden brown; it's better to err on the side of dark than it is to pull it from the oven too soon. Remember, very brown = very crisp and flaky!
It’s best to let the pithivier cool a bit before slicing and serving. Cooling allows the filling to set, but also allows the pastry to firm up. The filling will release steam as the pithivier cools, allowing the pastry to be at it’s crispest once it’s had a few minutes of cooling time. I say 20 minutes minimum, but you can also let it cool completely before serving.
- 1/3 cup (38 g) sweetened dried cranberries
- zest and juice of 1 orange
- 2 tablespoons (28 g) bourbon
- 1/2 vanilla bean, scraped
- 12 ounces (340 g) fresh or frozen cranberries (thawed if frozen)
- 1/2 cup (106 g) light brown sugar
- 1 1/2 tablespoons (11g) cornstarch
- 1/4 teaspoon (1 g) fine sea salt
- 14 ounces homemade or (2 sheets) frozen puff pastry (preferably DuFour brand + thawed if frozen)
- egg wash, as needed for finishing