Variations on a Pie

Pie baking, particularly making the crust, has such a bad reputation. Whenever I produce a pie for a get-together, someone always comments about how impressed they are and how difficult it must have been to make. I suppose it has to do with how temperamental crusts can be, depending on the heat and humidity of the day or perhaps people have such lofty Platonic ideals of pies in their minds, thanks to the tireless baking of a loving grandmother or mother. Me? No such psychological obstacles as the only pie I ever got from my grandmother (who incidentally baked an amazing pound cake) was cold leftover apple pie from McDonald’s. That’s not a complaint as I took it for what it was– a loving gesture to bridge the vast language and cultural divide between us. Of course, it might be easy for me to say this now after having spent an entire summer devoted to perfecting my apple pie making skills.

berriesReally, it only took 3 or 4 pies before I got the hang of making a basic pate brisee from the Joy of Cooking, and by hang of it, I mean knowing what to look for to make sure the fats are well distributed and the texture that indicates the right amount of water has been added. After that, pies became a pretty easy ground for improvising while baking and I mostly enjoy experimenting with different ideas for fillings.

Although baked about a month apart, I’m collapsing these two pies into one blog post as they are variations on this delicious peach and creme fraiche pie. Basically, you add fruit and creme fraiche, a little sugar, and a crumbly streusel topping in a par-baked pie shell. The creme fraiche mixes with the fruit juices and gets all custardy and the streusel is sweet and crunchy. It’s delicious, especially if you like your desserts not overly sweet.

marinatingberriesIn one version, I swapped out the creme fraiche for marscarpone cheese, and instead of peaches, I used plums. I also added hazelnuts and a dash of cinnamon to the streusel. I thought that the plums, marscarpone, and hazelnuts were a nice reference to Italian food for the grilled pizza party I hosted. The second variation was inspired by one of my favorite summer pie fillings: mixed berries, macerated in balsamic vinegar and brown sugar. I just thought that tart-sweet, gooey sauce that develops in that pie filling would be lovely with the slightly sour creme fraiche. I also added a handful of chopped Marcona almonds to the streusel and a dash of almond extract.

Unfortunately, I was having pie crust issues on the day I made the first pie(not enough scraps to make a full crust so when I par-baked, it kept sliding down and was more a flat disk than shell) so I had to resort to, gulp, frozen dough. That crust was a bit too crunchy when baked for my liking, and the plums were overripe so there wasn’t much of a fruit flavor to that pie. The second one was marvelous, but I might be biased since I made my own creme fraiche for that pie so the effort felt extra special!


For plum version (pictured above):

  • 4-5 plums, sliced
  • 5-6 tbsp marscarpone cheese
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • pinch of salt (one for filling, one for streusel)
  • 1/4 cup cold, unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup hazelnuts, chopped
  • 3 tbsp brown sugar
  • 6 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon

For mixed berry version:

  • 4-5 cups mixed berries (I used raspberries and blackberries from the farmer’s market)
  • 5-6 tbsp creme fraiche
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • pinch of salt (one for filling, one for streusel)
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup Marcona almonds, chopped
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 6 tbsp flour
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract

Follow directions for making pie dough (I use a food processor for quicker mixing.) After dough has rested according to directions, roll out half the dough to 14 inches in diameter and lay out over a pie plate. Trim the edges so that there is 1/2 inch overhang, roll under, and flute or crimp if you’re into that. Prick the bottom of the pie shell with a fork until it’s covered with little fork holes. Freeze for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lay a piece of foil over the pie shell and weigh down with pie weights, dry beans, or uncooked rice. Bake for 10-15 minutes. Lower the temperature to 375, remove the foil and weights, and bake for another 5-8 minutes or until golden brown, being sure to push down any bubbles with the back of a spoon. Let cool on a rack while you make your streusel topping and filling.

Mix together filling ingredients (everything above butter in the ingredients lists above EXCEPT the marscarpone or the creme fraiche) and let sit for 15 minutes. To make streusel, cut the cold butter into cubes and combine with rest of ingredients (everything below butter in ingredients list, plus a pinch of salt) in a small bowl. Use your fingers to smoosh together until you get a crumbly mixture. Set aside while you make the filling.

In the cooled pie shell, add the fruit filling and then dollop the marscapone or the creme fraiche on top. Crumble the streusel filling on top of that then bake at 375 degrees for 50 minutes. This pie tasted best when cold, so be sure to at least let it cool to room temperature before diving in or refrigerating if you can wait longer.


3 thoughts on “Variations on a Pie

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