What can be better than creating a luscious, sweet dish with basic staples and produce that you already have? Everyone is happy, and no one needs to drop their money at an expensive bakery!
I prepare any one of these desserts whenever I have fruit in the house that is on its way out. I make pies when I have a little more time and/or a little more butter in my fridge. Cobblers are my go-to when I want to make something as decadent as a pie, but in a quicker amount of time, and when I have some extra milk or cream. And crisps are my sweet of choice when I want to make something homey and low-fuss.
Step 1: Dough
When making a pie, prepare the dough for the crust first because the dough is easier to work with after a little time in the fridge. The simplest pie dough recipe I've found is from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything:
- 1 & 1/8 cup all purpose flour, plus some for dusting the work surface
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold, unsalted butter, cut into about 8 pieces
- about 3 tablespoons ice water, plus more if necessary
Combine dry ingredients in either a large bowl, or in a food processor, pulsing once or twice. Add the butter. If mixing by hand, pinch the butter into the flour mixture using your fingertips, moving quickly. You can also use two butter knives to cut the butter into the dough. If using a food processor, simply add the butter in and pulse. In all methods, combine until the mixture resembles cornmeal. If it isn't already in one, turn the mixture into a large bowl. Sprinkle the 3 tablespoons of water over the flour-butter mixture. Use a wooden spoon or spatula to gather up the mixture into a ball. If the mixture seems too dry, add another 1/2 tablespoon of water. Make the mixture into a ball with your hands, wrap it in plastic, and flatten it into a disk. Put in the refrigerator for half an hour, or the freezer for 10 minutes to make it easier to roll out.
Step 2: Fruit
When preparing the filling, I simply start by cutting up a bunch of fruit. I often mix different kinds of fruit together. I tend to chop juicier fruit, like nectarines, into large chunks, and fruit that is a bit drier, like apples, into thin slices. I just halve or quarter small fruits like cherries and strawberries. After slicing the fruit, put it in a medium to large bowl. Add in a little corn starch or flour, just a tablespoon or two, as a thickener, and a few shakes of sugar. I start small with the sugar, because the fruit usually doesn't need a whole lot of extra sweetening. Sometimes I also add in a few shakes of cinnamon and/or a dash of vanilla. Almond extract or a little squeeze of lemon can be good too for a bit of added flavor, depending on the fruit that you're using. The idea to keep in mind is to season and sweeten the fruit lightly, in order to really allow the fruit itself to shine as the main star of the show.
Step 3: Dough + Fruit
While the dough is in the fridge, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. When the dough is ready, roll it out, put it in a pie pan, and add in the fruit. It is often recommended in recipes to pre-bake the pie crust before adding in the fruit, but honestly, I usually skip this step in an effort towards keeping homemade pie a realistic and regular part of my cooking repertoire. I'd rather wing it a little bit than feel like I don't have the time and wherewithal to follow every step religiously. This system has been working out for me, producing very lovely, very homemade pies.
I like to put a few pats of butter on top of the fruit mixture for a little added richness. If I have extra dough, I'll make a lattice topping. I like to brush the lattice with a little milk and throw on a sprinkle of sugar. Cover the exposed dough with foil, so it doesn't burn. Place the pie pan on top of a cookie sheet to catch any fruit juice that might drip during cooking, and then put this baby in the oven. Check in on it after about half an hour. Remove the foil, and let it cook for another 10 minutes or so. When the fruit is bubbling, and the crust is golden, your pie is ready to come out of the oven. Let it sit for an hour if possible, so it can cool down and firm up before slicing.
Homemade, delicious, and easy as pie!
Recipe © 1998 by Mark Bittman.