There’s a reason, I think, that the expression is “a piece of cake”, not “a piece of pie”. Cake, while possible to complicate, is not by its nature complicated. There are 5 ingredient cakes, 1 bowl cakes, cakes whose recipes are easy to memorize and even easier to complete. Pie, with the complications of chilling and rolling and cubing and blind baking, can’t touch cake for convenience.
That doesn’t mean that pie can’t be simple. It just means you have to pay a bit of attention. I will happily make a pie over a cake any day, and only part of that is because pie is so much tastier than cake. Pie has an advantage over cake that it’s broken into discreet steps. Pie is one of those glorious treats that’s somehow acceptable for dessert and breakfast. And pie is never the wrong thing to bring when eating with people, no matter if the occasion is a casual cookout or a formal sit down dinner. It is both homey and fussworthy, which is a good thing to aspire to.
I used to think there was one standard pie crust recipe for every occasion. My standard is all butter and cut by hand. But I’ve been exposed to enough pie now to know that’s not true. There’s the shortening pie crust my mom swears by because she says it’s less fussy than butter. There was the pies made with vodka for tenderness by a college roommate. There was the lard crust that didn’t need to be chilled at a restaurant I worked at. And that was all before I had ever encountered the pie crust made in the food processor.
This crust throws a wrench into everything I thought I knew about pie crust. You start with a borderline obscene amount of fat (I used all butter), and use an electric mixer to blend it with cream, then slowly add in the dry ingredients. When rolling the crust out, you roll, then fold and roll again to make layers. What you have in the end is a beautiful crust that’s both tender and sturdy. There are layers of butter distributed in the crust that make it light, but it won’t break or flake apart as you try to eat it.
If you are a novice to pie-making this is the pie you should make. The crust is forgiving. Making a pie may seem like a big time commitment, and it relies on a bit of planning, but there are discreet steps that make it easy to start and stop as needed. If you are not a novice to pie-making this is a pie you should make. The nectarines are juicy and have a sophisticated, dark sweetness after their turn in the oven, and the filling could be easily adapted as you desire.
Either way, it’s a piece of pie.
adapted from The Perfect Finish by Bill Yosses and Melissa Clark
Yosses’ original recipe for this crust calls for 20 tablespoons of butter, 7 tablespoons of lard, and 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour. I’d encourage you to play around with the fats and flours that you want to use. The technique should remain the same, whatever you use.
27 tablespoons (13.5 ounces, or 3 and 3/8 sticks) of cold unsalted butter, cubed
7 tablespoons heavy cream
1 3/4 cups (225 grams) whole wheat pastry flour
1 1/2 cups (220 grams) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
8 nectarines, pitted and cut into 1 inch chunks
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
pinch of salt
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 tablespoon brandy (I used cherry brandy, but any brandy would be good)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg, beaten, for brushing
Demerara (or other) sugar for sprinkling
To make the crust add the butter and the cream into a large bowl and use an electric mixer to beat until smooth. The butter shouldn’t be creamed, and it may not emulsify with the cream, but it should be a smooth mass. In another bowl combine the whole wheat pastry flour, the all-purpose flour, the sugar, and the salt. Add a third of the dry mixture and continue to beat until the mixture comes together like a wet dough. Add the remaining two-thirds of the dry mixture and beat until the whole thing barely comes together and resembles a shaggy dough. Turn the dough out onto a clean surface and knead it all together until it’s in one mass. Divide the dough into two balls, wrap both balls in plastic wrap, and flatten into disks. Chill in the refrigerator for at least two hours.
Once the dough is sufficiently chilled remove it from the fridge, one disk at a time. Generously flour a clean surface. Roll the dough into a 12 inch square. Fold into quarters, and re-roll the dough. You want it just under a quarter inch thick. Be sure to be gentle, to use a good amount of flour, and to avoid tears. If you tear the dough attempt to patch it up by taking a piece on the end and molding it into the tear. If you can’t patch it up fold the dough again, use more flour, and roll again. Transfer your first piece of dough into a 9-inch pie pan. Pat into the pan and trim the edges so the dough extends only as far as the pie rim. Place the pie pan into the freezer. Repeat with the second piece of dough, but transfer onto a sheet tray. Place the sheet tray in the freezer. Let them chill out for at least an hour.
When you’re ready to start baking the pie preheat the oven to 425. Remove the frozen pie pan from the freezer, and line with aluminum foil. Fill the aluminum foil with dried beans or rice. Bake for 30 minutes. Allow to cool completely before removing the aluminum foil.
While the pie crust is cooling start the filling. In a medium bowl toss the nectarines with the two sugars and the salt. Mix gently and let sit for 30 minutes. After thirty minutes have elapsed add in the cornstarch, brandy, and vanilla, and mix well.
Preheat the oven to 350. Fill the cool pie shell with the nectarines. Remove the sheet tray of frozen dough from the freezer. Brush the edges of the pie with the beaten egg using a pastry brush. Place over the filled pie, and cut off the edges that hang over the pie pan. Use your fingers to crimp the edges. Using a knife, cut vents for steam. Brush the whole thing with egg, and sprinkle with demerara sugar.
Place on a sheet tray (I used the same one that the dough had been frozen on) and bake for an hour, until the crust is golden and the juices of the pie are thick and bubbly. Let cool. Eat at room temperature.