Have you noticed I almost never do pie recipes? Do you know why? Pie fear; it’s as simple as that. I’m forever afraid of a flimsy, uncooked pie crust (or worse, a burned one), a soggy center, undercooked fruit, too much thickener, and so on. And I love a good pie. It’s a silly thing to be afraid of, so I thought I would work out my fears here for a little bit. Smart, considering it’s the end of summer, and I missed almost all opportunities in the summer fruit department.
Except, perhaps for this one: consider it my farewell to summer/transition to fall pie, because it uses some of my favorite mid- and late-summer fruits and pairs them with a hint of spice befitting of autumn’s fast approach.
I’ve made it clear that nectarines are one of my favorite fruits of the year; if I could magically turn my sweet nectarines into something you could buy year-round, I would. I’m almost as big a fan of ripe plums and the innumerable colors they come in. Their days are numbered right now, but we still have them here by the bushel.
I came across a recipe from Cook’s Illustrated recently about how to accomplish a good cherry pie using sweet Bing cherries and pureed plums. Plums add a tartness that you can’t accomplish with sweet cherries alone, and with fresh tart cherries so difficult to come by, it seemed like a sound idea. I almost made their version, except for one thing.
I am not going to pit 6 cups of cherries. Not this girl. Not anytime soon.
Nectarines are so sweet, so instead I thought I’d apply the tart/sweet concept to them instead. I love a straightforward peach cobbler or pie, but the plums in this really do add quite a magical little zing inside; tart but not overly sour. It’s a big hit of flavor, and I spiced it with a little cinnamon and ginger; just enough to amp up the tart notes a little more. Don’t get me wrong, it’s as sweet as a summer pie should be, but it’s not the jammy pie that leaves you feeling like you maybe ate too much. There’s not much sugar in this one, and the fruit gets soft but never quite falls apart, making it feel very fresh and not heavy.
One of the highlights is the crust; it’s the one thing I did carry over from the original Cook’s Illustrated recipe which inspired this. It’s a vodka crust, which – if you’ve never made one – makes one of the most pliable pie doughs you’ll ever work with. It’s simple to put together, rolls out with little to no effort, and really holds its shape. I even managed to basket-weave the top; a testament to how user-friendly it is. It’s flaky and bakes up perfectly golden with no wet spots or burned bits; I’ve actually never had a crust come out so evenly before. It’s light and flaky, but sturdy, and the alcohol cooks out, so there’s zero flavor addition; it’s all textural benefit. This crust won my heart, and it will be one of the ones I use over and over again.
By the way, did you happen to see how nice that photo of the pie and pie slice came out up there? I took a photography class at the food media conference I was at a few weeks ago (which we will discuss more in-depth coming up), but they two superb photographers who taught the class used lots of different things to bounce light, none of them expensive. One of their suggestions? White foam core. I have such foam core, but can’t ever seem to angle it correctly. Miss Movita Beaucoup suggested maybe I have people hold them for me; an excellent suggestion, but I’m here most of the time by myself with one other person. Who has hands.
Problem = solved. Is that not some excellent white board holding by the Wee One? That’s the eye of the tiger you see right there. Focus is this girl’s jam; she wants to get it right all the time, every time. Love that kid.
So there you have it: foolproof, end-of-summer pie. Pretty perfect for these last weeks of swimming and cookouts, or these first weeks getting kids off to school and getting back into a routine. Maybe summer doesn’t have to go so soon.
Crust adapted from this recipe from Cook’s Illustrated. The filling is more or less born from the idea of pairing two fruits together (as CI did with sweet cherries and plums); one for sweet, one to tart it up a bit.
Spiced Nectarine + Red Plum Pie with a Vodka Crust*
for the crust:
- 2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, divided (plus more for work surface)
- 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes
- 1/2 cup vegetable shortening, cold, cut into four pieces
- 1/4 cup vodka, chilled
- 1-2 tablespoons ice water
for the filling:
- 1 1/2 pounds fresh nectarines (3-4), peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
- 1 pound fresh red plums (3 medium), cut into 1/2 inch cubes**
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 3 tablespoons instant tapioca
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
for the egg wash:
- 1 egg
- 1 small pinch kosher salt
- sanding sugar for sprinkling over crust
*I use my beloved Emile Henry deep dish ruffled pie pan for this, which is probably your best bet, if you have one. If you do not have one of these, or a deep dish pie pan of any sort, don’t fret: go right ahead and use a regular pie pan, but you may want to cut down on the filling just a little bit and watch for bubbling over towards the end.
**You’ll notice I didn’t say to peel the plums: this isn’t a mistake. I think it’s unnecessary, and I think it’s a nice way to keep the fruit together, and also a lovely way to give your pie those beautiful bursts of peach, pink, orange, and red. You won’t even notice the skin is on these when you eat it, I promise.
and a general side note: this pie dough seems to make more than what is necessary for a double-crust pie; a small miracle for me, as I tend to always need more dough than what a recipe calls for. if you find yourself in excess, use the scraps for decoration, or simply cut them out in shapes, brush with butter, and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Insta-treat.
Make the crust:
In the bowl of a food processor, add the flour, salt, and sugar; pulse a few times until blended. add the (cold!) butter cubes and (equally cold!) shortening pieces, pulsing mixture together until the dough begins to form coarse crumbs; no dry flour should remain. Pour in the vodka and pulse until the dough begins to form into a ball; add the cold water, 1 tablespoon at a time, as needed until dough forms a smooth ball. Remove from the food processor and divide into two equal sections. Form each into a disk, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight until firm.
Make the filling:
In a large bowl, toss the chopped nectarines and plums together with the sugar, tapioca, salt, cinnamon, and ginger. Set aside until your crust is ready for action.
Assemble, chill + bake:
Remove 1 disk of the dough from the refrigerator and roll out on a lightly floured surface to fit your pie pan. Transfer to the pan and trim the edges as you see fit. Pour your pie filling into the center of the pie crust, and gently spread out towards the sides. Top as you see fit, but I like the basket weave for this, as you get to see the fruit. If you’ve never done it, basket weaves are easy; just pay attention to what you’re doing and don’t overthink it. Thankfully, this crust is so easy to work with that even if you do mess up, you can fix your mistake without anyone being the wiser. When you’re finished, place your pie in the refrigerator to chill for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 400˚F. Place your racks in the lower third of the oven, and put a sheet pan in the oven as it’s preheating; you’ll be placing your pie on this.
Remove the chilled pie from the refrigerator. Whisk together the egg and salt until blended, then use a pastry brush to brush over the top crust of the pie. Sprinkle with sanding sugar and place in the oven, directly on the heated half sheet pan.
Bake at 400˚F for 25 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350˚F and continue to bake for another 20-30 minutes, until the filling is hot and bubbly and the crust has browned to a deep golden color, 45-55 minutes total time. Remove from the oven and place on a rack to cool and set the filling, at least 2 hours. Be prepared to slap hands and listen to endless comments about how “some of that pie would be really good with my coffee right now” until it has properly cooled.