spiced nectarine + red plum pie with a vodka crust.

spiced peach + red plum pie with a vodka crust.

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.

spiced peach + red plum pie with a vodka crust.

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.

spiced peach + red plum pie with a vodka crust.

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.

spiced peach + red plum pie with a vodka crust.

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.

spiced peach + red plum pie with a vodka crust.

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.

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25 Comments on "spiced nectarine + red plum pie with a vodka crust."

  1. I’m so glad you’re back, Shannon. I missed you so much!
    I hope you won’t stop being my friend for admitting this, but…I don’t like pie :( Mainly I think it’s the crust. It always leaves my mouth with this weird aftertaste and greasy feeling. Now give me a crumble and I’m all for it. That being said, the guts of this pie sounds really really yummy and I think i would eat them alone with some vanilla ice cream :)
    P.S. I don’t know why you were scared of making a pie…yours came out beautifully!! And it doesn’t look watery at all, like pies tend to be.
    P.P.S. cutest white board holder EVER.

  2. shannon says:

    Amy, i love you; that’s never going to change. :) do you think the weird aftertaste/greasy feeling is the butter sometimes used to top pies? i’ve had that happen to me, and you’ll notice this pie is topped with zero butter pats. This crust is WAY less greasy than others i’ve made, so i wonder if the vodka does something magical there? I’ll say this: you could easily turn this into a crumble with excellent results, so go for it, girl.
    I’m scared because i’ve screwed up pies in the past; not all of them, but enough to not have a comfortable success-versus-failure rate. :) These Emile Henry pie plates though? worth every penny; i think it helped with my overall success. the hot sheet pan underneath probably helps a bit too, so that’s going to be my new technique in the future.
    Totally cute white board holder. she helps with house projects too, in case you need us to fly up there. ;) She is ALL IN for construction.

  3. Ashley says:

    Another APT kitchen victory, conquering fears like it ain’t no thang! Inspiring, as always. And full of great ideas, like the tart/sweet combo for a pie filling. I want to try it so much! I’ve been craving some roasted/baked fruit and this looks exactly like what I want!

    Oh – idea! For an apple pie, use apple brandy or bourbon instead of vodka? Maybe add a tiny hint of flavor (spice and apples) to the dough? I like to add a glug (or six) to my apple pie filling, but I’m intrigued about the possibility of adding it to a crust…

    In the event your photographer’s assistant goes on strike (perhaps holding out for higher wages, like a freshly baked treat? I’d do that…), what about using an L-bracket from a hardware store? You could tape it onto the foam board or something and it’d hold the board up decently well (as long as you’re not in a wind storm).

    • shannon says:

      Look at you, having ideas all over the place! that’s a fantastic idea for apple pie…layering flavors is always a fun thing to do, and i wonder if it would keep its flavor in the baked crust? One of us will have to test this theory of yours. It could extend to other liquors as well…hmmmm….interesting. now you have me thinking.

      L-brackets are a great idea! I took a fabulous photography session at the conference i was just at, and they had some neat tricks for propping things up. I like your idea; that would completely work. I also need to get some of those big like, industrial clippy things (sometimes you see them used when brides are trying on dresses which are too big for them, yes?) to clip the boards to things so they can be airborne and angled a bit. i just need to brainstorm some easy diy tools and go from there. my goal before the winter/bad lighting hits is to have a proper setup to use so my photos aren’t all blue this year. :)

  4. I can’t tell you how much I missed your posts. This pie. This pie! It sounds absolutely gorgeous. You have a Dorie Greenspan way about you – what with the perfectly descriptive recipes and all. Being a Dorie Greenspan is about as good as it gets in my books.

    Also, despite making 4.5 million pies at school? I still fear them. I’ve decided it’s like performing on stage: if you aren’t nervous, it means you don’t care enough.

    I’m so glad you’ve put the Wee One to work. I mean, why have a kid lounging around the place? PUT HER TO WORK!

    • shannon says:

      You just said i have a Dorie Greenspan way about me, and now i can’t see the computer screen because my EYES ARE WELLING UP WITH HAPPY TEARS OF JOY. *breathe*

      That’s extremely comforting to know you still fear pies after making what amounts to an entire small countries’ pie population this year. i agree: nervousness only happens when you care enough about the final product to make yourself absolutely terrified over it. yay for perfectionism and obsessive baking! I love us together.

      Totally: it was either this or heading out in the world to find a job. Since she’s too short to really hostess at restaurants (front desk too high) and she can’t do all her letters yet (what a mess for waiting lists, right?) i had to employ her here. so far she’s working out.

    • Emma says:

      Oh no, I was never nervous to perform on stage! I guess that must be why I’m no longer in theatre.

  5. Monica says:

    I’m going to be a broken record and say I don’t know much about pie and don’t like them all that much (yikes, forgive me!!). Maybe I should stop baking & messing around in the kitchen and just eat dark chocolate and egg custards all day. I’m not super adventurous. I think pie is one of those things (like cheesecake) that I’m afraid to get to know too well in case we become friends. Like your pie here, looks too good. Your little helper is great. I admire bloggers who work so hard to make a better blog. I’m a bit too lazy, I’m afraid….

  6. Brianne says:

    I love pie. I’m glad that you’ve found pie. Also, I love pitting cherries. My mother like to taunt me with loads of sour cherries in high summer, which drives me crazy because a) she doesn’t bake pies and b) she doesn’t really even like the cherries, just the cherry flavored things. Argh. But the idea of pureeing plums is intriguing, even though I hate plums.

    Also, the stone fruits at my grocery store were consistently terrible this summer. So…they were not used in my kitchen. They would sit around for days…weeks…until perhaps they got ripe enough to eat. Wait. I did cave once and made a peach and cherry crisp, but I made it in a really deep dish and it ended up being a peach and cherry ocean with soggy streusel islands. Ugh. But there’s still time to play with plums!

    • shannon says:

      I know you love pie; i actually thought about you and blueberry pie when i was making this, because those remind me of you for obvious reasons. Next time i want to make a cherry pie, i know who to call for pitting purposes! :) I’m filled with envy over your abundance of sour cherries in childhood; how is this possible? I almost never see them here. How, more importantly, is it possible to not like cherries that much but to like cherry-flavored things?!?!

      i’m sad about your stone fruits being not up to standard this year; i guess that’s another example of how produce differs so much regionally, because ours was quite good, and for a big length of time, it seemed. I’ll tell you that unless a plum is perfect, i don’t eat it straight-on (although i love black plums the best), but i do like them for baking, if that makes sense. Your peach and cherry ocean with streusel islands sounds just fine to me, by the way. i’d eat it for sure. :)

  7. Shannon, from A Periodic Table, who has a pie featured ON BON FRIGGIN APPETIT and a thousand other places … and now you’re going to say you’re pie-phobic?! That’s just silly. Stop being silly.

    You are like the LORD OF THE PIES!!!

    Speaking of silly, the wee one is an excellent helper. Would you be willing to contract her out a bit? Sophie is not as good at holding things, but she is superb at knocking them down. If you happen to have anything that needs knocking down or puked on, I’d be happy to send her your way ;)

    Oh, and your pie looks beautiful and delicious, as always.

    • shannon says:

      Bon Appetit just called, and they REALLY appreciate being linked as “Bon Friggin Appetit” and they’re thinking about changing their name to that. Just working out how to fit it on the cover of the magazine, but after that, it’s a go.

      LORD OF THE PIES: are you drinking at work today? perhaps…perhaps. Now if i could just stop laughing at that and the Bon Friggin Appetit then i could type the rest of this comment. :)

      She’d LOVE to come visit you! You have Sophie, and she’s a cat, and the Wee One LOVES cats. so far she’s had limited experience, but every night before her bedtime story she asks if we can do The Cats, which is just me showing her a few kitten videos on my phone. she’d happily work in exchange for just getting to see “The Cats” live.

      Thank you. I’m still afraid of pies. that Pi Pie was a fluke, and i tried really hard not to screwify that one up that time. It wasn’t easy.

  8. Oh my gosh, she is SO CUTE holding that foam core! Love it!

    And of course, the pie sounds unbelievable… I have not had enough plums and nectarines in my life, so I think I need this pie to make up for it! Yum!

    • shannon says:

      My little one loves to help: if i had to name one of her best qualities, it is that. I’ve never met a kid who thinks helping is just as fun, if not more fun, than toys and kid stuff. it’s pretty great. Her favorite thing? organizing closets. LOVES to match shoes. She’s my kid, for SURE. :)
      Is it even possible to over-indulge on summer stone fruits? i say no. go get some before they’re gone. :)

  9. Deb says:

    Your nectarine plum pie is just divine! What a joyful end of summer dessert! My mom was a fearless pie baker and I always feel like she is looking over my shoulder when I make pie. I try to recall what she taught me and just proceed! I’ve found that the same type of fruit may have different water content and so sometimes the pie may be “juicier” than others. No matter it will be good to eat!

    • shannon says:

      Thank you, Deb! “Joyful” is a superb way of putting that; it felt a little joyful, like pie should, i suppose. Your mom sounds awesome; i love it when the older generations can just whip through something and make it perfect, and here we are agonizing over like, how thin we rolled something, and how much of each thing to put in, etc. Gotta give pie-baking moms some serious credit.
      I was reading that too about water content versus thickeners for different fruits; that always scares me because I’m a newbie to pies and i never know what’s going to happen. I also read nectarines have pectin in their skins? So i suppose you’d get a different result there if you left the skins on. And there i go overthinking pies again. :)

  10. Gorgeous crust and pie! And gorgeous pictures. Your lovely assistant was the key to your lighting! Is she for hire? I’ll work around any nap, snack or play times she needs. :)

    I love the idea of plums to add color and flavor lately. So far it is just the idea – I haven’t actually bought any. But they are on my list, both for adding to something peach and to make some plum jam. Thanks for adding fuel to the inspiration fire in my brain! Now I just need to find time to bake and to eat the results!

    • shannon says:

      Thanks, Sarah! She really is magnificent, right? maybe next year i’ll bring her to the photography class to demonstrate how using small children with foam core can add that special touch to your photographs. She’s available; mostly takes payment in cookies and stuffed animals. ;)

      Go get all the plums! last i checked, they were still in the stores, but I always forget for how long. I know that at some point (usually when i want to use them), I head happily to the store, only to find the huge display of plums completely dismantled and replaced with apples. This could happen any day now. Scoot.

  11. Emma says:

    Oh geez, I haven’t even gone swimming yet and now summer’s plum over!

    See what I did there? Uhhhhhhhhhhh, yeah.

  12. I love that you put the wee one to work. Cracks me up! Pitting cherries is, well, it’s the pits (sorry for the crumby pun). I’d much rather slice some nectarines. This pie looks amazing, and I love that you added booze to the crust. Now, hand over the pie ;)

    • shannon says:

      She loves it: the girl has a really skewed idea of what it’s like in a normal house, i’ll tell you; between all the baking and all the other stuff we do (organizing, random projects) around here, she’s sort of had a unique childhood, which is great. she’s got more life skills at this point than most teenagers.
      it IS the pits! i don’t mind doing a few, and i suppose at some point i’ll get a cherry-pitter? but it gets really old really fast. I don’t mind work, but that’s one of the few things i don’t love doing.
      I’d happily hand over the pie! it was delicious, and i could have used someone else to help me eat it. :)

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