Apple. Pumpkin. Pecan. Buttermilk. Sweet potato. Chocolate. Banana cream. Key lime. I have lost count of the number of pies I have made during the last 40 years, and I have loved each of them. But the dark underbelly of pie-making is not to be taken lightly.
There are numerous potential pitfalls when creating an American-style crust that calls for “pea-size” pieces of butter that result in long shards of flaky dough. There is the issue of how much water to add (too little and the dough will not roll out easily; too much and one risks excess gluten development). There is the horror of prebaking, during which the pie shell can slump and shrink. And then there is the guessing game of knowing just when a custard-style pie is ready to come out of the oven to avoid a tight, overbaked interior.
All of which leads me to the wonders of the single-crust pie, the crostata. In its simplest form, it is no more than one large round of pie dough topped with two or so cups of fruit and a little sugar, maybe a hint of spice, the edges folded up over the fruit, and then thrown into the oven on a baking sheet. Easy as pie.
We begin with the crust. Since the crust does not have to be fitted into a pie plate nor prebaked, we take the opportunity to add a higher proportion of fat to flour—in this case, 10 tablespoons butter to 1 cup flour (too much fat can weaken a traditional dough). We also use a food processor to fully work the butter into the flour, creating a dough that is a snap to work with. (A classic American pie dough leaves some of the butter in small pieces, which creates a dough that is notoriously sketchy since the flour is not fully coated with fat.)
As with all pie dough, we allow it to rest in the refrigerator for at least an hour (if you are new at this, an overnight rest is ideal). We add one neat trick before rolling out the dough: Sprinkle a tablespoon of sugar over the partially rolled disk, then continue rolling to a 12-inch diameter. Finally, flip the dough over onto the center of the prepared baking sheet—this will give the crust a slightly caramelized effect.
For the filling, we love a combination of raspberries and fresh peaches cut into thin wedges, using just 3 tablespoons of sugar and 2 teaspoons of grated lemon zest for flavor. Baking takes just 30 minutes in a 450°F oven. Ice cream, whipped cream or nothing at all make the perfect accompaniment.
“I have lost count of the number of pies I have made during the last 40 years, and I have loved each of them. But the dark underbelly of pie-making is not to be taken lightly.”