a good thing

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from pie, it’s that it is possible to have too much of a good thing.

The trouble is this business of the double crust. I love a flaky, buttery crust as much as the next person. But for me, one crust per dessert is plenty. Now, before you write me off as a heartless, un-American pie-hater, you should know that despite my misgivings, when someone offers me a slice of pie, I take it. I have a plan in place for such occasions, though friends, it isn’t pretty. I slide my fork beneath the top crust, and pull down and out, taking the fruit filling and bottom crust with me. I hollow that crust right out, until only a sad, soggy shell of a slice remains on my plate.

Then, one day, I learned that it doesn’t have to be this way.

In her memoir, Comfort Me with Apples, Ruth Reichl includes a pie recipe that, in terms of crust, takes a good thing to its limit and stops, mercifully, right there. This pie is a member of the all too rare single crust variety. You are no doubt familiar with several pies of this species: pumpkin, pecan, and lemon meringue, to name a few. Oozy, fruit-filled pies that rely on a single crust are considerably harder to come by. If this pie catches on, I believe it could change all that.

In place of a top crust, Reichl’s pie sports a crackly, crumbly shell that begins as a spreadable paste. “Paste,” I realize, is not the most appetizing word to use when you're talking about pie, but bear with me. This pie begins in the ordinary way: roll out a bottom crust, fit it into a pan, and fill with just-ripe fruit. The genius begins here, when you trade in your rolling pin for a saucepan and a spoon. Melt some butter over a medium flame, add a little flour, sugar, and nutmeg, and stir until the mixture forms a paste. (Suddenly “paste” doesn’t sound so bad, right?) Spread the paste over the bare fruit, and there you have it. The topping hardens in the oven, and adds a welcome crunch to each tender, juicy bite.

The result is a cross between a pie and a crumble. A pie-rumble, if you will. Though now that I’ve typed that, all I can picture is a West Side Story street fight in which dancing, finger-snapping gangsters wield pies instead of knives. Perhaps prumble is a better fit. Whatever you call it, with its solitary crust and crackly finish, this pie is a very, very good thing.

[p.s. If you’re in the market for another one-crust wonder, click on over to The Blue Hour, where Brian has just baked a blueberry and peach pandowdy. Unlike prumble, the pandowdy features its single crust on top. Also unlike prumble, pandowdy is a real word.]

Peach (or Apricot or Anyfruit) Pie
Adapted from Ruth Reichl’s Comfort Me With Apples

Reichl’s original recipe calls for apricots, and I have to admit that the apricot-nutmeg combination is hard to beat. But when apricots are scarce, peaches more than do the trick. I like using stone fruits in this pie because they can be pitted and thrown directly into the bottom crust. No peeling, no extra sugar or flour necessary. In the fall, I make this pie with apples, which I do peel, slice, and toss with a little lemon juice, flour, cinnamon, and vanilla. I bet this pie would also be wonderful with berries, cherries, or rhubarb. Without a true upper crust, the sky really is the limit!

½ recipe of Martha Stewart's pâte brisée (or use the pie dough recipe of your choice)
2 lbs peaches (or the fruit of your choice)
1 stick (1/2 c.) unsalted butter
¾ c. sugar
¾ c. flour
½ tsp. nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Roll out the pie dough and fit it into a 9-inch pie pan. Using a fork or your fingers, press down along the edges to form a pattern. Place the pan in the freezer while you complete the following steps:

Wash and dry – but do not peel – the fruit.

If using apricots: Break them in half with your fingers, and remove the pits. The halves will go directly into the pie shell; no slicing required.

If using peaches: Halve the peaches with a knife, and twist the fruit to separate the halves. Remove the pits. I find that larger peaches do best when each half is split in two. That is, each full peach should be quartered before placing the fruit into the bottom crust.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Stir in the sugar, and turn the flame down to low. Add the flour and the nutmeg, and stir until the mixture becomes a smooth paste. Remove from heat.

Place the fruit into the unbaked shell. Using a spatula, cover the fruit with the sugar mixture. Don’t worry about covering every last bit of fruit. The fruit should peek out from the cracks; during baking, juices will bubble up through the holes.

Bake in the center of the oven for 10 minutes. Then turn down the oven to 350 degrees, and bake for 35 minutes more, until the top is crusty and brown.

Transfer the pie to a rack and cool – but not all the way. Serve warm, preferably with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Serves 8-10.


tara said...

We're evidently on the same page; a peach crisp just came out of my oven. If I'd seen this earlier, I do believe I'd be tempted to change my plans. Next time, most surely.

Ulla said...

that looks like the embodiment of all the summer should be! tasty and gorgeous!:)

Elizabeth said...

Found my way here from Food Loves Writing. This looks amazing! I may try it this week.

kickpleat said...

Oh man, I really really could go for pie...especially a pie rumble!!

EEJ said...

I bet if you suggested to a Kindergartner that she bake a pie with paste, she wouldn't pause to wrinkle her nose. Just shows you how snooty grown-ups can be.

Jess said...

Tara - Enjoy that peach crisp. This recipe will be waiting for you the next time around.

Ulla and Elizabeth - Welcome, and thanks for your notes. I'm so glad you found me so that I could find your beautiful sites!

kickpleat - I knew I could count on you to be ready to rumble. (Could you bring along some of that sherbet of yours?)

EEJ - True. Alas. I'm getting old.

Char said...

oh...that sounds so delish and freestones should be out soon. peach pie is divine

Andrea [bella eats] said...

No lie...I just finished reading Comfort Me With Apples last night. I finished both of Ruth's first two books in one week. SO wonderful. Moving on to Garlic and Sapphires tonight and couldn't be happier!

I haven't tried any of her recipes yet, but have at least a dozen dog-eared...

bferry said...

this is brilliant!

Jess said...

Char - Agreed. I'm wishing that I still had a slice in the fridge.

Andrea - I guess we're on the same wavelength, then. Your summer reading sounds delicious.

bferry - Thanks, Brian. Next on my list is that pandowdy of yours.

oneordinaryday said...

Sounds good to me! I bet you'd like using your leftover bottom crust dough to "sprinkle" over the pie too. You'd get the little bits of extra crust w/o it covering the pie.

koshercamembert said...

I'm snapping my fingers and humming the tune (doo-doo-doo doo-doo-doo doo-doo-doo-doo-doo...um, that looks kinda funny in writing!), getting ready for our pie-rumble on the big bad streets of Cambridge. I'm with you on hollowing out the double crusts and have never even attempted a double crust -- why bother? My mother's apple crumble is of this "paste variety" and it is excellent!

ketchuptochutney said...

this looks amazing (your pics are always so perfect)! currently i'm cooking my way through Tender at the Bone (made the apple dumplings and wiener schnitzel last weekend!) and this recipe makes me excited for Apples.

another topping idea is a crumble - I tried this on strawberry rhubarb pie earlier this summer and it was great!


Jennifer said...

Reichl's writing is mesmerizing isn't it? Although I read "Comfort Me with Apples" years ago, I now feel compelled to revisit its pages after being hungered by your vivid prose and photos.

Rosiecat said...

In my family, we've ditched pie crusts all together in favor of more stomach room for the filling and a nice cap of whipped cream. (Although, to be truthful, I've heard rumors that there's now a coconut ice cream being churned, and I might abandon whipped cream for a scoop of THAT. Daring, no?)

But when left to my own devices, I find crust-making to be very satisfying indeed. Your post made me smile--so much meticulous attention to the pros and cons of a double-crust! I just love people who are as opinionated about food as I am. Happy baking, my dear.

Kate @ Savour Fare said...

Well, Pate Brisee just translates to "Brisee Paste" (OK, so I'm too lazy to look up brisee) so Paste seems fine. You could call it a streusel though - or a Dutch pie. I'm so making this!

Lo said...

Great idea, really -- I've always been more of a fan of crumbles and such than pies. And I just adore peach pie. Always did peach pie with streusel on top, but this looks fantastic.

Now, as soon as I get the Sharks & Jets theme out of my head, I'm going to go to bed and dream of crustless pies... a la mode!

Jackie at PhamFatale.com said...

Pate brisee literally translates to "broken dough"

Love, absolutely love the name of your site

Lisa@The Cutting Edge of Ordinary said...

Great blog! Thanks for stopping by mine! I'm adding you to my blog list. Your photos are great and your recipes are wonderful! I'll be back to check it all out!

Jess said...

oneordinaryday - A deconstructed top crust, as you suggest, is certainly an option. Especially if you want a doughier topping. I happen to like Reichl's topping for its crunch.

koshercamembert - Thanks for snapping along, and for your single-crust commiseration!

Kate - Thank you! Strawberry rhubarb pie with a crumbly topping sounds wonderful.

Jennifer - I agree; Reichl's books are ones to come back to. Thanks for your kind words.

Ah, Rosiecat, so glad that I amuse you. Coconut ice cream? Your family sure has its priorities straight when it comes to dessert.

Hi, Kate. The thing is, when I hear "streusel," I think of something crumbier. This topping is hard, and cracks when you tap it with a fork or a knife. Does that make sense? Happy to hear that you'll be giving it a try!

Lo - I'm with you. It's hard to go wrong with peaches, I think. Wishing you sweet, musical, ice cream-topped dreams!

Jackie - Thanks so much!

And thanks to you, too, Lisa. It's a pleasure to meet you.

Julie said...

Yum - I've always been a fan of the single crust pie, although my technique is opposite - I eat the fruit filling and top crust, which tends toward golden and crunchy, unlike the typically pasty bottom crust that has never seen light of day. I generally tend toward crumble-topped pies, but this is a great idea! love the paste.

Kerstin said...

I actually like fruit crumbles better than pie, so I bet I would love the topping on this one! I'm just too lazy to make pie crusts :) The apricot nutmeg combo sounds delicious!

Jodi said...

I'm a friend of your paterfamilias here in Bexley and I'm just nosing in to say you're amazingly talented and resilient as well. Good luck!

Jess said...

Julie - You know, you're right! Your top-crust eating technique is definitely a step up from mine, for the reasons you note. I'll be following your lead the next time I'm faced with a double-crusted slice.

Kerstin - I like to think of this pie as the best of both words. I love that apricot-nutmeg combination, too.

Jodi - Hi! Thanks so much for stopping by, and for leaving a note. Say hello to Bexley for me. And my fam, too, of course.

Janet said...

Quite amazingly delicious, and pretty quick to throw together also. I made it today with several varieties of heirloom apples from my friend's orchard. It was for my mother-in-law's birthday, and my husband lamented that I left all the leftovers with her. I guess I need to make another one. Thanks!