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.