banner
Food

8 Spectacular Pies That Taste as Good as They Look

Posted November 10, 2018 4:56 p.m. EST

The most beautiful pies exalt the ingredients that fill them. “You take something like an apple and say, ‘I want to show it off in the best way possible,'” said Erin Jeanne McDowell, who wrote the 2017 cookbook “The Fearless Baker” and who developed the pies described here. She slices and arranges the colorful apples skin side up, or cooks them down into a rosy filling that peeks through small triangles in a cutout top crust. The fillings below are striking on their own, but the decorating techniques that follow make them shine for the feast.

Perfect Pie Crust

This recipe makes a single crust for a 9-inch pie; if you’re making a double-crust pie, double it and make two disks of dough. It’s best to make dough with your hands, but if you’d prefer to use a food processor, pulse the butter into the flour mixture a few times, until the butter is the size of walnut halves or peas, then transfer to a medium bowl and add the water. The dough keeps in the refrigerator for up to 2 days and in the freezer for up to 3 months (thaw it overnight in the refrigerator before rolling).

1 1/4 cup/160 grams all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/2 cup /115 grams cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

3 to 4 tablespoons ice water, plus more as needed

1. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour and salt to combine. Add the butter, tossing the cubes until the pieces are separated from one another and each piece is coated in flour.

2. Cut the butter into the flour by pressing the pieces between your palms or fingertips, flattening the cubes into big shards and continuing to toss them in the flour to recoat the shards. The size of the butter will vary depending on the kind of pie you’re making: For fruit pies, stop when the butter pieces are about the size of walnut halves. For custard pies, stop when the butter pieces are smaller, about the size of peas.

3. Make a well in the center of the mixture. Add 3 tablespoons ice water and mix it in by tossing the flour in the bowl. Continue to add ice water 1 to 2 tablespoons at a time until the dough begins to come together. As it comes together, fold it over itself a few times to make sure it’s homogeneous. The dough should hold together without noticeable cracks, but it should not be wet or tacky to the touch. Form the dough into a disk about 1-inch thick. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before using.

4. To shape the dough, lightly flour a rolling pin and a work surface. Roll the dough into a circle 1/4-inch thick. It should be wider than the pie plate by at least 1 inch on all sides.

5. Roll up the dough onto the rolling pin and gently transfer to the pie plate by unfurling it from the pin. Lift the dough up at the edges and push it gently down to make sure it makes contact with the sides and base of the pie plate. Trim away any excess dough, leaving 1/2 inch all the way around the edges. If making a single-crust pie, crimp as desired.

6. If you’re making a double-crust pie, leave this excess as is until the pie is filled and ready to be topped. If you’re making a single crust pie, tuck the excess dough under all the way around the edge of the pie plate and crimp as desired. Either way, cover the crust with plastic wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes and up to 12 hours before filling, finishing and baking.

Note: If par-baking the crust, heat the oven to 425 degrees, with a baking stone, if you have one, on the lowest rack of the oven. Mix 1 large egg with 1 tablespoon water to make egg wash and brush on the edges of the crust. Line the crust with parchment paper and fill with pie weights, then place on a parchment- or foil-lined baking sheet. Transfer to the lowest rack of the oven, placing baking sheet directly on the baking stone if using. Bake crust until the edge is just starting to turn golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove the parchment and weights, and continue to bake until the base appears set, 2 to 4 minutes more.

Tart Lemon Filling

You could double the crust recipe and use the extra dough to cut shapes to adorn the lemon curd. Or you could serve this brilliant-yellow pie as is. Either way, you’ll most likely want whipped cream to cut the tartness. Follow the instructions on the crust recipe for par-baking, but leave it in the oven longer to fully bake the crust: 17 to 20 minutes with pie weights, then 12 to 15 more without them, until the crust is brown. Cool the crust completely before filling and chilling.

1 3/4 cups/420 milliliters lemon juice (from 8 to 10 lemons)

Zest of 2 lemons

1 3/4 cups/360 grams granulated sugar

1/3 cup/45 grams cornstarch

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

2 large eggs

6 large egg yolks

6 tablespoons/85 grams cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1. In a medium pot, whisk the lemon juice, lemon zest and 1/2 cup/120 milliliters water to combine. In a medium bowl, whisk the sugar, cornstarch and salt to combine. Whisk this mixture into the pot and then place it over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture comes to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium and cook at a simmer, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes.

2. In a medium, heatproof bowl, lightly whisk the whole eggs and egg yolks. When the lemon mixture has come to a simmer, gradually add about 1/4 of the hot liquid to the egg yolks in a slow, steady stream while whisking constantly to combine.

3. Whisk the egg yolk mixture back into the pot, and switch to a heatproof spatula. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens, about 5 to 7 minutes. It should come to a boil: not small bubbles around the outer edge, but fat bubbles from the center of the pot. (You should also see a distinct line that quickly closes in on itself if you drag your spatula through the curd.) Remove from the heat and stir in the butter, a few cubes at a time, until combined.

4. Strain the lemon curd through a fine-mesh sieve into the baked and cooled pie crust, and spread into an even layer. Place plastic wrap directly over the surface while still hot and chill until the curd is set, at least 3 to 4 hours and up to overnight.

Custard Filling

This silky custard is especially good in a crisp, flaky crust, and it can be flavored with either warm ginger or bright citrus. The pie can be baked one day ahead, but it’s best the day it’s made.

To make ginger custard

2/3 cup/135 grams granulated sugar

1 cup/130 grams all-purpose flour

2/3 cup/145 grams light brown sugar

1 tablespoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground clove

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 3/4 cups/420 milliliters whole milk

1 cup/240 milliliters heavy cream

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Whisk the granulated sugar and flour in a medium bowl to combine. Add the brown sugar and whisk to combine, breaking up clumps with the whisk or your fingers. Add the ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, clove and salt and whisk to combine.

2. Add the milk, cream and vanilla and whisk well to combine. Pour the custard into a par-baked crust.

3. Bake at 375 degrees for 43 to 48 minutes, until the custard appears set around the outer edge; the center of the pie may still be jiggly, like pumpkin pie or cheesecake, but it will firm up as it cools.

To make citrus custard

1 cup/200 grams granulated sugar

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons/80 grams all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 cup/240 milliliters whole milk

1 cup/240 milliliters heavy cream

1/2 teaspoon lemon extract

1/2 teaspoon orange extract

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon lemon, orange or lime zest

1. Whisk the sugar, flour, ginger and salt in a medium bowl to combine.

2. Add the milk, cream, extracts and zest and whisk well to combine. Pour the custard into a par-baked crust.

3. Bake at 375 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes, until the custard appears set around the outer edge; the center of the pie may still be jiggly, like pumpkin pie or cheesecake, but it will firm up as it cools.

Cranberry Filling

Bake this sweet and slightly tart filling in a double-crust pie, ideally one with a woven lattice or a top with cutouts so its deep red color can show through.

2 1/2 pounds/1.2 kilograms cranberries, thawed if frozen

Zest and juice of 2 oranges (about 1/2 cup juice)

1 1/3 cups/265 grams granulated sugar

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

Pinch of fine sea salt

11/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

1. In a medium pot over medium heat, combine the cranberries, orange zest and juice, sugar, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the berries begin to soften and break down, 12 to 15 minutes.

2. Blend the mixture with an immersion blender, or in a blender or food processor, just until it’s a coarse purée. Return the mixture to the heat and continue to cook, stirring often to prevent scorching, until the mixture has reduced slightly and the juices have thickened, 8 to 10 minutes more. Stir in the vanilla and almond extracts and let cool completely. Pour into a chilled prepared crust. Arrange rolled-out top crust or lattice over the filling and crimp as desired.

3. Bake at 425 degrees for 45 to 50 minutes, until the top crust is evenly golden and the filling has puffed up slightly.

Striped Berry Filling

Combine three jammy fillings in par-baked crust to create beautiful ombré effect. Each berry filling needs to reach just the right thickness for the pie to properly set, so follow the directions closely and see the Note at bottom to adjust your fillings if needed. (They can be made up to 2 days ahead.) Bake the pie at 400 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes, when the filling appears evenly set on the surface and forms a skin (though it will move slightly when the pie is wiggled); start checking after 30 minutes of baking to be sure it doesn’t bubble over. Let cool at least 5 hours before serving.

For the blackberry filling

14 ounces/400 grams blackberries (about 3 cups)

5 tablespoons/65 grams granulated sugar

3 tablespoons cornstarch

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 tablespoons heavy cream

For the raspberry filling

14 ounces/400 grams raspberries (about 3 cups)

5 tablespoons/65 grams granulated sugar

3 tablespoons cornstarch

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 tablespoons heavy cream

For the strawberry filling

14 ounces/400 grams stemmed and quartered strawberries (about 3 cups)

5 tablespoons/65 grams granulated sugar

2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 tablespoons heavy cream

1. Make the blackberry filling: Mix blackberries and 2 tablespoons sugar in a medium pot over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the berries begin to break down, 8 to 10 minutes. Mash with a potato masher or large fork until the mixture resembles a coarse purée. You should have 1 3/4 cup. In a small bowl, whisk the remaining sugar and cornstarch to combine. Add to the pot and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens, 1 to 2 minutes. (The filling should be thick, like jam from a jar at room temperature; it will thicken slightly more when cooled, as will the two other berry fillings below.) Cool completely, then whisk in vanilla and cream. Set filling aside and rinse out the pot.

2. Make the raspberry filling: Mix raspberries and 2 tablespoons sugar in a medium pot over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the berries begin to soften and break down, about 3 to 5 minutes. Mash until the mixture resembles a coarse purée. You should have 2 cups. In a small bowl, whisk the remaining sugar and cornstarch to combine. Add to the pot and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens, 1 to 2 minutes. Cool completely, then whisk in vanilla and cream. Set filling aside and rinse out the pot.

3. Make the strawberry filling: Mix strawberries and 2 tablespoons sugar in a medium pot over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the berries begin to soften and break down, 4 to 5 minutes. Mash until the mixture resembles a very coarse purée. You should have 1 3/4 cups of purée (if you have more or less, see Note). In a small bowl, whisk the remaining sugar and cornstarch to combine. Add to the pot and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens, 1 to 2 minutes. Cool completely, then whisk in vanilla and cream.

4. Spoon each filling into a prepared crust in thick stripes: Put the blackberry and strawberry fillings (the two sides) in first, using a little more than half of each. Then spoon the full amount of the raspberry filling into the center. After the raspberry is in, spoon the remaining blackberry and strawberry fillings on top on their respective sides. Take care to fill just to the inner edge of the crust (you may have leftover filling). The fillings should be thick enough that they stay where you put them, but a small amount of spreading is normal. Use the tip of a knife to swirl the fillings wherever they meet, then use a small offset spatula or a silicone spatula to spread them evenly flat.

Note If you get less berry purée mixture than you should have, then add an additional 1/4 to 1/3 cup fresh berries off the heat, stir to combine, then mash into the purée. If you get more mixture than specified, then return the pot to medium-low heat and continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens more.

Sweet Potato Filling and Meringue

This light, creamy filling can be used alone, but the meringue dresses it up even more. Use it to create a dramatic piped topping, or merely swirl it on top.

To make sweet potato filling

3 large eggs

1/2 cup/110 grams light brown sugar

1/2 cup/100 grams granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

2 cups/510 grams smoothly mashed sweet potatoes (from about 1 1/2 to 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and boiled)

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 cup/120 milliliters heavy cream

1. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, brown sugar, granulated sugar, vanilla and melted butter to combine.

2. Add the sweet potatoes, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg and mix to combine. Whisk in the heavy cream until evenly incorporated. (If you have an immersion blender and want to get the texture even smoother, blend it now too.) Pour the custard into a par-baked crust.

3. Bake at 375 degrees for 35 minutes, until the custard appears set at the edges; the center of the pie may still be jiggly. Let it cool completely before making and applying the meringue, which should be done no more than 2 hours before serving.

To make meringue

3 large egg whites

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 cup/200 grams granulated sugar

1. Place egg whites and cream of tartar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and mix briefly just to combine. Stir the sugar and 1/3 cup/80 milliliters water together in a small pot. Place the pot over medium heat, and stir until it begins to simmer, then stop stirring. Use a pastry brush dipped in water to brush away any sugar crystals that have washed up on the sides of the pot.

2. Continue to cook the sugar mixture until it reaches 235 degrees on a thermometer, about 4 to 5 minutes; when it does, start whipping the egg whites on medium speed. (The goal is to get them lightly whipped and foamy by the time the sugar reaches 240 degrees.)

3. When the sugar reaches 240 degrees, remove the pot from the heat. With the mixer still running on medium speed, gently pour the sugar syrup down the side of the bowl in a slow, steady stream. Continue whipping until the meringue reaches medium peaks, 3 to 4 minutes more. Spoon into piping bags to pipe decorations, or swirl on top of the pie using an offset spatula or the back of a spoon, toasting it with a kitchen torch if you like. (You’ll have extra meringue; save for another purpose.)

Apple Ombré Filling

Tuck these apples tightly in a crust, sprinkle them liberally with cinnamon and sugar, and bake at 375 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes. Start checking after 20 minutes in the oven: You don’t want the apples to brown too much, which weakens the ombré effect, but you do need to bake until the crust is golden brown.

2 medium red apples, such as McIntosh or Cortland

2 medium pink apples, such as Jonagold, Gala or Fuji

2 medium yellow-pink or green-pink apples, such as Golden Delicious or Northern Spy

2 medium green apples, such as Granny Smith

Lemon juice, as needed

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces

1/4 cup/50 grams granulated sugar

3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Pinch of fine sea salt

1. Core and quarter each apple, then cut each quarter into slices about 1/8-inch thick. Keep them together as best as possible and arrange them by color on a baking sheet. Squeeze lemon juice over the apples to prevent browning.

2. Arrange the apples in a prepared crust in an ombré effect, working from dark red to pink to yellow-pink to green. To do this, grab a few apples in one color at a time, and fan them out in your hand. Place them skin side up inside the crust, arranging them relatively tightly to ensure maximum coverage. You can cut or trim pieces smaller to fill in at the edges as needed. Repeat until the crust is full of apples. (Use leftover apples for another purpose.) Dot the surface with the butter and chill the pie for 30 minutes.

3. In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar, cinnamon and salt. Liberally sprinkle all of the cinnamon-sugar mixture over the top of the apples, in between them and around the edges, then bake.

Berry Apple-Butter Filling

Use this tart pink filling in a double-crust pie.

8 to 10 medium red-skinned apples (about 4 pounds/1.8 kilograms), such as Rome, Jonathan, McIntosh, Gala, Cortland or Zestar, cored and diced

1 cup/200 grams granulated sugar

1 1/4 teaspoons ground ginger

2 tablespoons cider vinegar

1/2 cup /120 milliliters apple cider

6 ounces /170 grams raspberries

6 ounces/170 grams blackberries

1 large egg

1. Make the apple butter: In a large pot over medium-high heat, combine the apples, sugar, ginger, cider vinegar and apple cider. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the apples begin to soften and break down, 25 to 30 minutes, reducing the heat as necessary to prevent scorching.

2. Add the raspberries and blackberries and stir to combine. Cook for 1 minute, stirring to prevent scorching, then turn off the heat. Use a potato masher or immersion blender to break the mixture down to a coarse purée, being careful not to turn it into a paste.

3. Return the pot to medium heat and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until it thickens, 15 to 20 minutes; the apple butter is ready when you can dip a spoon into the pot and lift it out without any of the mixture dripping. You should have about 5 cups of apple butter. If you have too much, return it to the pot and continue to cook until you reduce it to 5 cups. Cool completely.

4. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg into the cooled apple butter until well combined. Pour into a prepared crust, smooth into an even layer. Top with a second layer of dough.

5. Bake in a 425-degree oven until the top crust is evenly golden brown and the filling has puffed up slightly, 40 to 45 minutes. Let pie cool at least 40 minutes before slicing and serving.