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Baked From Scratch…Easy As Pie

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It’s summer and the fruit is plentiful. Apricots, peaches and berries look so tempting at the farmers’ market, and so you buy a bushel and then wonder what you’re going to do with it all. How about making pies? The fruit part is easy, but if you’re feeling daunted by making the crust, it can be as easy as pie if you practice a few tried-and-true tips.

My favorite pie crust recipe hails from the old Betty Crocker cookbook and uses simply flour, salt, Crisco shortening and cold water. I have found that halving the Crisco with butter will make a richer, flakier crust. I can’t tell you if any other shortening works as well, but I would not want to sacrifice my efforts and fruit to find out.

The real key to making flaky crust is to not over-mix the dough. It should be mixed just until it begins to come together after adding the cold water. It also helps if the butter and Crisco are really cold and cut into small pieces. I blend the ingredients in the food processor to save time and manual labor, but this was trial and error until I learned exactly when to cease with the pulse button. The dough can then be put in the fridge to chill and rest, although I have never been quite so patient.

Rolling the dough to make that perfectly round crust that fits precisely in the pie plate can be the most frustrating part. Moistening your work surface with a washcloth before laying out a sheet of waxed paper will help keep it from slipping and sliding while rolling. Plenty of flour on the paper, rolling pin and dough will keep it from sticking. Roll from the center outward until the crust is the desired thickness. If it’s not exactly round, don’t worry, it will be trimmed after it’s laid in the plate.

Getting the rolled dough into the plate can be a nightmare if the dough is too dry; this causes it to crack and tear. But again, don’t worry because the dough, at this point, is very forgiving and the finished pie will never reveal where you’ve pinched it together. Some cooks roll the dough over the rolling pin and unroll it over the plate, while others, like me, use the wax paper to gently fold it into quarters, lay it, and then unfold.

The easiest part is pouring in the fruit, but don’t forget to dot with butter to keep it juicy. Repeat with the top crust, pinch up the edges, make your slits, or get fancy with a lattice top, which is actually easier to maneuver. For that bakery-glazed look, brush on an egg wash or sprinkle with a little sugar. I prefer my crust en toute nudité and just wrap a few strips of foil over the edges to keep from burning. Now pop in the oven and wait for that delicious aroma of summer fruit pies to fill the air. ■