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An Uncommon Pie

By Leah Colins Published

The best fruit pie you’ve never made starts with fresh plums and whole-wheat flour.

Baking a blueberry, peach, or cherry pie is a terrific way to celebrate the abundant fruits of summer. But I’ve spent the past several months baking pies for a forthcoming test kitchen pie book, and I urge you to consider another, less common fruit filling for your next summer pie: plums. The sweetness of ripe plums is offset by their acidity level, which is higher than those of most other fruits; when baked, plums offer a unique sweet-tart fruitiness that will have you hooked from the first bite.

Plum Delicious

For my pie, I used red or blue-black round plums (2½ pounds for a 9-inch pie); they are the most common and have an appealing, sweet yet bright flavor. If you’ve ever made a peach pie, you probably remember the tedious process of blanching and peeling the fruit so that the resilient skins don’t ruin the tender, sliceable texture of the filling. Well, I’m happy to report that with plums, peeling is not only unnecessary but also detrimental. Plum skins are so thin and tender that they don’t detract from the succulent flesh, and if you remove the crimson-violet skins, the pie is not nearly as attractive.

For Better Plum Pie, Leave the Skins On

Peeling slippery plums can be maddening, so we were happy to find that our pie actually turned out better when we left the skins on. The thin, tender skins dyed the filling a lovely purply red, whereas skinned plums produced a filling that looked like peaches. The bitter tannins in the skins also produced a pie that tasted a bit less sweet, which we preferred. Finally, the skins’ high concentration of pectin helped create a lightly gelled texture that held the filling together.

I cut the plums into slim wedges, added them to a bowl with ¾ cup of sugar, and let them macerate for 15 minutes. The sugar pulled juice out of the fruit that could be used to dissolve a thickener.

I wanted my thickener to produce a clear filling to show off the plums. That meant that flour, which has a tendency to turn cloudy in fruit pie fillings, was out. In our Fresh Peach Pie (September/October 2013), we use both cornstarch and pectin to create a translucent gel. But plums have more pectin than peaches (one of the reasons they’re popular for jams), so cornstarch alone was sufficient.

Cornstarch helps thicken the filling while sugar, lemon zest and juice, and fresh ginger enhance its flavor.

Adding citrus is a common way to enhance fruit pie fillings; here, I added floral lemon zest and tangy lemon juice to accentuate the tartness of the fruit. To perfume the plums with a sophisticated spiciness, I also added both ground and fresh ginger.

Pie Dough, with a Twist

If my jammy, gingery filling has convinced you that plum pie is worth adding to your rotation, great. Now, allow me to push you even further outside the box with a pie dough that calls for whole-wheat flour.

If you’re thinking that it would be wise to shy away from adding whole-grain flour to a pie crust since whole-grain flours are lower in gluten—and can therefore produce disappointingly dense or crumbly baked goods—you’d normally be right. But my colleague Andrea Geary came up with a unique method for adding whole-wheat flour to pie dough that produces wonderfully tender and flaky results.

To make the dough, we start by combining whole-wheat flour, sugar, and salt.
Next, we pulse in butter until a homogeneous paste forms. This waterproofs the flour so it can't hydrate and form gluten.

The method calls for using the food processor to make a paste with 1½ cups of whole-wheat flour and two sticks of butter, effectively waterproofing the flour (no matter what kind of flour you use) and making it hard for the flour’s proteins to hydrate and form gluten. The paste is then broken into chunks that are coated with 1 cup of all-purpose flour before being tossed with half a stick of grated butter. Finally, ½ cup of ice water is added, which hydrates the unprotected portion of flour and allows plenty of gluten to form. Each nugget of the all-purpose flour dough is thus surrounded by a jacket of higher-gluten dough that provides plenty of structure.

I used this whole-wheat dough to create a pie with a lattice top—a must since it would allow some of the plums’ moisture to evaporate during baking. Luckily, the lattice was easy to weave since the dough was relatively sturdy, and the pie baked up looking as great as it tasted. The crust was beautifully tender and flaky, with a tawny color and a nutty aroma that paired beautifully with the ginger‑scented plum filling.

With this success under my belt, I also experimented with an earthy rye pie dough that Andrea developed, finding that it made a great match for another fruit that’s underused in pie: apricots. I flavored the apricots with cardamom and vanilla to enhance their aromatic sweetness.

To ensure neat slices, be sure to let the pie cool on a wire rack until it is set, about 4 hours, before serving.

Recipe Fresh Plum-Ginger Pie with Whole-Wheat Lattice-Top Crust

The best fruit pie you've never made starts with fresh plums and whole-wheat flour.

Recipe Apricot, Vanilla, and Cardamom Pie with Rye Lattice-Top Crust

For a new type of summer fruit pie, we piled vanilla-scented fresh apricots into a buttery rye crust.

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