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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We break the paste into 2-inch chunks.
We then pulse all-purpose flour into the paste.
Frozen grated butter goes in next, followed by ice water, which hydrates the unprotected flour and allows plenty of gluten to form for a flaky texture.
We then add just enough water to bring the dough together.
We divide the dough in half, form one half into a square and the other into a disk, and chill them before rolling.
To make the lattice, we roll out the square and cut the dough into strips with a pizza cutter.
When the dough is rolled out, the fat-rich paste and the shredded butter–flour mixture swirl together, making a subtly variegated dough overlaid with thin wisps of pure butter.
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.