9 Secrets to Making the Perfect Fruit Pie

Summer is the perfect time to score farm-fresh berries or apples, and what better way to use them up than between two pie crusts? Follow these tips and, trust us, demands for a second slice will be made.

Strawberry pie piled high with whole strawberries shiny with glaze

If you’re armed with a bushel of fruit from the farmers market, a fruit pie may be in order. I love to harvest cups of raspberries from my garden or visit a U-pick strawberry farm, but the options don’t end there. From a crunchy (read: not soggy) crust to adding a signature twist (Nuts or spices? You’ve got options!), here’s how to bake perfect fruit pies with ease.

Would you use a sugar alternative in your baking recipes?

1. Use Fresh Fruit

When baking fruit pies, it’s tempting to pull a can of fruit off the grocery-store shelf, but you’re going to taste the difference. (Need a reference point? Consider fresh versus frozen pizza.) Sidestep this problem altogether by buying fruit in season-whether it’s strawberries in June, apples in autumn, or cranberries during winter. Can’t use it all now? Freeze for later.

2. Marinade Said Fruit

Until a few years ago, when I tried an apple pie recipe from Michelle Obama (yes, that Michelle), I didn’t realize how important it is that fruit marinade with spices and sugar overnight. With apple pie filling, imagine brown sugar, nutmeg and cinnamon saturated in each bite. By adding the spice to apples just before baking, you lose that awesome flavor.

3. Mix-and-Match Flavors

How often is your favorite ice cream flavor a combination of two flavors? Same goes for pies. Don’t stick with just strawberry-add peach, as in this Juicy Peach & Strawberry Crumb Pie recipe. Blueberry is bland-why not bake a mixed-berry pie with raspberries and cherries? Even rhubarb can benefit from strawberries to balance out the tartness, as in this 2013 Iowa State Fair winning recipe. For more inspiration, you’ll find hundreds of fruit pie recipes, here.

4. Add Butter

Adding chilled pats of butter on top of chopped rhubarb tucked between pie crusts results in an even sweeter taste. Don’t scrimp with margarine or any non-dairy product. Here, you really need that fat to mingle with the fruit.

5. Make Your Own Crust

Sure, it’s easier to buy a store-bought crust in the refrigerated or frozen-foods section, but we already know the palate can detect cheating. There’s a reason pastry chefs nail the desserts. Check out this easy crust recipe for first-timers, using just four ingredients. No lard on hand? See our previous tip. For every 1/2 cup of lard, substitute 1/2 cup, plus 2 tablespoons of butter.

6. Find Inspiration

There’s apple pie and there’s caramel apple pie. Take it to the next level with this Caramel-Pecan Apple Pie recipe. Think about your favorite desserts and snacks-how can you emulate them in a pie? This is pretty much how the Peanut Butter Cup Pie recipe evolved, modeled after Reese’s Pieces candy. Why stop there?

7. Incorporate Texture

Why do we like pecan pie so much? The nuts! That crunchy texture really pleases the palate. Some good fruit-nut combos are: Cranberry Walnut Pie and Swedish Apple Pie. Fortunately, you can easily buy slivered almonds or chopped nuts, cutting down on prep time.

8. Brush the Crust

To get that crunchy flavor in the crust and avoid a soggy bottom, take a small pastry brush dipped in an egg yolk and smooth it over both the bottom and the top crust before popping the pie in the oven. Make sure the yolk is beaten well (using a small ramekin and whisk helps) and add a teaspoon of water to dilute the egg.

9. Choose the Right Pie Dish

It can be overwhelming when shopping for bakeware, with options-for pie dishes alone-that include ceramic, glass, cast iron and aluminum. First things first: Dump the notion of using those cheap, throw-away aluminum pans. Yes, they’re easier to transport to a potluck, but they compromise flavor. A recipe’s proportions are perfectly suited to an 8- to 9-inch dish. Opt for Pyrex or ceramic. The reason? The heat spreads more evenly, ensuring that every inch of your pie (and its buttery, flaky crust) is perfectly baked.

Caught you drooling? Put these tips to good use with our best-ever pie recipes.

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Kristine Hansen
A former editor of a regional home and garden magazine, where she edited the entertaining section, Kristine writes for national travel, design and food outlets about culinary trends. Her book on Wisconsin cheese serves as a love letter to her adopted state of Wisconsin and she loves to travel in search of regional cultural foods.