A fruit filling should hold together when cut, but still be loose enough to provide a tender texture. Fruit should be the dominant flavor, rather than sugar or spices.
Fruit pies should be filled with 5 to 6 cups of fruit per 9-inch pie. The amount of sugar needed can vary based on the growing season. A wet season will yield juicier but less sweet fruit. Dry season fruits will be smaller and sweeter. Taste your fruit before preparing and adjust the sugar accordingly.
Flour, cornstarch and tapioca are the most common thickeners, each with different properties. Flour has the lowest gel strength and adds an opaque, cloudy appearance to the fruit. Use in apple pies: 1½ teaspoons per cup of fruit. Cornstarch has the most holding power and gives a semi-transparent look to the filling. Use in peach and berry pies – 2 to 2½ teaspoons per cup of fruit. Quick cooking tapioca provides a clear filling but bumpy texture. Use in berry pies – 4 teaspoons per cup of fruit.
The Perfect Crust
A great crust defines a great pie. It should be tender and flaky, not too thick, easy to roll and beautifully browned. Here’s some hints to achieve perfection:
A single crust for a 9-inch pie should have a ratio of 1 cup flour to roughly 1/3 cup fat. Single crust recipes calling for more flour will result in a thick, tough crust. Double-crust pies: 2 cups flour to 2/3 cup fat.
For the best flavor and texture, try combining two fats. Since lard provides the flakiest crusts, mix in a small amount of lard with shortening or butter.
Add just enough liquid (water or milk) to bring the crust ingredients together. For a tender crust, do not over mix, knead or re-roll the dough.
To allow steam to escape, and keep the crust from cracking and breaking, cut vents in the top crust.
For a finishing touch, brush the top crust with milk or cream and sprinkle with additional sugar before baking.
The Best Pies Run Over
Next time you’re at a potluck dinner, opt for the pie whose filling ran out over the top crust. While it may sound like an excuse from the baker, pies that run over typically are better. Run over is proof the filling boiled, which indicates the sugar is completely dissolved and the thickener has reached maximum thickening ability. Fruit pies typically need to be baked in a 350 or 375 degree oven for 45 to 50 minutes to reach a boil. If too much filling is lost, try using less fruit next time.