Glorious peaches. Tangy plums. Mellow nectarines. Scarlet raspberries. Soft fruits that inspire the baking of pies. Yet, in the warm days of summer and early fall, what cook feels like turning on the oven?
Susan Purdy to the rescue. Faced with this very dilemma one summer afternoon in her Connecticut kitchen, the author of the recently published "As Easy As Pie" (Atheneum, $22.95) decided to experiment with some no-bake crusts and fillings. Her efforts produced a galaxy of colorful, cool, simple and delicious pies that are among the most satisfying desserts we have tasted in a long time.
Purdy, who teaches pastry and pie-baking classes at the Silo Cooking School in New Milford, Conn., has had many encounters with students terrified of making pie crusts. Understanding the need for quick and easy crust recipes that are elegant yet don't require special temperature conditions and handling, she began to develop a variety of no-bake crumb and nut crusts requiring virtually no skill to prepare correctly.
Her imaginative creations include such crust combinations as graham-nut, chocolate-pecan, coconut and amaretti-almond.
"These pie crusts are virtually foolproof," Purdy told us as we were having visions of her two-berry orange cream pie in amaretti-almond crust, "but I do have a few hints for giving them optimum taste and texture."
When making nut or nut-crumb crusts, advises Purdy, toast the nuts first at 300 degrees for 5-6 minutes on a jelly-roll pan (for next summer, this toasting may be done in cool weather and the nuts frozen until needed).
Avoid grinding the nuts alone in a blender as they will turn into a paste. Rather, blend them either with cookie crumbs or use a mouli grater. Then, when pressing the crust into the pie plate with your fingers or the back of a spoon, make certain there are no thick areas where the sides of the plate meet the bottom. Finally, be sure the crust is firmly chilled for at least 30 minutes before filling it.
"Summer fruit pies really lend themselves to creativity," claims Purdy, who advises that all of her crusts and fillings may be mixed and matched according to taste. She likes to think of the instructions given below as master recipes or jumping-off points for the cook's own inventiveness. And she also believes in responding to the inspiration of what fruits look most appealing in the market.
For example, if you are making the two-berry orange tart, you might vary the filling and topping to complement or contrast flavors. You could use creme de cassis or Grande Passion (passion-fruit liqueur) instead of Grand Marnier if you feel those flavors would enhance a fruit topping of kiwis or nectarines.
Whatever fruit you decide to use, Purdy advises preparing it just before assembling the pie. If washing is required, immediately pat the fruit dry with paper towels or the fruit will get soggy and the glaze will not adhere properly.
The glaze on a pie serves two purposes. First, it prevents the fruit from oxidizing and second, it imparts a brilliant sheen to the pie. Apply the glaze approximately two hours (or fewer) before serving the pie and chill immediately.
If the glaze must hold longer than two to three hours before the pie will be served, add the unflavored gelatin that is optionally suggested in the glaze recipe below.
"And one last point I always like to make regards whipped cream," says Purdy. "If you are planning a whipped-cream garnish, make sure you buy cream labeled 'heavy cream' and not 'whipping cream.' Whipping cream will whip up but will not hold shape since it contains only about 30 percent butterfat. You must look for a heavy cream which contains a butterfat content of 36 to 40 percent for your whipped cream decorations to hold their shape."
Here are a selection of Purdy's recipes adapted from "As Easy As Pie." In all cases, prepare the pies in 10-inch pie plates and serve them directly from the plates as you would a traditional baked pie.
Combinations of crusts and fillings offered here are only suggestions. You may mix and match at will. RASPBERRY YOGURT TART (Makes one 10-inch pie)
With this pie, the picturesque glazed berry topping conceals a flavorful layer of fruit yogurt blended with cream cheese. Purdy devised this filling as an accompaniment for whatever fresh fruits are available, and she likes to select a yogurt flavor that complements the color and taste of the fruit. The gelatin is added to set the filling so that the tart can be sliced neatly.
10-inch graham-nut crust (see below)
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese (not whipped variety), at room temperature, cut up
2 tablespoons frozen orange juice concentrate, undiluted
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
4 tablespoons granulated or confectioners' sugar, sifted
1 cup fruit-flavored yogurt, such as raspberry, strawberry, cherry, or orange
1 envelope (2 teaspoons) unflavored gelatin
4 tablespoons cold water
3 to 4 cups fresh raspberries, stemmed, rinsed, and dried well on paper towels (or substitute blueberries, strawberries, bananas, pitted grapes, or cherries, sliced nectarines, peaches, or peeled kiwis)
Red currant-kirsch fruit glaze (see below) if tart is to be held longer than 2 hours before serving
First prepare the pie crust and set it in the refrigerator to chill until firm, about 30 minutes.
In a mixer or food processor combine the cream cheese, orange juice concentrate and grated zest, sugar and yogurt. Cream until thick and smooth. Set aside.
In a small saucepan, sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water, set it aside about 3 minutes, then stir in 3 or 4 tablespoons of the yogurt mixture. Set the pan over medium heat and slowly bring to a boil, stirring, until the gelatin is completely dissolved. Boil, stirring, about 15 seconds. Remove from the heat and cool. Pour the gelatin mixture into the mixer or processor and beat together with the remaining yogurt mixture.
Pour the yogurt mixture into the firmly chilled pie crust. Chill at least 4 hours, or until the filling is set. Then top with an attractive arrangement of dry, prepared berries and/or fruit slices.
Brush with glaze if desired and refrigerate until ready to serve. GRAHAM-NUT CRUST (Makes one 10-inch crust)
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
3/4 cup ground walnuts
5 tablespoons sugar
7 tablespoons butter, melted
In a bowl, combine crumbs, nuts and sugar. Pour on melted butter and gently toss crumbs to coat. Press crumbs evenly over the bottom and sides of a 10-inch pie plate, using the back of a spoon or your fingers. Take care not to build up too thick a layer in the corners. To make a rim, if desired, hold the thumb or forefinger of your left hand horizontally on top of the pie plate rim, while the fingers of the other hand press the crumbs up to it, making a firm lip. Chill until firm. RED CURRANT-KIRSCH GLAZE (Makes 1/2 cup, enough to coat one 9- to 12-inch pie or tart)
1/2 cup red currant jelly
1 1/2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin *
2 tablespoons kirsch (another fruit-flavored liqueur, or fruit juice may be substituted)
Place the jelly in a saucepan. Add gelatin and liqueur or fruit juice. Stir over medium heat until the mixture is smooth and clear and the gelatin completely dissolves. Bring to a boil for about 30 seconds, then cool to lukewarm. Use a pastry brush to apply glaze over dry fruit on top of a pie or tart. Chill to set the glaze. Store leftover glaze in a covered jar in the refrigerator; reheat to use.
* You may omit the gelatin if you plan to serve the pie within 2 hours of making it. NO-BAKE FRESH FRUIT PIE (Makes one 10-inch pie)
The technique for making this pie is quite simple. Some of the fruit is first mashed and cooked into a thickened sauce. Then the remaining fresh fruit is stirred in and the entire mixture turned into a crumb crust. The filling is so delicious, it can be served as a pudding without any crust if you are really in a hurry.
10-inch vanilla cookie crumb crust (see below)
4 cups any combination of fresh berries, picked over, hulled, washed and drained dry; and/or cut-up, peeled fresh fruit *
2/3 to 1 cup sugar, to taste
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup water
1 tablespoon lemon juice, approximately
2 tablespoons butter
Sweetened whipped cream or ice cream for garnish (optional)
Prepare the crust and set it in the refrigerator to chill until firm, about 30 minutes.
In a food processor or using a fork, mash 1 1/2 cups of cut-up mixed fruit. Measure the sugar, cornstarch and water into a pan and whisk until smooth. Stir in the mashed fruit and cook over medium-low heat for 7 to 10 minutes, or until the mixture is thick and clear. Stir in the lemon juice.
Taste the sauce and correct the balance of sugar and lemon if necessary. Stir in the butter and all remaining cut-up fresh fruit or berries. (Firm fruits like apples or plums are best slightly mashed into the cooked sauce, with softer fresh fruits and berries simply stirred in.)
Chill until partially thickened. Pour into the pastry shell and chill to set. Serve with ice cream or sweetened whipped cream.
* Try blueberries and peaches, or raspberries and nectarines, or blueberries and strawberries, or plums and peaches. Do not peel plums, nectarines or pears. VANILLA COOKIE CRUMB CRUST (Make one 10-inch crust)
1 3/4 cups vanilla cookie crumbs
4 to 5 tablespoons sugar
7 tablespoons butter, melted
In a bowl, combine crumbs and sugar. Pour on melted butter and gently toss crumbs to coat. Press crumbs evenly over the bottom and sides of a 10-inch pie plate, using the back of a spoon or your fingers. Take care not to build up too thick a layer in the corners. To make a rim, if desired, hold the thumb or forefinger of your left hand horizontally on top of the pie plate rim, while the fingers of the other hand press the crumbs up to it, making a firm lip. Chill until firm. TWO-BERRY ORANGE CREAM PIE (Makes one 10-inch pie)
10-inch amaretti-almond crust (see below)
FOR THE ORANGE CREAM CHEESE PIE FILLING:
12 ounces cream cheese (not the whipped variety)
6 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons cream or orange-flavored liqueur or rum
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
4 teaspoons frozen orange juice concentrate, undiluted
4 cups fresh berries (2 cups red berries plus 2 cups blue or black if available), hulled, rinsed, and dried well on paper towels
1/2 cup red-currant-kirsch glaze (see above)
Prepare the pie crust and set it in the refrigerator until it is firm, about 30 minutes.
To prepare the orange cream cheese pie filling, cream cream cheese, sugar, cream or liqueur, orange zest and juice in a processor, blender or electric mixer until mixture is light and smooth. Spread it over the pastry shell. Top with concentric circles of berries, alternating colors: a red ring, a blue ring, etc. Brush the berries with fruit glaze (using gelatin) and chill several hours before serving. AMARETTI-ALMOND CRUST (Makes one 10-inch pie crust)
1 3/4 cups crushed Italian amaretti cookies
1/2 cup ground toasted almonds
5 tablespoons sugar
7 tablespoons melted butter
In a bowl, combine the cookie crumbs, toasted almonds and sugar. Pour on melted shortening and gently toss crumbs to coat. Press crumbs evenly over the bottom and sides of a 10-inch pie plate, using the back of a spoon or your fingers. Take care not to build up too thick a layer in the corners. To make a rim, if desired, hold the thumb or forefinger of your left hand horizontally on top of the pie plate rim while the fingers of the other hand press the crumbs up to it, making a firm lip. Chill until firm.