Kate McDermott, the Piechiatrist, once spent 2 1/2 years testing just crust recipes and owns 98 pie pans. She conducts workshops in her Port Angeles, Wash., home, which she has dubbed "Pie Cottage," and holds frequent therapy sessions on Facebook Live. So, who better to turn to for piemaking advice - especially after pulling a somewhat soupy, seasonal-fruit mess from the oven?
Ever positive, the master says she prefers to think of such technical glitches as "challenges" rather than mistakes. Challenge accepted. We recently caught up with McDermott by phone; edited excerpts follow.
Although nothing is yet scheduled, McDermott assures us she will make her way eastward for one of her Art of the Pie workshops.
Q: What is the most common mistake people make when baking pies?
A: They overwork their dough. And in doing that, the fats melt. [More on that below.] Also, pay attention to that little voice in you that says, "I think I need to go look at the pie now," because that may be the time when the pie is going to boil over and you're going to save it.
Q: What are your key techniques for making crust?
A: Especially in hot weather, it's important to keep everything chilled. Keep your flour chilled, keep the mixing bowl chilled; remember that butter starts melting at 59 degrees. If the fat is melting, stop and put the mixture back in the freezer or refrigerator. You never want the fats to get too hot while you're making the dough. And chill the filled pie before you put it in the oven.
Q: What is your favorite dough?
A: My favorite uses a combination of leaf lard and butter. But there are a lot of good pie dough recipes out there. Use the one that works for you.
Q: How do you avoid the dreaded soggy bottom?
A: Put a baking sheet or cookie sheet - some people even use a pizza stone - in the oven as it preheats, and place the filled pie directly on it. You want to give the well-chilled dough a blast of heat for at least 20 minutes to set the bottom crust. If you put it in at a moderate temperature, the crust will just feel like it's at the beach and start to relax and melt. My general rule is to bake for 20 minutes at 475 degrees and then 40 minutes at 375.
Q: Do you favor a particular type of pie pan over another?
A: I have 98 pie pans. I use them all. I think the standard old glass ones are just fine - plus you can see if your pie is done on the bottom.
I love all the French [ceramic] dishes: Le Creuset, Staub, Emile Henry. They tend to bake evenly and retain heat well. If you're using a metal pan, make sure it's not a bright, shiny one, because shiny deflects heat. If you're using a disposable [aluminium] one, place it inside a glass pan so it has a sturdy surface and also better heat distribution.
Q: How do you make sure your filling is set? What do you do if a fruit pie isn't bubbling at the end of baking?
A: Make sure you see steady bubbling coming through the vents. If it's not bubbling, cut an "X" in the center of a large sheet of foil and put the foil over the pie, shiny side down; remember, the shiny side deflects heat. Crank the oven up to 450 for five or six minutes, to blast it with heat. It's now or never.
Q: Any final advice?
A: My approach to piemaking is to use some common sense.
Zucchini Pie (Kolokithopita)
Moist and fragrant with mint and dill on the inside, crispy phyllo on the outside, this pie is a great choice for picnics and potlucks, served warm, cold or at room temperature.
MAKE AHEAD: The pie can be assembled, wrapped well and frozen for up to 1 month. It can be baked straight from the freezer (unwrapped); plan on about 1 1/2 hours' oven time. To crisp up refrigerated leftovers, reheat in a 300-degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes.
• 6 to 7 medium unpeeled zucchini (about 2 pounds total), grated
• Kosher or fine sea salt
• Extra-virgin olive oil
• 1 medium onion, grated
• 5 ounces crumbled feta cheese
• 1/2 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
• 3 large eggs
• 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh dill
• 2 tablespoons dried mint
• Freshly ground black pepper
• One 8-ounce package phyllo dough (at least 14 sheets)
• Water, for sprinkling
Place the grated zucchini in a colander and set it in the sink. Salt the vegetable well and toss; let it sit while you prepare the other ingredients.
Heat a little oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Once the oil shimmers, stir in the onion. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring, until some of it has browned on the edges. Transfer to a mixing bowl to cool.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with oil.
Add the feta and ricotta cheeses, eggs, dill and dried mint to the onion, then a good pinch each of salt and pepper. Stir to incorporate.
Press down on the draining zucchini to extract as much moisture as possible, then fold the zucchini into the onion mixture.
As you work with the phyllo, brush each sheet lightly with oil. Drape 1 phyllo sheet over each side (4 total) of the baking dish, making sure there's a good bit of overhang; the center of the baking dish will not be covered. Next, layer 5 oiled sheets in the center of the baking dish, letting them drape over the edges.
Add the filling, spreading it evenly to the corners. Layer 5 more oiled sheets on top of the filling. Trim the excess from those top 5 sheets, then fold in the draped-over sheets, brushing them with more oil as needed to make them lie flat. Use a sharp knife to score the top few layers of phyllo according to the desired number of servings. Sprinkle the surface of the phyllo with a little water.
Bake (middle rack) for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until the phyllo is a deep golden brown. Let the pie rest for at least 20 minutes before serving; serve warm, at room temperature or chilled.
Nutrition | Per serving (using kosher salt): 230 calories, 11 g protein, 24 g carbohydrates, 11 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 95 mg cholesterol, 410 mg sodium, 2 g dietary fiber, 4 g sugar
Coconut-Lime Cream Pie
8 to 10 servings (makes one 9-inch pie)
Cream pies like this typically are too sweet, but that's not the case here.
MAKE AHEAD: The crust can be made a day or two in advance; cover and keep at room temperature. The filled, untopped pie needs to be refrigerated for about 2 hours.
For the crust
• 9 rectangular graham cracker sheets (whole crackers with perforations), broken into 1-inch pieces (about 5 ounces)
• 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
For the filling
• 1/2 cup (3 ounces) coconut sugar, sifted
• 5 large egg yolks
• 3 tablespoons cornstarch, sifted
• One 13.5- or 14-ounce can full-fat coconut milk
• 1 cup whole milk
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 2 pieces and chilled
• 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
• 2 teaspoons finely grated zest and 2 tablespoons juice (from 2 limes)
For the topping
• 2 tablespoons coconut sugar
• 11/2 cups chilled heavy cream
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1/4 teaspoon finely grated lime zest
• Pinch salt
• 1 tablespoon unsweetened shredded coconut, toasted (see NOTE)
For the crust: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
Pulse the graham cracker pieces in a food processor for 30 to 60 seconds to a fine-crumb consistency, breaking up stubborn pieces with your fingers as needed. Add the butter in pinches; pulse 15 to 20 times, until the mixture is the consistency of coarse sand. Transfer to a 9-inch pie plate; use the bottom and sides of a dry-ingredient measuring cup to press the crumbs firmly and evenly to form a crust.
Bake (middle rack) for 20 to 22 minutes, until fragrant and set, rotating the pie plate front to back halfway through. Let cool for at least 30 minutes.
For the filling: Whisk together the coconut sugar, egg yolks and cornstarch in a mixing bowl until well combined.
Combine the coconut milk, whole milk and salt in a medium saucepan over medium heat; after 41/2 to 5 minutes, once a few bubbles begin to appear at the edges, transfer 1 cup of the mixture to the egg yolk mixture, pouring gradually and whisking constantly; this will temper the yolks so they don't scramble.
Gradually pour the tempered egg yolk mixture back into the saucepan (still over medium heat), whisking constantly. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, whisking, to form a thick, glossy custard. Remove from the heat.
Whisk in the butter (one piece at a time), vanilla extract, and lime zest and juice. Pour into the pie crust shell, smoothing the surface. Lay a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface. Refrigerate for about 2 hours or until firm.
Meanwhile, make the topping: Grind the coconut sugar in a dedicated spice grinder until powdery. (Don't skip this step, or the topping will be grainy.)
Combine the heavy cream, 1 tablespoon of the ground coconut sugar, the vanilla extract, lime zest and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer or handheld electric mixer; beat on medium-low for 1 minute, then increase the speed to high and beat for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes or until stiff peaks form. Taste, and beat in the remaining tablespoon of coconut sugar, as needed.
When ready to serve, remove the plastic wrap from the filled pie. Spread the topping evenly over the filling, then sprinkle with the toasted coconut.
NOTE: Toast the coconut in a small, dry skillet over medium-low heat, until fragrant and lightly browned, shaking the pan occasionally to avoid scorching. Cool completely before using.
Nutrition | Per serving (based on 10): 430 calories, 5 g protein, 28 g carbohydrates, 33 g fat, 20 g saturated fat, 165 mg cholesterol, 200 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 18 g sugar
Blueberry-Nectarine Lattice Pie
8 to 10 servings (makes one 9-inch pie)
These two fruits don't often go together, but this pie proves how well they do. The crust contains barley flour, which lends a slight sweetness and complements the tart berries and stone fruit.
Barley flour is available at Whole Foods Markets and at natural-foods stores.
MAKE AHEAD: The pie-crust dough needs to be refrigerated for at least 2 hours and up to 2 days. It can also wrapped, sealed in freezer-safe zip-top bags and frozen for up to 1 month; defrost in the refrigerator overnight. The pie needs to sit for at least 6 hours before serving. The pie will keep overnight at room temperature, and it cuts more cleanly and tastes better the next day, after the filling has had time to set.
For the crust
• 1 cup (142 grams) all-purpose flour, plus more for the work surface
• 3/4 cup (103 grams) barley flour (see headnote)
• 1/2 cup (74 grams) fine stone-ground yellow cornmeal
• 1 teaspoon sugar, plus more for optional sprinkling
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 10 tablespoons (1 stick plus 2 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
• 1/3 cup (75 grams) cold fresh grapefruit juice
• 1 large egg, lightly beaten, for egg wash (optional)
For the filling
• 3/4 cup (156 grams) sugar
• 5 tablespoons cornstarch, sifted
• 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 1 3/4 pounds (about 5 1/4 cups) fresh blueberries
• 1 1/2 pounds very ripe nectarines (about 5), pitted and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (3 1/2 cups)
• 3 tablespoons fresh grapefruit juice
For the crust: Combine both flours, the cornmeal, sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse until well mixed. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture forms coarse crumbs, with a few almond-size pieces remaining. Sprinkle the grapefruit juice over the mixture, and pulse until the dry ingredients are evenly moistened and large clumps just start to form. When you squeeze some of the fine crumbs between your fingers, they should hold together.
Turn out the dough and divide it into 2 portions, one slightly larger than the other. Shape the dough into two 1-inch-thick disks. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least 2 hours.
Lightly flour a large sheet of parchment paper. Unwrap the larger disk of dough, place it in the center of the paper and cover it with its plastic wrap. Roll into a 12-inch round, occasionally lifting and replacing the plastic wrap. Flip it over and peel off the parchment, then lift the dough with the plastic wrap and flip it into a 9-inch pie plate, gently pressing it into the bottom and up the sides. Discard the plastic. Refrigerate until ready to fill.
Unwrap the remaining disk of dough and repeat the rolling, using the same parchment and rolling the dough into an 11-inch round. If the dough has softened, slide it on the parchment onto a pan and refrigerate until firm. Use a fluted or straight-edged pizza/pastry cutter or a sharp knife to cut the remaining dough into 1/2-inch-wide strips. Slide onto a large flat plate or pan and refrigerate.
For the filling: Stir together the sugar, cornstarch, coriander and salt in a large bowl. Add the blueberries, nectarines and grapefruit juice. Toss gently to coat; let stand while the oven preheats.
Position a rack in the lowest third of the oven; preheat to 450 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil, shiny side up. Place the pie plate on the baking sheet.
Stir the filling again, then transfer it to the pie plate.
Brush water on the visible edges of the pie crust dough in the plate. Arrange half of the dough strips on top in parallel lines, spaced apart as you like. Fold back the strips at the center of the pie. Place a dough strip perpendicular to the other strips across the center of the pie. Unfold alternating strips over the perpendicular strip. Set down another perpendicular strip 1 inch apart from the first and unfold the remaining strips over it. Repeat the folding, placing and unfolding to create a lattice top. Or simply place half of the strips on the pie, spacing them an inch apart, and place the remaining strips perpendicular to them, spacing them an inch apart.
Use a pair of kitchen shears to trim the strips and bottom edge to a 3/4-inch overhang. Fold the overhang under and decoratively crimp the edges with a fork or fingers. If the dough has softened, pop the whole pie into the freezer until the dough is firm again, about 10 minutes. For a sparkly top, brush the lattice with some of the beaten egg and sprinkle with sugar.
Bake for 30 minutes; if the crust seems to be browning too quickly, tent the pie with aluminum foil, shiny side down. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake for about 35 to 40 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and the filling is strongly bubbling. If after 40 minutes the filling isn't strongly bubbling, cut an X in the center of the foil tent and replace the tent, shiny side down. Return the oven temperature to 450 degrees and bake 5 minutes more, at which point the filling should be bubbling.
Cool (on the baking sheet) on a wire rack until barely warm. Carefully lift the pie plate off the foil; set it on the rack until the filling is set, at least 6 hours. Nutrition | Per serving (based on 10): 370 calories, 5 g protein, 62 g carbohydrates, 13 g fat, 7 g saturated fat, 30 mg cholesterol, 180 mg sodium, 6 g dietary fiber, 29 g sugar