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THE AMERICAN ISSUE | PIE

Baked beauties in revealing outfits

Peeking out through woven lattices or stylish cut-outs of golden pie crust, the fruits of summer strut their sweet stuff.

July 04, 2007|Susan LaTempa and Donna Deane | Times Staff Writers

SUMMER fruit pies are America's birthday cake. Just as the blueberries are ripening in Maine, the peaches blushing in Georgia and the olallieberries deep-purpling in Washington, we gather in backyards and on patios to cheer the founders and make best wishes for our national future.

So, of course, we celebrate (now and all summer long) with the dish that defines us as Americans.

Honey-sweet apricots and winy cherries together under one flaky-crisp crust, a trio of berries thickened into a jam-like filling in another, the rich fruit flavors of nectarine and blackberries playing off each other in a third -- thanks to the abundant fruit of orchard and bramble, pies that we make at this time of year can be a glorious blend of flavors.

Some of our best-loved pies are single-ingredient classics, but there's great reason to mix and match: The more complex interplay of flavors in a two- or three-fruit filling is admirably set off by the simple sweet flakiness of pie crust.

And you don't have to peel the apricots. Or blanch the nectarines before peeling. For baking, the nectarines should be firm but not hard; they should give to gentle pressure when pressed with your thumb.

Use less sugar and a smaller amount of thickening agent (such as tapioca) than you might have seen called for in the past. With the wide availability of gorgeous farmers market produce, it's best to use both sparingly and allow the true fruit flavors and textures to be enjoyed. Which is not to say these pretty pies are plain-Jane creations in any way. Well-chosen details give them originality and oomph.

A judicious pinch of black pepper in the crust of a nectarine-blackberry pie adds a mysterious and intriguing dark note; vanilla bean enriches an apricot-cherry filling.

To bring the combination of raspberries, blackberries and blueberries to their full expression of flavor, add a little Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise, the sweet peach-scented wine from the southern Rhone region of France. You could also use another sweet white wine such as Sauternes or Monbazillac.

A few notes on technique are helpful, even if you're an experienced pie maker. Use glass pans to make fruit pies; they won't react with the acid in the fruit. And chill the dough before rolling it out. If you've gotten distracted and left it in the fridge longer than an hour, let it sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes before rolling it out.

Don't shy away from making lattice or cutout crusts -- they're not hard to master and it's so rewarding to see the glowing colors of caramelized fruit revealed through the windows of golden brown crust.

Stars and pies forever.

susan.latempa@latimes.com

donna.deane@latimes.com

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Nectarine-berry pie with black pepper crust

Total time: About 2 hours

Servings: 8

Note: From Donna Deane You can substitute Demerara with any large-crystal sugar, such as Sugar in the Raw.

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon salt, divided

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2/3 cup cold butter, cut into 1/2 -inch pieces, plus 1 tablespoon butter, cut into 1/4 -inch pieces, divided

4 tablespoons ice water

10 nectarines (about 3 pounds), peeled and cut into 1/2 -inch slices

2 cups blackberries

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1/2 cup sugar

3 tablespoons cornstarch

1/4 cup corn syrup

1 egg, beaten

1 tablespoon Demerara sugar

1. Combine the flour, three-fourths teaspoon salt and black pepper. Add the two-thirds cup of butter pieces and toss to coat. Use a pastry blender or your hands to work the butter into the dry ingredients until small pieces of butter remain and the flour-butter mixture resembles coarse-ground meal with no large pieces of butter visible.

2. Sprinkle the ice water over the flour mixture and stir with a fork until the dough holds together and forms a ball. On a lightly floured surface, cut the dough in half and shape into two equal disks. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.

3. In a large bowl, toss together the nectarines, blackberries and lemon juice. You should have about 4 cups of fruit. Let stand while rolling out the dough.

4. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and allow it to stand 10 to 15 minutes. Roll out half of the dough on a lightly floured surface into a 12-inch circle about one-eighth-inch thick. Roll the dough around the rolling pin. Carefully lift the dough onto a 9-inch pie plate and gently press it into the bottom and up the sides, leaving excess dough hanging over the edge.

5. Roll out the second round of dough into a rectangle about 13 by 10 inches and one-fourth-inch thick. Cut the dough lengthwise into eight strips about 1-inch-wide.

6. In a bowl, combine the sugar, cornstarch and remaining one-fourth teaspoon salt. Pour the mixture over the fruit, stirring to coat. Then stir in the corn syrup. Fill the pie shell with the fruit and juices. Sprinkle over the remaining 1 tablespoon cut-up butter.

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