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Thursday, July 3, 2014 12:01 am

Easy peasy pie for the Fourth of July

Strawberry Pie with chocolate crust and a slice of Beach Pie with pretzel crust.


Back when I gave cooking classes, one of the most popular was “Demystifying Pie.” While it explored different fillings from savory to sweet, the main emphasis was the crust: pie pastry, aka pâte brisée.

I’ve been making pie pastry for as long as I can remember, first watching my mother and grandmother, then helping, and finally going solo; for me making pie dough is second nature.

But I knew that many folks think it’s intimidating. That was brought home to me at one of the classes. Two regulars were friends who always came together. But for Demystifying Pie, only one had signed up. “Is – OK, or is she just out of town?” I asked. “No, she’s fine,” said her friend. “She’s just so terrified of making pie that she was afraid to come.”

My May 8 column has tips for making classic pie pastry (see illinoistimes.com). But if you’re intimidated by the thought of making pie dough, just don’t have time, or want to try something new, here are some delicious alternatives.

The nut dough needs only to be pressed into tins or lightly rolled on a baking sheet. It’s a good substrate not only for conventional pies and tarts, but also for creating a basis for unusual shapes, such as a flag for the Fourth of July, or a heart for Valentine’s Day.

Using different crackers, chips or cereals for crumb crusts is a delightful departure from overused graham cracker crusts.

I’ve also included two methods for utilizing fresh fruit in pies and tarts. And last, a delectable riff on Key Lime Pie, known as Beach Pie.

Nut crust

  • 1 c. lightly toasted nuts such as pecans, almonds, walnuts, pine nuts or hazelnuts, finely ground (measure before grinding)
  • 1 1/2 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 c. (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 T. firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract


  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 T. grated lemon peel

Mix all ingredients together, either by hand or using a mixer or food processor. Press into pie or tart pans. Alternatively, the dough can be pressed or rolled (use just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking if using a rolling pin) into another shape (as in a rectangle to make a fruit “flag”) on a baking sheet. The dough can be crimped around the edges for a border or not.

Refrigerate or freeze until thoroughly chilled.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Bake for 25-30 minutes for a single pie shell, or rolled shape, 15-20 minutes for individual shells. Cool before filling.

Master recipe for crumb pie crust

  • 2 c. pulverized crackers (suggestions: saltines, Ritz-type crackers, pretzels, cornflakes, tortilla chips and of course – graham crackers!)
  • 3 T. sugar
  • 1/2 c. softened unsalted butter, plus additional if necessary

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Crush the crackers finely, but not to powdery dust. You can use a food processor, your hands or a rolling pin. Add the sugar, then knead in the butter until the crumbs hold together like dough. Depending on the cracker type, you may need to add more butter. Press into an 8- or 9-inch pie pan. Chill for 15 minutes, then bake for 18-20 minutes.

Chocolate crumb crust

  • 1 package (1 lb. 2 oz.) chocolate sandwich cookies such as Oreos
  • 10 T. melted unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 325 F.

Scrape the white filling out of the cookies and discard it. Grind the chocolate wafers with a rolling pin or in a food processor into crumbs.

Mix the cookie crumbs with the melted butter and press the mixture evenly over the bottom and sides of the pie tin. Bake for 10 minutes to set the crust, then set aside to cool while preparing the filling. If the filling will be baked, the crust does not have to be completely cool; slightly warm room temperature is fine. If not, cool it completely and refrigerate immediately after the pie is assembled.

Fresh fruit tart
  • Partially baked and cooled pastry for an 8- to 9-inch one-crust pie, or a baked crumb crust or nut crust
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 8 oz. package cream cheese, softened
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/4 c. brown sugar
  • Fresh fruit (Either one kind or a combination. Suggestions include strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, pitted sweet cherries, kiwis, bananas, mangoes, fresh pineapple, peaches, nectarines, plums, pears or apricots. Apples do not work well.)    
  • Lemon juice, if necessary
  • 1/2 c. apple jelly

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Mix the beaten egg, cream cheese, vanilla and brown sugar together and spread evenly over the pastry. Return to the oven and bake just until the cheese mixture is set, 10-15 minutes. Cool completely. The tart can be prepared ahead of time up to this point.

When the tart has cooled completely, arrange the fruit in a decorative design over the top of the cheese mixture. Fruit that may turn brown, such as bananas or peaches, should be tossed with a little lemon juice, but be sure to drain it well before placing it on the tart.

The tart should be completely covered with the fruit with none (or little) of the cheese mixture showing through. This can be done about an hour before serving. (Less if using juicy fruit slices such as peaches or pears.)

Just before serving, melt the apple jelly in a small saucepan over low heat. Using a pastry brush, lightly brush the fruit with the jelly, making sure that it is not hot, just warm. Serve immediately.

Fresh fruit pie
For the glaze:

  • 1 c. sugar
  • 3 T. cornstarch
  • 2/3 c. water
  • 1 c. fruit, cut into small pieces if necessary
  • 3-5 c. fresh fruit, cut into bite-sized pieces


  • 8 oz. package cream cheese at room temperature
  • 2 T. sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

In a medium saucepan, mix the sugar and cornstarch together until no lumps remain. Stir in the water and fruit and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 5 minutes until the mixture is thickened and the fruit is cooked through. Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature.

If using the cream cheese, mix with the 2 T. sugar and the vanilla and gently spread on the bottom of the pie shell.

When the glaze has cooled to room temperature, mix gently with the fresh fruit and turn into the pie shell, spreading the mixture evenly.

Note: You can use the same type of fruit for the glaze as for the fresh fruit or you can use a different type. One of the best combinations is to use rhubarb for the glaze and strawberries or other berries for the fresh fruit. If your fruit is very sweet, you may want to replace 1-2 tablespoons of the water with lemon juice. Berries and stone fruits such as peaches and sweet cherries are best for this pie – fruits such as apples and citrus are not appropriate.

Beach pie

  • 1 8- to 9-inch cracker crumb crust
  • 1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1/2 c. lemon or lime juice or a mix of the two

Garnishing possibilities:

  • Whipped cream
  • Sour cream
  • Berries
  • Coarse sea salt

Bake the crust as indicated in the master recipe. While the crust is cooling (it doesn’t need to be completely cold), beat the egg yolks into the milk, then beat in the citrus juice. It is important to completely combine these ingredients.

Pour into the shell and bake for 16 minutes or until the filling has just set. As soon as the pie has come to room temperature, refrigerate. The pie must be completely cold before slicing. The pie can be served as is, or topped with lightly sweetened whipped cream or sour cream and/or with berries. If using the salt, sprinkle it on the pie just before serving.

Contact Julianne Glatz at realcuisine.jg@gmail.com.

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