The Critical Step You’re Missing With Fruit Pie

Homemade fruit pie in a deep bowl is a great deal. It’s a great housewarming gift, an acceptable apology, and a good way to make friends. A hefty slice with a thick layer of cherry filling (or blueberries, depending on your fruit love language) can make anyone wonder if they really are “too full for dessert.”

That’s what makes the frustration of a watery-bottomed fruit disaster all the more poignant. You don’t have to put the cake in the oven and worry that when you take it out it will be fruit soup. You deserve better. The key to taking the guesswork out of baking a pie is to prepare the filling first.

Why you need to prepare the fruit topping first

Two recurring problems with pie recipes that use raw fruit fillings are a soggy bottom crust and a giant air pocket between the fruit and the top crust. Dirty bottoms are the result of fruit oozing out during baking and using too little thickener (usually cornstarch or a flour mixture). Recipes usually take into account the average amount of fruit juices, but they cannot predict the variable types of fruit, frozen and fresh, or whether your area has had a rainy season. I’ve had pies that literally bled with fruit juice on the bottom because I couldn’t predict how much thickener I needed.

An air pocket in the top crust is another particular frustrating focus for your pie. Let’s say you fill a pie with a bunch of raw apples and cover them lovingly with the top layer. When your cake enters the oven, the first thing to cook and set is the top crust, as it is the most exposed and comparatively thin. Apples take longer to cook. Over time, the fruit sheds water and shrinks. The cellular structure will collapse, and the filling will shrink even more. Meanwhile, the crust will retain its shape even when the apples are cooked, fooling your guests into thinking they’re filled with fruit when they’re actually filled with air.

The best way to prepare the filling ahead of time

Pre-cooking the fruit topping is the best way to make sure your cake is exactly the way you intended it to be, and there are a few other benefits as well. You decide how thick the filling will be, you can make it days in advance (weeks if you keep it in the freezer), you can adjust the flavor more precisely, and the baking time is reduced. To do this, place the desired amount of fruit in a medium or large saucepan. Over medium heat, add two tablespoons of water and, if desired, a little sugar. Water may seem like a confusing addition, but this small amount will eventually evaporate and, more importantly, prevent the fruit from burning on the bottom. Stir occasionally as the fruit continues to cook. After about five minutes, most of the water will have come out, the juice will begin to bubble, and you’ll be ready to add the thickener. I usually use cornstarch slurry . After you have mixed the thickener, bring it back to a boil. This tells you what it will look like when it comes out of the oven, so you can decide if you like the consistency. If you want it to stand up when you slice it, add more thickener (it will get a little tougher as it cools). If you prefer a looser texture, add one tablespoon of water at a time until you are satisfied. When the filling is completely cool, add additional spices or flavorings. There is no more unpredictable puddle of juice, and the filling has already decreased, so there is no danger of a giant air pocket. You have the perfect filling, no surprises. (Clutch motion: If you think you’ll miss the taste of barely cooked fruit, leave out half a cup of raw berries or fruit slices and add them at the end for an invigorating texture.)

Remember to adjust the baking time when using pre-cooked toppings.

Feel free to cover and refrigerate for up to five days, freeze for up to six months, or use right away. When you are ready, fill, cook and bake the cake as usual, but : adjust the baking time. You can wait about 20 minutes because the filling is already cooked, so you are essentially reheating it inside the crust. Once the crust is a nice brown color and you can see the filling bubbling gently in the vents, you’re done! Let it cool and get ready to slice the fruitiest pie of your life.

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