Nothing screams summer louder than an all-American pie, made with cherries and apricots, plums and peaches plucked at the peak of ripeness.
"To me, it's a way to make people feel happy," said Jenny Malicki, the new pastry chef for Zazu Kitchen + Farm in Sebastopol. "You can't be sad with a piece of pie."
The fruit for the filling should be perfectly ripe and flavorful but not too soft. The crust should be crisp and golden brown on top, flaky and tender inside.
"The biggest thing about pies is the crust," Malicki said. "It has to be flaky."
Finding a high-quality pie is not as easy as it used to be, when grandma would spend all day baking, then set her homemade pies on the windowsill to cool. To fill that void, Malicki wants to revive the art of pie-baking among her peers.
Malicki, who also works at Sur La Table in Santa Rosa, once had a customer come in wringing her heads, because her first pie ended in disaster. Malicki shared a few basic tools to buy, then offered her own pie recipe as a trusty road map to crust success.
No matter how you slice it, baking a pie requires focus and attention to detail. But with practice, the process becomes more intuitive. Here are Malicki's tips for dough-phobes:
■ Tool time: You don't need a food processor to make dough. You can use a pastry blender instead, but you need one with blades that will cut through the cold butter. A heavy rolling pin helps roll out the dough, as does a non-slip, silicone mat. Also, use a good pie pan, made of porcelain, glass or heavy metal.
■ Cold, colder and coldest: It's important to keep everything cold throughout the process. "The butter needs to be really cold," she said. "Make ice water and stick it in the fridge."
Once you've put the pie together, slide it into the freezer for a half hour, before baking.
During a heat wave, make the dough the night before, then bake the pie in the morning.
■ Butter versus lard: Malicki uses all butter, but if you like lard, you can adapt her recipe by using 6 ounces of butter and 2 ounces of lard. "Just make sure you buy top-quality leaf lard," she said.
■ Love me tender: One of the most common mistakes is overworking the dough, which makes it tough. Use a light touch and remember that less is more.
"Overworking melts the fat, so there are no more layers." she said. "Also, you don't want it too dry or too wet."
■ Roll and rotate: To roll out the dough, sprinkle the pastry mat with flour, then place the round disc of dough on top. Starting at the center, roll the dough away from you. Then start in the center again, and roll it toward you. Pick up the disc and turn the dough 45 degrees. (If it sticks, loosen it with a spatula.)
Repeat this process until the dough is 11 or 12 inches in diameter. Place a sheet of parchment on top of it, roll it up, and refrigerate. After you roll out the second piece, roll it up and refrigerate it while you work on the filling.