Perfect pies for summer

  • An apricot and cherry pie by pastry chef Jenny Malicki. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

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.

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