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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.

■ Go forth and be fruitful: For the filling, take the already prepped fruit and toss it with the liquids (lemon juice, vanilla or almond extract). Whisk together the dry ingredients (the sugar, tapioca flour or cornstarch thickener, and salt.) About 10 minutes before you're ready to bake, throw the dry ingredients on the fruit.

■ Assembly required: Take the dough discs out of the fridge and let sit for 5 or 10 minutes. Nestle the bottom dough into the pan and let the top hang over the edge about an inch. Add fruit filling until it comes to the top at the sides and mounds up in the middle.

Using kitchen scissors, trim the bottom dough even with the pan edge, then dab the egg yolk wash on the top and underneath the edge, where it touches the pan.

Add the top crust, leaving an extra half-inch past the edge, and trim the edges evenly. Tuck the top crust under the bottom crust to seal, and crimp.

■ Turn up the heat: Start out the pie in a 425-degree oven. After 10 minutes, turn down to 350 degrees. Halfway through cooking time, turn the pie, for even cooking. Check it early, to make sure it doesn't burn. You'll know the pie is done when you see thick juices bubbling up out of the vent holes.

■ Cool it: Pies should always be left to cool on a rack, so that the crust stays crunchy underneath, not moist. And make sure it cools thoroughly.

"Pies have to cool for two hours, so that the juices can thicken," Malicki said. "Otherwise, it's going to run all over the place."

Here is the pie dough recipe for the three pie recipes below. Directions include instructions for using a food processor or a pastry cutter with blades.

<b>Pie Dough</b>

Makes one 9-inch double crust pie (plus extra)

<i>3 3/4 cups (18.75 ounces) all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 1/2 teaspoons sugar

12 ounces cold unsalted butter, cut into 1 tablespoon chunks

6 to 8 ounces ice water</i>

In bowl of food processor (or stainless steel bowl; see note below), pulse dry ingredients a few times to blend. Add cold butter chunks, bury under surface of flour. Process just 2 or 3 times, then process for 2 or 3 seconds. (Be careful not to over-process. You should still have some big chunks of butter after processing.)

Break up big pieces of butter with your hands, smearing and flattening between thumb and next two fingers. Drizzle about a third of the ice water over and toss with big spoon. Add more water and toss. If you pinch the dough together, and it binds but still looks sandy, you're almost there. Add water by the tablespoon and toss. It should look pebbly, but not floury or sandy.

Weigh out two, 12 1/2-ounce discs, knead 2 or 3 times lightly on floured work surface, then wrap tightly in plastic wrap and flatten. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes or up to 2 days.

(You will have about 8 ounces of dough left. Wrap in plastic wrap and use for 2 turnovers or a small, single crust pie.)

Note: If not using a food processor, you can use a stainless steel mixing bowl and pastry cutter for cutting butter into flour. Toss dry ingredients together, then add cold butter to bowl.

****

With pastry cutter, cut butter into thin pieces, making sure all pieces are coated with flour. Proceed as above for adding the ice water.

Tapioca flour is available at Asian markets and at Andy's Produce in Sebastopol. If you cannot find, you can substitute 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour as the thickener.

<b>Apricot-Cherry Pie</b>

Makes one 9-inch pie

<i>1 recipe pie dough (see above)

1 1/2 pounds apricots, cut in quarters, to equal 4 cups

1 pound cherries, pitted to equal 4 cups

Juice of 1 lemon

1 tablespoons vanilla extract or paste

1/2 teaspoon almond extract, optional

2/3 to 3/4 cups sugar, depends on sweetness of fruit

1/4 cup flour

2 tablespoons tapioca flour

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut in small pieces

1 egg yolk

1 tablespoons heavy cream

Sanding or turbinado sugar</i>

If dough has been refrigerated for hours or days, remove and let sit 10 to 15 minutes before rolling.

Otherwise, remove dough discs one at a time (while working on one keep the other chilled.) On your work surface, put down a silicone pastry mat and sprinkle lightly with flour. Starting from the center of disc, roll pin away from you, then roll from center of disc towards you. Turn dough a quarter turn clockwise. Continue until round of dough is about 12 inches in diameter. If the dough starts to stick, loosen gently with a dough scraper or offset spatula. Lightly re-flour rolling pin as necessary. If any surface is going to be a little sticky, you want it to be the mat/dough contact, not dough/rolling pin contact. At any point of rolling dough, if it becomes too warm and butter seems to be melting, return to refrigerator for 10 minutes or so.

Fit the pastry in your 9-inch pie pan, nestling it in to fill pan completely, leaving no air pockets. Do not stretch, as dough will shrink back during baking. With kitchen scissors, trim dough flush with outer edge of pie pan. Refrigerate while making filling and rolling second dough disc.

At this point, prep your fruit if you haven't yet. In large bowl, toss fruit with lemon juice and extracts, set aside. Whisk sugar, flour, salt in small bowl, set aside. Make egg wash by stirring yolk together with cream in another small bowl, set aside.

Now roll up the second dough disc as you did with the first, and put in the fridge.

Toss sugar mix with fruit, set aside. With pastry brush and egg wash moisten the top surface of pie edge. Go around a second time and moisten the underside of pie edge. Fill pie shell with half the filling, scatter butter pieces evenly over, add remaining filling. Top with remaining dough round. Trim top crust with scissors, leaving 1-inch side overhang past pie pan edge. Tuck top crust edge under bottom crust and press to seal.

To flute edge: Starting on right side of pie, with right hand create a "V" with thumb and index finger; with left thumb press dough into V created by right hand. Continue around pie edge, creating a rickrack edge or a scalloped edge if not as sharply shaped. Lightly brush top and edge of pie with egg wash and sprinkle liberally with sanding sugar. Cut steam vents in top crust.

Freeze pie for at least 30 minutes. Heat oven to 425 degrees while pie is freezing. Bake on half sheet pan at 425 for 15 minutes or until crust is set and lightly browned. Reduce oven to 350 and continue to bake for 35 or 45 minutes longer until juices are bubbling thick through steam slits. Remove to cooling rack for a minimum of 2 hours.

****

<b>Plum-Frangipani Pie with lattice top</b>

Makes one 9-inch pie

<i>For 1 cup of frangipani:

1/2 cup almonds

1/2 stick soft, unsalted butter

1/4 cup sugar

1 egg, at room temperature

2 1/4 teaspoon vanilla

2 1/4 teaspoon flour

For pie dough:

1 recipe pie dough (see above)

For filling:

3 1/2 pounds plums, cut into 1-inch slices to equal 8 cups

Juice of 1 lemon

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

2/3 to 3/4 cups sugar

1/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons tapioca flour

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut in small pieces

1 egg yolk

1 tablespoon heavy cream

Sanding or turbinado sugar

1/2 cup frangipani</i>

For frangipani: At 350 degrees, toast almonds for 5 to 7 minutes until fragrant. Cool. Process all frangipani ingredients in food processor for 3 minutes. Use in pie recipe as directed. Remaining frangipani can be kept refrigerated for up to 1 week.

For pie dough: Roll pie dough as explained in apricot-cherry pie recipe above. When trimming the bottom crust, leave a 1 inch overhang past the pie pan edge. Spread ? cup frangipani evenly over bottom crust. Refrigerate crust while prepping filling.

For filling: In large bowl, toss plums with lemon juice and extract, set aside. Whisk sugar, flour, salt in small bowl, set aside. Make egg wash by stirring egg yolk together in another small bowl, set aside. The second round of dough will be cut in 3/4-inch strips if making a lattice top. Cut 10 or 12 strips with a fluted pastry wheel. Brush strips lightly with egg wash, sprinkle with sanding sugar.

Toss sugar mixture with plums. Remove pie pan from refrigerator and fill with half of the plum mixture. Scatter butter pieces over plums, then add remaining filling. Lightly brush top surface of pie edge. Lay 5 strips of pastry North/South on pie over filling. With remaining strips of pastry, weave over and under every other strip going East/West. Trim strips even with pie edge (bottom crust should extend 1 inch past pie edge). Fold bottom crust up and over lattice strip edges and seal. Decoratively crimp edge.

Freeze pie at least 30 minutes. Heat oven to 425 while pie is freezing. Bake on half sheet pan at 425 for 15 minutes or until crust is set and lightly browned. Reduce oven to 350 and continue to bake 30 to 40 minutes or until juices are bubbling thick. Remove to cooling rack for a minimum of 2 hours.

****

Here is Malicki's recipe for a custard pie, which is one of her favorites. You can serve it with fruit or cold for breakfast.

<b>Vanilla Custard Pie</b>

Makes one 9-inch, sing-crust pie

<i>1/2 recipe pie dough (see above) or 12 1/2 ounces dough

4 eggs, room temperature

3 cups milk or half-and-half, at room temperature

1/2 cup sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla paste or 1 vanilla bean scraped

Freshly grated nutmeg</i>

Roll disc of pie dough as described in the cherry-apricot pie recipe above. Fit into a 9-inch pie pan, trim with scissors, leaving a 1-inch overhang past pie pan edge. Turn edge under itself and flute decoratively. Freeze pie crust for at least 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 425 degrees. To blind bake crust: line frozen crust with parchment paper and fill with pie weights. Bake at 425 for 5 to 7 minutes until crust has set and barely beginning to color. Remove from oven and carefully remove parchment paper and pie weights.

Return pie crust to oven and bake for an additional 5 minutes until golden. Remove from oven and cool slightly on cooling rack. While crust is cooling, whisk all ingredients together except nutmeg. Move pie pan to half sheet pan and carefully fill with custard mixture. Grate nutmeg over top of custard.

Bake at 425 degrees for 10 minutes, then reduce oven to 350. Continue to bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until custard is still a little jiggly in middle. Remove to cooling rack for at least 1 hour.

<i>Staff Writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com.</i>