I'm happy to eat birthday cake at other people's parties. But when it's my big day, I'll take pie—one part flaky crust, one part sweet, jammy fruit—every time. I celebrated my last birthday by making an attractively lumpy, left-leaning strawberry-rhubarb pie. I didn't care what it looked like—it tasted like pure summer.
And yet many otherwise confident cooks find pie baking a daunting proposition. "People get all nervous when it comes to pie, thinking everything has to be perfect," says Emily Luchetti, author of The Fearless Baker
the executive pastry chef at San Francisco's Waterbar
who developed the versatile and forgiving recipes here. "But even if your crust has some cracks and the juices run out, it's still going to be good. Just serve it in a bowl with some ice cream. I mean, it's pie!"
If you're worried about rolling out a traditional crust, you can try the Black Forest pie here
, made with chocolate chip ice cream in a crust of crushed sugar cones, topped with sweetened cherries. And just as you can buy a boxed cake mix, you can also purchase a refrigerated crust (these are good cheats, according to Luchetti). Use one to make a free-form blueberry-nectarine tart
or a lattice-topped berry pie.
Cupcake lovers can create individual mini pies
with store-bought puff pastry—so anyone who's dreamed of downing an entire pie can have the satisfaction of doing exactly that.
If you're ready to make your own dough, consider pint-size hand pies
—quite possibly the greatest-dessert delivery system ever invented for backyard barbecues. "Guests can grab one and get right back to swimming," Luchetti says. And pie is remarkably flexible: Just about any summer fruit you have on hand can be swapped into whichever crust is most enticing to you.
Most of all, Luchetti encourages new pie bakers to relax. "When the edges don't line up and the filling is bubbling out—that's what makes it beautiful." Just like my birthday pie, it's what's inside that counts.
Get the recipe for Strawberry-Rhubarb-Raspberry Lattice Pie