Food & Drink

Mix-in-the-pan pie crusts make summer desserts a breeze

Strawberry pie with a simple crust.
Strawberry pie with a simple crust. TNS

“Easy as pie” doesn’t mean what many of us think it means, which should ease some bakers’ guilt.

The phrase is meant to describe the act of eating pie, which we all know is ridiculously easy to do. No one needs coaching to dive into a slice of banana cream.

Yet the saying has been corrupted to suggest that making pie is easy. And while experienced bakers can whack out a lattice-topped rhubarb custard without breaking a sweat, they still appreciate everyone’s acknowledgment that this pie Didn’t Just Make Itself.

Here, however, are three pies that accommodate summer’s desire for ease, mostly because their crusts are the essence of simplicity.

You can mix these crusts right in the pie pan, and it’s a good bet that the ingredients are already on your shelves.

The fillings themselves come together on the stovetop or in a bowl, baking for less than 20 minutes total in the oven, if that.

Leading off: Graham cracker crusts are classic — so classic that we can buy ready-to-fill ones. But oh, we can do better, making a crust that is fresher, has crunchier texture and great flavor.

We’ve paired ours with a key lime filling (and no, you don’t need Key limes) for a refreshing end to a meal.

Next up: No summer should pass without one (or a half-dozen) days that end with a fresh strawberry pie. A shortbread-like crust using oil as a binder is blended in the pie pan, then patted into shape. Its neutral flavor and delicate melt-in-your-mouth texture lets the berries shine.

Our filling recipe has a slightly retro vibe, drawing upon the wonders of a little Jell-O gelatin to create a glistening glaze that packs a flavor punch, while also enabling you to cut knife-sharp slices that are made for Instagram.

Finally, fruits and citrus are fine, but sometimes you just need a slab of chocolate. Our pudding-like filling made with bittersweet chocolate comes together on the stovetop in less than 10 minutes.

You could pour it into either of the above crusts, but we like the slightly savory surprise of a crust made with crushed saltine crackers. The hint of saltiness pairs deliciously with the dark chocolate.

Best of all, you can make these pies the night before an event, or the morning of, since all need several hours in the refrigerator.

Served with dollops of whipped cream, these desserts are the essence of summer living: quick, satisfying and, yes, easy as (eating) pie.

Key Lime Pie With Graham Cracker Crust

Adapted from “The Joy of Cooking.”

1 sleeve graham crackers (9 large crackers)

1/3 cup sugar

5 tablespoons butter, melted

3 to 4 teaspoons finely grated zest (from 2 to 3 limes)

1/2 cup strained fresh lime juice (from 2 to 3 limes)

1 (15-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk

4 egg yolks (freeze whites for future use)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place graham crackers in a heavy-duty sealable bag and crush with a rolling pin into crumbs that resemble sand, leaving some larger crumbs for texture. You'll have about 1-1/2 cups.

Pour into an 8-inch pie plate. Mix in sugar, then pour melted butter over all. With a fork, slowly blend the crumbs and butter until mixture is uniformly moistened. Press mixture firmly and evenly across bottom and up the sides of pan. Pressing with a small measuring cup helps pack the crust and makes a smooth, even surface. Bake crust for 20 minutes.

While crust is baking, prepare the filling: Grate zest from limes, then halve and juice them. (Start with 2; you may not need the third.)

In a medium bowl, whisk together zest, juice, yolks and sweetened condensed milk. The mixture will thicken as the milk reacts with acid citrus juice. Set aside.

When the crust is done, remove from oven and reduce temperature to 325 degrees. Place rack in center position.

Pour filling into warm crust, then bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until filling is just firm.

Cool on wire rack, then carefully cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

Nutrition information per each of 8 servings: 360 calories, 16 g fat, 200 mg sodium, 51 g carbohydrates, 9 g saturated fat, 42 g total sugars, 7 g protein, 130 mg cholesterol, 1 g dietary fiber. Diabetic exchanges per serving: 1/2 milk, 1 starch, 2 carb, 3 fat.

Serves 6 to 8.

Fresh Strawberry Pie With Oil Crust

Note: It’s best to use regular Jell-O to thicken and flavor the glaze. A 3-ounce box is enough for 2 pies, so save the rest for another day. This recipe also is great with fresh peaches and peach Jell-O. From Kim Ode.

1 1/3 cups flour

2 tablespoons plus 3/4 cup sugar, divided

1 / 4 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon neutral oil such as canola

3 tablespoons milk

2 (1 pound) cartons of strawberries

3/4 cup water

2 tablespoons cornstarch

3 tablespoons strawberry-flavored Jell-O (save remainder for another pie, or make a half-batch of Jell-O)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine flour, 2 tablespoons sugar and salt in a pie plate.

Mix together oil and milk until creamy, then pour over dry ingredients. With a fork, slowly blend the mixture until it’s evenly moistened and begins to come together. Don’t overwork it. Press mixture across the bottom and up the sides of pan as evenly as possible. For a smooth edge, hold your thumb along the rim as you press the dough against it. Prick the bottom and sides with a fork about a dozen times to let the crust release steam.

Bake for 15 minutes. Let cool on wire rack.

While the crust is baking, start preparing the filling: Wash and core strawberries. You can set aside some smaller ones if you want whole berries in the filling. Otherwise halve or quarter the berries and set aside.

In small saucepan, whisk together 3/4 cup water, 3/4 cup sugar and cornstarch. Over medium-high heat and stirring constantly, bring mixture to a boil. Stir for another 30 seconds; it will suddenly become translucent. Remove from heat and stir in Jell-O.

Arrange half of the sliced berries in the pie shell and spoon over about one-third of the glaze. Arrange the remaining berries in the shell and coat with remaining glaze.

Chill for several hours before serving.

Nutrition information per each of 8 servings: 320 calories, 11 g fat, 100 mg sodium, 52 g carbohydrates, 1 g saturated fat, 31 g total sugars, 3 g protein, 0 mg cholesterol, 3 g dietary fiber. Calories 320 Fat 11 g Sodium 100 mg. Diabetic exchanges per serving: 1/2 fruit, 1 starch, 2 carb.

Serves 6 to 8.

Chocolate Pie With Saltine Crust

This filling is adapted from “The Pioneer Woman.”

32 saltine crackers

3 tablespoons plus 3/4 cup sugar, divided

5 tablespoons butter, melted

2 tablespoons cornstarch

Pinch of salt

1 1/2 cup milk

2 egg yolks

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped in quarter-inch pieces

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 tablespoon butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place crackers in a heavy-duty sealable bag and crush with a rolling pin into crumbs that resemble sand, leaving some larger crumbs for texture.

Pour into an 8-inch pie plate. Mix in 3 tablespoons sugar, then pour melted butter over all. With a fork, slowly blend the crumbs and butter until mixture is uniformly moistened. Press mixture firmly evenly across bottom and up the sides of pan. Pressing with a small measuring cup (the one you used for sugar) helps pack the crust and makes a smooth, even surface. Bake for 15 minutes.

While the crust is baking, prepare the filling: In a medium saucepan, whisk together 3/4 cup sugar, cornstarch and salt.

In a small bowl, whisk together milk and yolks and add to dry ingredients. Over medium heat, and stirring constantly, cook mixture until bubbles appear around the edge. Cook for 20 more seconds as it begins thicken. Remove from heat and add the chocolate, stirring until it’s melted. Stir in vanilla and butter.

Pour filling into warm pie crust. Cool completely on wire rack, then carefully cover with plastic wrap and chill several hours or overnight.

Nutrition information per each of 8 servings: 340 carlories, 17 g fat, 230 mg sodium, 44 g carbohydrates, 9 g saturated fat, 31 g total sugars, 4 g protein, 70 mg cholesterol, 1 g dietary fiber. Diabetic exchanges per serving: 1 starch, 2 carb, 3 1/2 fat.

Serves 6 to 8.

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