I love pie. Blueberry, peach, lemon, apple, you name it! And what’s not to love about heaps of fresh, sweet fruit between two layers of flakey, buttery crust?
But lately I’ve been wondering… Is it possible to make a pie healthy? Or is that just some kind of mythical dream we’d like to be true? I decided to put on my baking hat and get to work, and here are five things I learned:
Make it yourselfI find that if I take the time to make a pie from scratch, I appreciate it more. There’s a certain sort of satisfaction that comes with mixing together the ingredients, smelling the amazing aroma coming from the oven, and then the anticipation waiting for it to cool. And if you have little ones at home like I do, they might like to participate. My 2-year-old helped by eating most of the blueberries in the last pie I made!
Start with seasonal fruitThe riper your fruit, the less sugar you need. Don’t be tempted by those peaches in the grocery store. Because they’re not in season and have to travel long distances to get here, they’re picked green and ripened during transport. That means they have less naturally occurring sugar, and to get them to taste decent, you’ll need to add a lot of sugar. When using ripe fruit, I’m able to reduce the added sugar by 50 to 75 percent.
Where can you find the best fruit for pie? Try your local farmer’s market. Most markets have a rule that you cannot sell what you did not grow. That means whatever is being sold is being grown close to you. As an added bonus, you’re supporting a local farmer and prices are usually better than at the average grocery store.
This time of year, it’s tricky to find produce that is in season. My suggestion is to go for apples or pears. If you really want that peach or blueberry pie, however, frozen fruit is usually a good option. It’s picked when ripe, frozen quickly and then shipped to your store. If you do opt for frozen fruit for your pie, don’t thaw it. Just add another 20 to 30 minutes to your baking time.
Here are some of my favorite fruit combinations and the best time of year to make them:
Apple-cranberry – fall/winter
Peach-blueberry – summer
Nectarine-raspberry – summer
Pear-walnut – fall/winter
Rhubarb-strawberry – late spring
Apricot-blackberry – summer
Add an acidJust like salt, sugar enhances the flavor of food. But since I’m trying to be careful about how much sugar I put in the pie, I’m going to add some acid. Acidic foods – think lime and lemon – also enhance food’s flavor, so adding some citrus juice and zest can help cut down on the amount of sugar needed.
Skip a crust – or twoI know crust tastes great, but removing one (or two) makes your pie a lot healthier. Think about this: The average crust has about nine tablespoons of butter. Multiply that by two and a whole pie has 18 tablespoons of butter – that’s over one cup of butter! That means a whole pie has about 126 grams of saturated fat and a single slice contains 60 percent of your daily recommended allowance for saturated fat. That’s a lot in my book!
Instead, try skipping the bottom crust. For the top, cut fun shapes (leaves, hearts or stars) out of a crust and place the shapes on top. That way you’ll still get to enjoy the flakey layers but you won’t be getting all the fat. Or better yet, turn your pie into a crumble instead. I like to top my fruit with a mix of whole grain oats, brown sugar, flour, a little butter and some ground ginger. It gives my “pie” a great crunchy topping that’s packed with flavor but doesn’t have all the fat of a traditional crust.
Savor every biteOnce your masterpiece is cool enough to eat, cut a slice, put it on a plate and sit down at the table. (Keeping the pie in the kitchen won’t tempt you into having another slice!) Take a bite. Enjoy the flavors. Marvel at your handiwork. If we take time to appreciate what we’re eating, we’re more satisfied with a smaller portion.
Any way you slice it, pie is a treat. And that means it should be enjoyed in moderation. So if you’re like me this Pi Day, have your pie and eat it too. Just make some simple modifications so you can you enjoy it and feel good the next day!
Recipe: Peach and Blueberry "Pi"
From the kitchen of Chef Tse
For the filling:
- 4 cups peaches, peeled and sliced
- 4 cups blueberries
- 3 tablespoons corn starch
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons lime juice
- Zest of 1 lime
For the crust:
- ¾ cup rolled oats
- 1/3 cup flour
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- ½ teaspoon ginger
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, frozen
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, mix together fruits, corn starch, sugar, lime juice and zest. Pour into a 9-inch pie plate.
- In a medium bowl, mix together the oats, flour, sugar and ginger. Using a box grater, grate the butter over the mixture. With your fingertips, gently work the butter into the oat and flour mixture until it looks damp. Sprinkle over the fruit.
- Place your pie on a foil lined baking sheet and bake until fruit is bubbling and crust is brown, about 55 minutes. If using frozen fruit, increase baking time by 30 minutes.
- Let pie cool for two hours until set.
Each serving contains about 272 calories; 7 g total fat (4 g saturated fat), 15 mg cholesterol, 50 g carbohydrates, 5 g dietary fiber, 4 g protein and 4 mg sodium.