Hello, dog days of summer - a time for potlucks, cookouts, family reunions and pool parties. By their very nature, these gatherings are dependent on the guests’ generosity and collective enthusiasm and on, by my reckoning, three key types of contributors: the Pick-Up Artist, the One-Dish Wonder and the Showstopper.
Happy to provide critical essentials, the Pick-Up Artist buys chips or drinks or cold cuts, slaws or salads, cookies or paper goods.
The One-Dish Wonder arrives with the same tried-and-true platter no matter the occasion. It might be mac and cheese or potato salad, barbecue or fried chicken. In my neighborhood, Mr. Bishop’s meatballs are legendary: sweet, tangy, perfectly sized. If I went to a gathering and didn’t see them, I would be bereft.
The Showstopper is competitive to the core; in a potluck guest, this is by no means a negative quality. As hosts, we count on the sensational contributions from our friends the Showstoppers. These are the guests of whom we can ask, “Will you bring a vegetarian dish that will feed a crowd?” Or, “Do you have a dessert for 25?”
A slab pie can put you in the Showstopper seat. For a winning dessert in the glorious fruit-filled months, nothing beats pie; slab pies are easily transportable and can yield 24 to 36 pieces, so they are a crowd-size contribution. Part pie, part giant Pop-Tart, a slab pie is for crust lovers. It’s easy to serve and easy to eat.
And, as it turns out, easy to make. Even though I am an experienced pie maker, I once feared slab pie. I wasn’t sure I could roll out the dough large enough to cover a rimmed baking sheet. I thought transferring it from the floured counter would be nightmarish.
I’m going to tell you straight: It wasn’t bad. The trick is using plenty of dough. And any patchwork on the bottom crust won’t show.
For my first attempt, I made three standard batches of pie-crust dough, using 1 1/2 batches for each layer. The result was skimpy in the pan. A slab pie needs a significant crust. For the next attempt, I upped the quantity to four batches. The crust was sturdy, not too thin, with plenty of flaky layers, well crimped and pleated at the edge to hold back the flood of fruit juices once the pie started to bake. Every subsequent iteration has only gotten easier. As with so many kitchen techniques, practice really does make perfect.
I like a slab pie with a top crust, as opposed to a streusel topping; it’s a far sturdier option when you’re serving on paper plates. With peaches or apricots, a top crust protects the fruit from overcooking and keeps the filling juicy. And if that top crust tears as you get it situated, steam-vent slashes cover a multitude of sins.
Lattice or other decorated lids are the bailiwick of the Showstopper. Go ahead and get fancy.
While four cups of fruit will make a plump nine-inch pie, a slab pie requires a generous six cups. My preference is for a tart taste, using scant sugar, but add more sugar if you prefer a sweeter filling. Herbs and spices added while the fruit macerates can serve as counterpoints to the fruits’ flavor. Lemon verbena is my favorite for any stone fruit (peaches, cherries, plums, nectarines and apricots) and many berries, but mint or thyme are also good choices.
Freeze the unbaked pie for an hour, or overnight. Starting with cold pastry in a blazing-hot oven means more flakiness in the bake. The egg wash and sprinkling of sugar help burnish the top; a nicely browned slab pie looks best.
Traveling with a hot pie is never a good idea. Allow plenty of time to let it come to room temperature - about 2 hours - just to be safe. Although it’s fine to make a slab pie the night before the party, I’m a fan of baking the morning of any event. The pie will taste fresher, and the crust is going to retain the snap and flake that will set this dessert apart.
Go ahead. Strut into the potluck, head held high. You’ve got a Showstopper dessert.
Barrow is a Washington cookbook author.
Fruit Slab Pie
24 to 32 servings
You can crumble almond paste over the fruit filling for a sweeter, richer pie. Leave plenty of time to cool the pie so the filling will firm up before slicing. If apricots are hard to come by, use plums or peaches instead. (See the VARIATION, below.)
You’ll need two 13-by-18-inch baking sheets; the ones that come with a plastic cover are quite handy for transporting.
MAKE AHEAD: The fruit needs to macerate and the pie crust dough needs to be refrigerated for at least 2 hours and preferably overnight. This pie is best eaten the day it is made, but wrapped well, it makes a superb breakfast.
For the filling
4 pounds apricots, slightly firm (see headnote)
1 cup sugar
Juice of 2 lemons
Three 3-inch sprigs of lemon verbena (optional)
1/4 cup cornstarch
12 ounces almond paste, crumbled (not marzipan; optional)
For the crust
5 1/3 cups (22 ounces) flour, plus more for the work surface and rolling pin
16 ounces (4 sticks) unsalted butter, diced and frozen
1 cup ice water
2 pinches kosher salt
2 to 3 tablespoons whole milk or heavy cream, for brushing
2 tablespoons sugar, for sprinkling
For the filling: Cut each apricot in half, remove and discard the pit, then cut each half into 3 or 4 slices. Combine the apricot slices, sugar, lemon juice and lemon verbena, if using, in a glass or ceramic bowl. Stir well to begin to dissolve the sugar. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and preferably overnight.
For the crust: Lightly flour a work surface. Combine half of the flour and half of the butter in a food processor; pulse about 10 times or until the butter is reduced to small pieces. Add 1/2 cup of the ice water and a pinch of salt. Run the processor just until a dough just comes together in a ball. Transfer to the work surface and shape into a block that’s about 6 inches by 4 inches by 2 inches. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and preferably overnight. Repeat with the remaining flour, butter, ice water and salt.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Make room in the freezer (or the refrigerator) for the baking sheets. Flour a rolling pin and re-flour the work surface; then mark off a space about 20 inches by 15 inches (use tape or place salt and pepper shakers at the four corners). This is your guide.
Roll out one brick of dough out to a final size as close to the guide as possible. Don’t worry if the dough splits or tears; it will patch easily. Roll the dough up around the pin and then drape it over one of the baking sheets, letting it fall into the corners and edges. Working quickly, lightly press the dough into the baking sheet, trimming (with kitchen scissors) as needed to leave a 1-inch overhang of dough; transfer the baking sheet to cold storage. Repeat with the second brick of dough.
When you’re ready to bake, use the first chilled bottom slab pie shell. Discard the lemon verbena, if using, from the fruit mixture and add the cornstarch, stirring until well incorporated. Pour the fruit and every bit of the sugary syrup into the bottom crust and push it around until evenly distributed. Sprinkle the almond paste over the fruit, if using.
Invert the second chilled slab pie dough over the filling; you no longer need that second baking sheet. Fold and tuck in the dough overhang on both bottom and top moving all the way around the pan, then go back around to decoratively crimp the edges. Cut slits in the top crust (to allow steam to escape). Brush with the milk or cream, then sprinkle with the sugar.
Place the pie on the middle rack of the oven; immediately reduce the temperature to 375 degrees. Bake for 55 minutes or until the fruit juices are bubbling and the crust is toasty brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for at least 3 hours before serving.
VARIATION: If apricots are unavailable, peaches or plums work beautifully in this slab pie. While apricots and plums have a tender, edible skin, the peel on a peach is tough and fuzzy. To remove the peach skins, score a shallow “X” in the bottom of each piece of fruit. Carefully drop in batches into a pot of boiling water; blanch for 30 seconds, then use a slotted spoon to transfer them to a bowl of ice water to cool. The peels will then slide right off. Cut the fruit into chunky wedges: about 8 or 10 pieces per peach and 6 or 8 per plum.
Nutrition | Per serving (based on 32, using whole milk): 230 calories, 3 g protein, 29 g carbohydrates, 12 g fat, 7 g saturated fat, 30 mg cholesterol, 5 mg sodium, 2 g dietary fiber, 12 g sugar