Whether you are using freshly picked berries or the wonderful frozen varieties that are now available all year long, blueberries are a perennial favorite in America. They are always ready to be turned into muffins, tarts, ice cream, breads, or my personal favorite, blueberry pie.
Just as cupcakes were a few years ago, pie is the new rising star in the culinary world. You will soon see shops popping up offering individual servings of pies in a wild variety of flavors, both sweet and savory. 2011 may well go down in history as “The Year of the Pie.”
The resurgence in its popularity may well be linked to our continued economic struggles. It is well documented that in times of duress, people turn to comfort foods, preferring the flavors of simpler times, the foods of their youths to more upscale offerings. There has been a marked increase in the number of comfort food offerings on restaurant menus. These days it is not uncommon to see meatloaf, chicken potpie and mac and cheese on menus of very high-end restaurants. The Internet is teeming with recipes for our favorites and they are among the top search terms in browsers. When we are stressed we want the simplest, easiest, and most down to earth foods we can find.
While pie may be one of the all time favorites around the world, it can strike the fear of God into people contemplating making one. Visions of past failures, especially at Thanksgiving, race across our thoughts and beads of sweat appear on our brows. We have all had our defeats at the hands of the humble pie. Yes, attempting to bake the perfect pie can have us eating humble pie in a heartbeat, LOL.
One Thanksgiving, thanks to the assistance of an adorable little girl, I had three, count them three, strikeouts in one day! While my mother and I were buried in preparing the huge family meal, our littlest guest desperately wanted to “help.” Mom and I put her to work in as many ways as we possibly could, trying to make her feel part of the team while attempting to keep her out from under our feet. Unfortunately for us she was extremely quick at every task we gave her. One after the other, she knocked off the easy things on our list.
Pretty soon all that was left to make were the pies for dessert. At this point my mom exited the kitchen (thanks a lot Mom!) because dessert was my domain in our home. I took over all the holiday baking when I was about 14 years old and did it every year from then on. No problem I thought, after all these years of experience baking, I can certainly handle one small assistant. Oh boy was I wrong. As adorable as she was her constant chattering and questions had me flustered in spite of my confidence.
One after the other the pies were made and went into the oven, each with a great sense of pride for my baking deputy. Just as I was about to place the final pies in the oven, a pair of beautiful pumpkin pies, I realized that I had forgotten to add the milk to the filling! My mother and I looked at each other, and remembering a technique used in one of my grandmother’s favorites, figured we could stir the milk in with our fingers (yes they were very clean) without damaging the piecrust. It wasn’t quite as smooth as it would have been if we had used a whisk in the bowl like normal, but it was just fine in a pinch. We slid them into the oven with a collected sigh of relief.
Dinner was wonderful and everyone enjoyed the table groaning under the weight of all the food. The conversation was light and the room was filled with stories and laughter. And then it was time for dessert. This was usually my moment to shine and accept the accolades of an adoring audience. Except that this year the table was dumbstruck with astonishment. The pies had come out of the oven looking absolutely perfect, but as I started to serve each one, I knew something was horribly wrong. The pumpkin pies at least had been salvaged and were OK, but the pecan pies were much drier than normal and harder to slice. What had I done? I realized that I had forgotten to add 2/3 of the butter the recipe required. Oops! Thank goodness no one noticed and as a matter of fact, that mistake led to my current blue-ribbon winning version that still uses much less butter than most recipes.
But it was the cherry pie that made my heart sink that day. As I cut into the gorgeous, perfectly browned sugar encrusted crust, my knife met no resistance. It plunged to the bottom as though there was nothing under the crust. I had cherry soup instead of a beautiful pie. With absolute astonishment, my mother and I looked at one another. How could this possibly have happened after all the years of picture perfect pies that had come out of our oven? With all the interruptions, I had completely forgotten to add the flour to thicken the filling!
But with a moment of innovation, we gathered our wits and quickly transformed our disaster. We grabbed vanilla ice cream from the freezer, spooned the delicious albeit runny pie filling over the top, perched a piece of the pie crust top at a jaunty angle and offered cherry sundaes to our guests! There was a huge round of applause for our creative solution and after taking a few bows, mom and I sat down to enjoy the rest of our day together.
Don’t be afraid of baking pies, just be prepared to punt, LOL! No matter what may happen, your efforts will always be appreciated.
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
Practice makes perfect especially when it comes to working with pie dough (and baking in general). Even after years of making pies, if I am competing in a contest and haven’t made one in awhile, I need to make a practice pie. A lot of baking skill comes from knowing how a dough feels and looks. That takes practice, and your family will love all your practice efforts!
Kitchen Skill: How to Correctly Measure Flour
The most accurate way to measure flour is by weight. Different milling techniques can affect the density of your flour, throwing off the results of traditional use of measuring cups. If you don’t have a kitchen scale, fluff your flour with a spoon or whisk if it is compacted to lighten it.
Using a spoon, scoop flour into your dry measuring cup (with straight sides and a flat top in graduated sizes) until it is heaped above the edge. Use a knife or other straight edge to sweep the excess flour off the top, leaving a smooth flat surface. Transfer this to your mixing bowl and repeat until you have the correct amount of flour measured out.
- 1 recipe Plain Pie Pastry or Perfect Pie Crust (see recipes below)
- 6 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen (thawed and drained if using frozen)
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
- 2 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into bits
- 1 egg beaten with 1 tbsp milk, for egg wash
- Line a 9-inch pie plate with one rolled-out crust and place in the refrigerator to chill for 30 minutes. Put the blueberries in a bowl, add the lemon juice, and stir to coat.
- Separately, combine the sugar, flour and cinnamon, mix thoroughly and stir into the blueberries. Spread the filling in the crust, and scatter the butter over the top. Brush the rim of the crust with the egg wash, cover with the second rolled-out crust, and seal and flute or crimp the edges.
- Put the pie in the refrigerator to chill until firm, about 30 minutes. Store the remaining egg wash in the refrigerator, too. Preheat the oven to 425°F.
- Brush the top crust with egg wash, and then score the top with two perpendicular cuts for steam vents. Bake for 20 minutes, and then lower the oven temperature to 350°F and bake for another 30 to 40 minutes, until the juices are bubbling and the crust is golden brown.
- Cool on a wire rack for at least 2 hours before slicing, then chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Serve chilled or warm.
- Yield: 1 (9-inch) pie
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 2/3 cup vegetable shortening
- 5 to 7 tbsp cold milk
- Sift the flour and salt into a bowl. Cut in the shortening with a pastry blender until it is the size of small peas. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of the milk over part of the flour mixture. Gently toss with a fork and push to the side of the bowl. Sprinkle another tablespoon of milk over another dry part, toss with a fork and push to the side of the bowl. Repeat with the remaining milk until all of the flour mixture is moistened.
- Press the dough together to form two equal balls, then flatten into disks. Roll out the crusts right away, or wrap the dough tightly, smoothing out any little wrinkles or air pockets, and refrigerate for up to two weeks.
- On a lightly floured surface, roll out each ball to a thickness of 1/8th inch. Use a light touch and handle the dough as little as possible.
- Makes 2 (9-inch) pie crusts
- 4-1/2 cups sifted, all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp salt
- 2 tsp sugar
- 12 oz (3 sticks) cold, unsalted butter, cut into pieces
- 1/2 cup water with ice cubes added (strain out ice just before using)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract (for fruit pies) or almond extract (for nut pies)
- 2 tsp red wine vinegar
- To use a Mixer: Mix the flour, salt, and sugar in a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment for 1 minute. Add the butter and mix just until you have a crumbly, sandy mixture. You should still be able to see large sized pieces of butter.
- Mix the water, extract, and vinegar together. With the mixer running at medium speed, drizzle in the water/vinegar mixture and mix just until a ball forms. You should still see medium bits of butter. (Note: Some days I have to add more water to make the dough come together).
- Divide dough in half, form into flat disks, and wrap with plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes. (Dough may be frozen and used later, let thaw in refrigerator overnight before rolling out.) Allow dough to warm up a few minutes before rolling.
- To use a Food Processor: Mix dry ingredients in food processor. Add half of butter. Pulse until fine. Add remaining butter and pulse 3 times. Add water all at once, drizzling it over the dry ingredients and process just until incorporated. There should still be large pieces of butter scattered throughout the dough. Pour out onto a clean work surface and pat into a flattened disk. Wrap in plastic and let rest 30 minutes in the refrigerator. Remove from the refrigerator and warm up 10 minutes before rolling out.
- Sprinkle a little flour on top of the dough and rub some flour on your rolling pin. Start rolling outward from the center in quick, light strokes. Don’t worry if the edges split a bit, concentrate on getting a good circle going from the center. Lift up and rotate dough 1/4-turn every minute or so to help ensure even rolling and to avoid sticking. The dough should feel smooth and soft. If it gets sticky, sprinkle on a little more flour, but don’t use too much. If the dough gets warm or limp, put it back in the refrigerator for 15 minutes to firm the butter up. Keep rolling until the circle is at least 2-inches larger than your pan – about 15-inches for a 9-inch pie pan.
- Very gently roll the dough loosely onto your rolling pin and unroll into pie plate, easing it into the corners (don’t stretch it!). Trim the excess dough to 1-inch beyond the edge of the pan. If making a single crust pie, flute edges by folding overhang until it is even with the edge of the pan. Chill crust 20 minutes before filling. Bake as directed.
- Yield: 2 (9-inch) piecrusts.
- If you are making a two-crust pie, don’t trim edges of bottom crust. Ease it into the pie plate as described above, pour in your filling, roll out the top crust and ease over filling, pressing top and bottom crusts together at the edges. Trim to 1-inch beyond the edge of your pan and flute. With the tips of sharp scissors or a knife, cut 4 to 5 vents in top of crust. Bake as directed.