So as my daughter's 6th birthday approached last month, I asked her what kind of cake she would like - chocolate, strawberry, chocolate chip, vanilla... And then she asked me, "Mom, do you know how to make blueberry pie?"
Of course the only answer to that question is "Yes." Never really made one, and the word "pie" sends my heart into nervous palpitations, beads of sweat forming at the memories of failed crusts gone by. But I answered confidently, "Of course I do! Is that what you'd like?"
It may seem like an unusual request for a 6-year-old, especially one whose Mom has a history of pastry disasters. But I knew exactly where it came from. We have an ADORABLE book called The Blueberry Pie Elf on the girls' shelf, and it gets read a lot. In it, an elf named Elmer lives in a house with a family, but they cannot see or hear him. One day the people make a blueberry pie, and when Elmer sneaks a taste, he is obsessed. He stuffs himself and dreams of it that night. In the morning, he discovers the people have eaten the rest for breakfast (my kind of people), and he is beyond distraught. He spends the rest of the book fantasizing about blueberry pie and trying to get the people to make another one, though it's tricky because they can't see or hear him. I love the illustrations - vintage - and luckily, several pies later, there is a happy ending.
In Elmer's obsession, his descriptors make all our mouths water - rich, juicy, melting, delicious, etc. It's no wonder Hazel's curiosity was piqued.
So of course I said I could make one. But with the disappointment of my Thanksgiving pie attempts still smoldering deep, I turned to the most reliable source I could think of - America's Test Kitchen.
Baking Illustrated's brownies were pretty darn impressive, so I flipped to the pie chapter and read about crusts very carefully. Definitely learned a thing or two. For example, I knew the fat - in this case, a combination of butter and shortening - must be chilled, but I had not ever thought about how cutting it with the flour by hand might warm it up; hence, a food processor is used. And that folding in the ice water with a rubber spatula rather than pulsing in the processor "allows for the smallest amount of water to be used (less water means a more tender dough) and reduces the likelihood of overworking the dough." Once made, the dough must be chilled for at least an hour, a step I have definitely skipped in the past, leading to sticky dough that tears when rolled and falls apart upon transfer to the pan.
But not this dough. It was truly, literally perfect. Just like they said. Just like the pictures. And look at my fluted edge! The instructions for achieving that perfection - rather than the uneven, torn crust I usually get that allows juices to spill out and burn in the oven - is in step 4 of the pie recipe below.And the crust is just the beginning. This blueberry pie filling is just right. Lots of fruit, lots of sugar, a tad of lemon juice and zest, and a smidgeon of allspice and nutmeg (cinnamon is too overwhelming.) And for thickening? Potato starch. Which I just amazingly happen to have from when I made Coconut Cupcakes with Lime Buttercream Frosting! Flour and cornstarch were prohibitive, for the amount it would take to thicken dulls the taste and appearance of the filling, a compromise the Test Kitchen does not make. And if you can't find potato starch, you can use tapioca, pulverized in the food processor.
The pie was a hit. Hazel loved it, as did our other family birthday guests. I was puffed up proud as a peacock about it. We lit it with sparklers, and later the girls bullied my cousin Katy into reading them The Blueberry Pie Elf.I'm pretty excited about summer, and then fall, coming up, from a pie perspective. All that fruit! Crossing my fingers this wasn't a fluke, and I can actually make a good pie again. And again. My mouth is watering just thinking about it...
Basic Pie Dough (for 1 double-crust 9-inch pie) (print recipe)
2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting work surface
1 tsp salt
2 T sugar
1/2 cup vegetable shortening, chilled
12 T cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
6 to 8 T ice water
1. Process the flour, salt and sugar in a food processor until combined. Add the shortening and process until the mixture has the texture of coarse sand, about 10 seconds. Scatter the butter pieces over the flour mixture; cut the butter into the flour until the mixture is pale yellow and resembles coarse crumbs, with butter bits no larger than small peas, about ten 1-second pulses. Turn the mixture into a medium bowl.
2. Sprinkle 6 T ice water over the mixture. With a rubber spatula, use a folding motion to mix. Press down on the dough with the broad side of the spatula until the dough sticks together, adding up to 2 T more ice water if the dough will not come together. Divide the dough into 2 balls and flatten each into a 4-inch disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour, or up to 2 days, before rolling.
Blueberry Pie (print recipe)
1 recipe Basic Pie Dough (above)
Flour for dusting work surface
6 cups (30 oz.) fresh blueberries, rinsed and picked over
1 cup plus 1 T sugar
2 tsp juice and 1 tsp grated zest from 1 lemon
1/4 tsp ground allspice
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
4 T potato starch or Minute tapioca pulverized in food processor
2 T unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 egg white, lightly beaten
1. Adjust an oven rack to the lowest position, place a rimmed baking sheet on it, and heat the oven to 500 degrees. Remove one piece of dough from the refrigerator (if refrigerated longer than 1 hour, let stand at room temperature until malleable.)
2. Roll the dough on a lightly floured work surface to a 12-inch circle. Transfer the dough to a 9-inch pie plate by rolling the dough around a rolling pin and unrolling over the pan. Working around the circumference of the pan, ease the dough into the pan corners by gently lifting the edge of the dough with one hand while pressing into the pan bottom with the other hand. Leave the dough that overhangs the lip of the pie plate in place; refrigerate the dough-lined pie plate.3. Toss the berries, 1 cup sugar (3/4 if you want it tarter), lemon juice and zest, spices, and potato starch in a medium bowl; let stand for 15 minutes.
4. Roll out the second piece of dough to a 12-inch circle. Spoon the berries into the pie shell and scatter the butter pieces over the filling. Place the second piece of dough over the filling. Trim the top and bottom edges to 1/2 inch beyond the pan lip. Tuck this rim of dough underneath itself so that the folded edge is flush with the pan lip. Flute the edge or press with fork tines to seal. Cut 4 slits in the dough top. If the pie dough is very soft, place in the freezer for 10 minutes. Brush the egg white onto the top of the crust and sprinkle evenly with the remaining 1 T sugar (I used Penzey Vanilla Sugar - I love it on fruit!)
5. Place the pie on the baking sheet and lower the oven temperature to 425 degrees. Bake until the top crust is golden, about 25 minutes. Rotate the pie and reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees; continue baking until the juices bubble and the crust is deep golden brown*, 30 to 35 minutes longer.
6. Transfer pie to a wire rack; cool to room temperature, at least 4 hours.*If it appears the edges are cooking too fast, and in danger of burning before the pie is cooked, try this technique. Lay out a square of foil slightly larger than the pie; fold it in half to form a rectangle. Cut an arc that is roughly half the size of the pie. When you unfold the foil, you will have cut out a circle from the middle of the sheet. This open circle exposes the filling, while the surrounding foil covers the crust and protects it from coloring further. Genius!
Recipe from Baking Illustrated: The Practical Kitchen Companion for the Home Baker (with 350 recipes you can trust) by the Editors of Cook's Illustrated Magazine