July 27, 2011

Blueberry Pie

Although it was very hot last weekend, I decided it was time to make another pie.  My goals were to make a different kind of pie, and to make a more traditional pie crust, rather than relying on the excellent but somewhat fussy vodka pie crust made famous by Cook's Illustrated.  I decided to make a blueberry pie, so I consulted various sources before coming up with my own recipes for the dough and the filling. 

The crust was pretty easy, really, as most of the recipes didn't differ a lot.  The biggest points of difference were in regard to the amount of sugar to use and whether to use butter, shortening or a mix of both.  I went with butter, and decided to go with a modest amount of sugar since I was planning to top the pie with a sprinkling of sugar.  There were a lot more decisions to make regarding the filling.  

Many recipes required nothing in the filling but blueberries, a bit of lemon juice, a thickener of some sort and a bit of seasoning though they differed markedly in regard to the types of seasoning.   Different thickeners were also recommended, including flour, cornstarch and tapioca.  I went with tapioca, having gotten good results with it in the past.  I also decided to use some grated apple along with the blueberries, as I knew from experience that the apple helped absorb some of the juices and served as a supplemental thickener.  For seasonings, I went with the traditional - cinnamon, a bit of salt and a few pats of butter - but I used a bit more cinnamon than some recipes call for, and also used a bit of fresh-ground nutmeg.  Juli's father calls the nutmeg his "secret weapon" for pie fillings, and given how good his pies are, that was enough for me.   I also used lemon zest along with lemon juice, as had some of the recipes I consulted, and cooked some of the blueberries down ahead of time, to make for a thicker filling and also to concentrate the flavor somewhat.

I was very, very pleased with this pie.  It looked great, with nice, golden-brown crust.  The filling bubbled over the crust in a few places, but that just served to make the pie look more juicy.  When I first cut some slices for me and Juli, the filling was a bit more runny than I'd have preferred, but the pie was still quite warm even after cooling for about 4 hours, mostly because the house was pretty warm (our air conditioning still isn't working very well).

I put the pie in the fridge overnight, and subsequent slices turned out great, with much firmer filling.   I served the first slices with a bit of vanilla ice cream, which was predictably great, but I had one for lunch the next day without ice cream and it was just as good on its own.

I thought the pie tasted great, too - as good as any blueberry pie I've ever had.  I took most of the pie to work, and based on how quickly it disappeared, and on the comments I got, I'd say my coworkers were also very pleased.  However, Juli found it a bit sour, saying she could taste the lemon flavor more than the blueberries.  She's not as fond of tartness as I am, but if you are also not much for sour flavor, you might want to cut back some on the lemon juice and zest if you make this pie.  I hope some of you will make it, though, with or without the recommended amounts of lemon.  Based on my results, I predict that if you make this, you will be pleased. 

Blueberry Pie

Pie Dough
2 1/2             cups unbleached, all purpose flour (+ extra for rolling)
1                   teaspoon table salt
1                   teaspoon granulated sugar
1                   cup unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
1/4                cup + 2-3 tablespoons ice water

Blueberry Filling
6                   cups fresh blueberries
1                   Granny Smith apple, peeled and grated
3/4                cup granulated sugar + extra for sprinkling
2                   tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca, finely ground
1                   tablespoon freshly-squeezed lemon juice
2                   teaspoons fresh lemon zest
1/2                teaspoon cinnamon
1/8                teaspoon freshly-grated nutmeg
1                   pinch table salt
1                   large egg yolk
1                   tablespoon heavy cream
2                   tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Making the Pie Dough

Pulse flour, salt and sugar in a food processor.  Add butter and pulse a few times, until mixture resembles coarse meal.  Drizzle 1/4 + 2 tablespoons water and pulse until the mixture just begins to cohere.  If the dough is too dry to start to come together, add 1 more tablespoon water and pulse.

Lay out two sheets of plastic wrap.   Halve the dough and place half on each sheet of plastic wrap.  Gather the dough into two balls, wrap loosely in the plastic and press each into a disc with a rolling pin or by hand.  Refrigerate for at least one hour, or up to one day.

Assembling the Pie, Part 1:  Bottom Crust
Prepare a pie plate by spraying with nonstick baking spray.

Lay out a piece of waxed or parchment paper.  Sprinkle with a generous amount of flour.   Remove one dough disc from the refrigerator.  Unwrap and place in the middle of the parchment paper.  Roll the dough out into a large circle (11 inches for 9" pie plate, 12 inches for 10" pie plate).  Roll the dough loosely around the rolling pin and unroll into the pie plate, leaving an inch or so overhang on each side.  Ease dough into the plate by gently lifting the edge of the dough with one hand while pressing the dough down into the plate with the other, moving around the circumference.  Place pie plate with dough in the refrigerator.

Adjust oven rack to lowest position.  Place a rimmed baking sheet on the rack.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Making the Blueberry Filling

Add 3 cups of the blueberries to a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Using a potato masher or the side of a wooden spoon, mash berries several times to release juices.  Continue to cook, stirring frequently and continuing to mash, until the berries are about halfway broken down and the mixture has reduced and thickened significantly. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.

Dry grated apple by wrapping it in a kitchen towel or two layers of paper towels and wringing dry.  Transfer apple to a large bowl.  Add the remainder of the berries, 3/4 cup sugar, ground tapioca, lemon juice, lemon zest, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt.  Pour the cooked blueberries atop the other ingredients and stir to combine. 

Add egg yolk and cream to a small bowl.  Beat together with a fork. Set aside.

Assembling the Pie, Part 2:  Top Crust and Filling
Remove the pie plate with bottom crust from the refrigerator.  Set aside.  Lay out another sheet of waxed or parchment paper, sprinkle with flour, remove second dough disc from the refrigerator and roll it out as detailed above.  Slice the dough into 3/4-inch strips. 

Pour blueberry filling into the bottom crust, with the middle somewhat piled up.  Scatter the butter pieces over the filling, then press them into the filling. 

Lightly brush the edges of the bottom crust with water.  Carefully arrange the dough strips on top, weaving to form a lattice.   Trim strips to 1-inch overhang and press the strips into the bottom crust.  Fold overhang inward, then crimp with the tines of a fork or by hand to make a decorative edge to the pie crust.  Brush the top of the dough strips and the edge of the crust with the egg mixture, then sprinkle the dough strips and crust modestly with sugar. 

Baking the Pie
Transfer pie plate to the heated baking sheet in the oven.  Cook about 20 minutes or until the crust begins to brown.  Top pie with a pie shield to prevent over-browning, if desired).  Reduce heat to 350 degrees and continue until the crust is a deep golden brown and the juices bubble around the lattice crust, another 55-60 minutes.  (Remove the pie shield, if used, during the last 10 minutes of cooking time). 

Transfer pie plate to a wire rack and allow to cool completely, around 3 hours, until serving.  If the room temperature is warm, transfer pie to refrigerator for an hour or so before serving.   Slice and serve.

For good results with the dough, it is important that it not be too warm as you make it and work with it.  That's why the directions call for chilled butter and ice water, why the pie dough is refrigerated, and that's also why I recommend refrigerating the bottom crust before assembling the pie.  If your home is really warm, you might even want to refrigerate the assembled pie for 15-30 minutes before baking it. 

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