I know many of our chefs aren’t bakers, but in this time of homebody-ness, perhaps learning how to bake a pie could be your new sourdough bread. Summer is a brilliant time for pie baking, given the gorgeous fruit that’s in season.
I’m an inveterate pie baker, thanks to my grandmother, who taught me how to bake apple pies. Ironically, all these years later I do it totally differently than she did. She made crusts with margarine and Crisco. I use butter (although adding Crisco for a flakier crust isn’t a bad thing and if you’re into lard–that’s even better). But I still cherish the memories of learning how from Nana to combine the ingredients–cut the fat until they’re the size of peas and use your fingers to combine the fat, flour, and water until just shaggy. Form into discs, wrap, and refrigerate to let the dough rest. Roll gently and make sure excess dough hangs over the pie plate to have enough to form a consistent edge. Cut into the top crust to allow steam to release.
My Nana? She taught me well–as have numerous pastry chefs who have since instructed me. More importantly, she gifted me with the passion to bake. If you have children or grandchildren, you probably have given them a similar gift.
Despite the heat, this time of year is perfect for a big fat blueberry pie. With this one I changed up my usual crust just a little. I scouted around online and recalled that vodka can make a crust flakier. I had some vodka in the freezer so I added that to the crust, along with a little sugar, salt, and fresh lemon juice, as well, of course, ice water.
For the filling, I combined the fresh blueberries with the usual: lemon zest and lemon juice, along with cornstarch to thicken it. But instead of granulated sugar I opted for brown sugar to lend a deeper flavor. And instead of cinnamon, I added a wonderful pie standby of mine: Divine Desserts fennel pollen blend.
The rest went along the usual way. I made the dough, formed it into two discs, wrapped them in plastic and refrigerated them for a couple of hours. When you make the dough be sure you don’t overwork it. You want striations of butter throughout to help make a flakier crust.
Before you start rolling the dough for the pie plate (and try to use a deep dish pie plate), make the filling. Just combine all those filling ingredients. The mixture can sit a bit and macerate while you roll out the dough.
Roll out one at a time, leaving the other to continue to chill in the fridge. Make a circle larger than the pie plate, then using your rolling pin, lift and set it into the pie plate. You’ll want to trim the overhang to about 3/4 inch over. Save the excess dough and set it aside. Fill the pie with the blueberry mixture, then roll out the other dough disc, place it over the filling, and trim that overhang. Then you’ll pinch and crimp the edges.
Brush the top crust with the egg wash, then cut slits into the crust to let steam out while the pie bakes.
That’s it! Now it goes into the oven to bake. You’ll start out at high heat for about 20 minutes, then reduce the temperature while it bakes another half an hour or so. Check at the 30-minute mark to make sure the pie isn’t burning. If it’s getting a little too brown but not ready to remove, cover it with a piece of foil.
Once you remove it from the oven, place it on a rack to cool before serving.
Oh, and that leftover dough? Form it into a small disc and wrap it up for the freezer. You can use it to make a small tart later just for yourself–perhaps with apples for fall.
1 deep dish pie
4 cups AP flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 sticks (1 ½ cups) cold European-style butter cut into 1-inch chunky pieces
¼ cup chilled vodka
¼ cup ice water
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
6 cups fresh blueberries, rinsed with stems removed
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
¼ cup cornstarch
½ cup brown sugar
½ teaspoon Divine Desserts fennel pollen blend (optional) or ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon milk
1. In a large bowl stir together flour, sugar, and salt. Toss in butter and using your fingertips, lightly coat with the flour mixture. Then quickly rub butter into flour mixture to get pea-size pieces.
2. Mix together in a small bowl the vodka, ice water, and lemon juice. Then drizzle over flour and butter mixture and mix together with a fork until it starts to get a little shaggy looking. Then use your hands and knead briefs just until the dough comes together. If it’s still dry, add a little more ice water.
3. Gently form the dough into two ¾-inch discs and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for at least two hours or preferably overnight. You can also put them in the freezer.
4. When you’re ready to make the pie, preheat the oven to 425°. Make the filling by combining the blueberries, lemon zest, lemon juice, cornstarch, brown sugar, and fennel pollen blend in a large bowl. Stir gently but thoroughly to make sure all the blueberries are coated. Set aside.
5. Pull one of the dough discs from the refrigerator. Flour your surface and roll out the disc into a circle large enough to drape over your pie plate. Place the dough into the pie plate and trim the edges to 3/4-inch over the pan. Refrigerate while you roll out the second dough disc.
6. Pull the pie plate out of the refrigerator and fill with the blueberry mixture. Place the second crust over the blueberry filling and trim.
7. Gently press the crust edges together and tuck the dough under the edge of the bottom dough. Crimp the edges by gently pushing the index finger of one hand into the edge of the dough and your thumb and index finger of your other hand, going around the edge of the pie.
8. Quickly make the egg wash by whisking the egg and milk together. Brush the top crust with the wash. Then score the top crust several times to let steam release.
9. Place the pie on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper and place on the middle rack of the oven. Bake for 20 minutes, then lower the oven temperature to 350˚ and bake another 30 to 40 minutes until the crust is a golden brown and the juices are bubbling.
10. Remove to a wire rack and let cool before serving.
Chefs, are you pie bakers? If so, what’s your favorite to make?
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