Birthday Pie…of the blueberry variety

I’ve been on a quest. For years.

My husband’s dream pie is blueberry. For ages he’s been asking me for blueberry pie. And I’ve found it particularly difficult to get just right. Too runny. Too gelatinous. Not enough berries. Soggy crust. Frustrating.

So I’ve tweaked and I’ve tweaked some more and, finally…I think I got it.

My dilemma with berry pies is the liquid. There’s so much of it. Usually, by the time I slice more than one piece of it, it might as well be cobbler for all the berries running all over the place. And yes, even after it is completely cooled. There are lots of suggestions out there for how to get a berry pie to firm up. I think I’ve tried most of them. And I found some that worked, well, they worked a little too well. The pie would nearly be stiff in the center…all wiggly and weird.

To create a filling that could stand up to slicing, but just barely, without the berries being embedded in a shiny, jello-like substance – that has been the blueberry pie grail.

An actual SLICE of blueberry pie - I was so excited!

I’ve used tapioca in the past. I’ve used flour. I’ve used corn starch. I’ve used pectin. I’ve cooked the berries first. I’ve not cooked them at all. I’ve used fresh and I’ve used frozen.

Here’s what I have settled on for now: corn starch (more of it than you might think), frozen berries, mostly wild (because they are smaller/less juicy) and some regular/larger berries (which are cooked down first), and a pie crust that is actually a pâte brisée (because it can handle being a little thicker and makes a lovely lattice for the top.) Throw in some butter, nutmeg and lemon zest and there you have it. After his first slice the birthday boy announced, “This is MY pie. This is the one. I want this for my birthday from here on, like, until the end. Every one.” Which is when I said, “Gee, I sure hope I can remember how I made it. I didn’t exactly write anything down.”  (I mean, really, doesn’t he know about my red velvet cake tradition??)

Ron’s Blueberry Pie (aka “The One”)

2 pints (4 cups) frozen wild blueberries + 1 cup large juicy (regular) blueberries (fresh or frozen)

¾ cup sugar (5 oz)

scant ¼ cup corn starch (1.5 oz)

1 oz cold water – for dissolving cornstarch

2 oz butter

1 teas lemon zest

1 teas nutmeg

1 recipe for pate brisee/ pie crust (double)*

Mash the 1 cup of regular berries with the sugar over medium heat and bring to a boil. Thicken with the corn starch dissolved in water. Simmer and add butter, zest, nutmeg. Stir into 2 pints of frozen berries and set aside.

*You can certainly use refrigerated pie crust here, I won’t tell!  But if you want to up the “scratch factor” of this pie, I recommend a Pâte Brisée: place 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon sugar in a food processor and pulse to combine. Add 1 cup chilled, unsalted butter (2 sticks) cut into small pieces, one piece at a time until the mixture resembles coarse meal. With machine running, add anywhere from 1/4 to 1/2 cup ICE water a few tablespoons at a time – just until the dough holds together – no more than 30 seconds. Divide the dough in half, flatten into disks and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate at least an hour or overnight. Makes a double crust for 9-inch pie.

Have bottom crust prepared and in pie pan – cool in refrigerator. When berry mixture has cooled slightly, add to crust. Use top crust for lattice. Refrigerate completed pie for at least 20 minutes. Egg wash top crust. (I actually forgot this part which is why the crust isn’t as golden as it should be.) Bake in preheated 425° oven for 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 350° and continue baking for 30-35 minutes, until crust is golden brown and filling seems to have set a little. COOL COMPLETELY before slicing. Serve with vanilla ice cream, of course.

Mixed Berry Pie

Few things say “summer” like berry pies. My husband is a little obsessed with them. And I have yet to conquer them. I’ve made several attempts at different kinds of berry pies – his true pie fantasy involves blueberries and a double crust and vanilla bean ice cream…but I digress.

Flavor is no problem. Every attempt I’ve made has had fabulous flavor. It’s all about the texture. Berries are juicy and my challenge seems to be getting the filling to firm up without turning into that gelatinous-out-of-a-can kind of thing. I’ve tried cooking the berries down first. I’ve added tapioca. Cornstarch. Flour. Some worked better than others, but I’m still seeking the perfect ratio.

Here’s my latest attempt:

Pie filling in progress

Blueberries and raspberries with tapioca and lemon zest.

It was delicious, but still runnier than I would like.  (Even after it is completely cooled…I baked it a full day before it was served at a family reunion, so it was well-cooled. Still just a tad too runny.)

The top crust was a new design, too. I thought it was a pretty way to vent the top and a little different. Any guesses as to how to get those neat little holes in there? (make guesses in the comments below…)

With Father’s Day approaching, I see a blueberry pie attempt in my future. And I have a new recipe to try. One the author claims is “fool-proof.” Ha. We’ll just see about that! There are more berry pies to come…for now, here’s this one:

Blueberry and Raspberry Pie

adapted from Martha Stewart

Two layer crust*

all-purpose flour for dusting

1 large egg

1 TB milk

2 cups fresh raspberries

2 pints fresh blueberries

1/4 cup instant tapioca (I will increase this next time.)

Grated zest and juice from 1 lemon

1 cup granulated sugar, plus more for sanding

*You can certainly use refrigerated pie crust here, I won’t tell!  But if you want to up the “scratch factor” of this pie, I recommend a Pâte Brisée: place 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon sugar in a food processor and pulse to combine. Add 1 cup chilled, unsalted butter (2 sticks) cut into small pieces, one piece at a time until the mixture resembles coarse meal. With machine running, add anywhere from 1/4 to 1/2 cup ICE water a few tablespoons at a time – just until the dough holds together – no more than 30 seconds. Divide the dough in half, flatten into disks and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate at least an hour or overnight. Makes a double crust for 9-inch pie.

Roll out one disk of dough into an 1/8-inch round and drape over your pie plate. Chill for about 30 minutes.

Whisk together egg and milk in a small bowl and set egg wash aside. In a medium bowl toss together raspberries, blueberries, tapioca, lemon zest and juice and sugar. Mix/toss gently and transfer to chilled pie dough.

Preheat oven to 425°. Roll out remaining disk of dough. (insert decorative accent here, if desired.) Brush rim of chilled dough with egg wash, place other round on top and trim to 1/2 overhang. Crimp edges as desired and chill until firm (about 20 minutes in freezer or 40 in refrigerator.)

Cut a few slits in the top of dough (if no decorative holes were made). Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with sanding sugar. Bake 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 350° and continue baking until crust is golden brown and juices are bubbling (about 40 minutes.) Let cool completely before cutting and serving.

Rainy Day

I don’t make everything from scratch – far from it.  And sometimes the time spent in the kitchen is really about the time spent…and not about what comes out of the oven.  Like these:

Lemon and Blueberry Cupcakes with a lemon glaze
Lemon and Blueberry Cupcakes with a lemon glaze

We have a very, very fussy eleven-week-old in our house. He pretty much cries for the better part of every day. And while I’m learning a great deal about myself through this time, I’m also learning a great deal about my three-year-old. For instance, he’s very patient about some things and he’s naturally nurturing. After a particularly rough period today, I finally got the baby to sleep. There were one hundred things I would have liked to have done that I can’t do while holding him – things like cleaning the kitchen or sorting laundry – but, instead, I suggested we make cupcakes. My three-year-old looked so surprised…which told me I don’t do this often enough. He had played quietly with his blocks and some puzzle books for most of the day – all while listening, without complaint, to the baby scream. There hadn’t been a lot of mommy’s attention available to him. It’s muddy outside and we couldn’t get too crazy since the baby would only be quiet for about 20 minutes…something quick in the kitchen seemed just the thing.

Lemon cupcake

Nothing fancy here. Boxed lemon cake mix…because a three-year-old can mix in water and oil and eggs and stir to his heart’s content. His little fingers made quick work of placing the muffin papers in the pan. I scooped in the batter and adding blueberries to each one was a good counting exercise (there’s five blueberries in each one, by the way.) The glaze is lemon juice and confectioner’s sugar – he helped squeeze the lemon with the citrus press he sometimes uses as a drum stick.

Lemon cupcake

We laughed and made a little bit of a mess; he licked his fingers a lot and asked one million questions. He had my undivided attention for the longest stretch of time I could manage today. So, no, these cupcakes aren’t anything special…but the time spent in the kitchen was.

Two Pies

There are a handful of recipes I consider my “default” recipes.  When I don’t have time to cook or, on the rare occasion I don’t feel like cooking, I turn to a few super easy standby recipes…things like tacos and spaghetti and grilled chicken.  Last week I reached for the spaghetti ingredients on just such an evening and thought, “I don’t really feel like eating spaghetti.”  So I turned it into pie…just like my mom used to make when I was little.

The cooked pasta gets mixed with butter and grated parmesan cheese and molded into a pie plate

Spaghetti crust
Spaghetti crust

Then you spread a layer of ricotta cheese and top it with your sauce.  This sauce is one of those quick envelope kind mixed with tomato paste and then I add sauted mushrooms and ground turkey.  (I have a wonderful Bolognese sauce that is triple-reduced which would be delicious here, but that would totally defeat the handy-I-don’t-feel-like-cooking-recipe idea, wouldn’t it?  I’ll save it for another time!)

Filling the pie with ricotta and sauce
Filling the pie with ricotta and sauce

Then the whole things gets topped with mozzarella and baked until the top is golden and bubbly.

Spaghetti Pie

While it was resting I threw together a green salad with easy homemade dressing (I love that thing!) and let some garlic bread warm in the oven.  The resting part is important…just like lasagna…if you don’t let it cool a little, the slices fall apart when you serve them.

Slice of pie, spaghetti style
Slice of pie, spaghetti style

Easy as pie.

Speaking of pie…since we had it for dinner, we had to have it for dessert, too.

This just might be my very favorite pie.  Really.  Like the number one pie.  It’s an old-timey recipe called Buttermilk Pie and I serve it with a triple-berry sauce that is so versatile.  It would be delicious on ice cream or in yogurt…in fact, in the days following the pie I had the sauce on pancakes and in oatmeal.  It also would have been delicious on those little French puffs I did a few weeks ago.

Dreamy creamy buttermilk pie with triple berry sauce
Dreamy creamy buttermilk pie with triple berry sauce

If you are afraid of pies, like some people are, this is a great one to have in your repertoire.  You can cheat on the crust and no one will ever notice and you can garnish it with just about any kind of fruit or chocolate you happen to have around.  Make this pie.  You won’t be sorry.

All around it was a night I would have rather picked up take-out to eat while in front of the TV…but, thanks to on-hand ingredients for a jazzed-up standby and some leftover pie, we had dinner at the table and my three-year-old laughed at pie for dinner and pie for dessert with a salad in between.

Buttermilk Pie with Triple Berry Sauce

from Martha Stewart’s Annual Recipes

Graham-Cracker Coated Crust

(You can totally skip this part and use a prepared graham cracker crust instead – I won’t tell, I promise.)

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup unsalted butter

1/4 cup ice water

4 graham crackers, finely ground (1/2 cup)

Pie Filling

3 cups buttermilk

1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled

8 large egg yolks

2 teaspoons vanilla

2 cups sugar

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon lemon zest, grated

Directions

For crust: Use a 10-inch pie plate.

Pulse flour and salt in food processor.  Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  With machine running, add ice water a little at a time until dough just holds together.

Turn out dough onto a lightly floured work surface and flatten into a disk.

Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Spread graham crumbs on clean work surface.  Roll out dough on top of crumbs, coating both sides, into a 14 inch round about 1/8 inch thick.  Fit into pie plate, crimp edges and refrigerate shell at least 30 minutes.

For Pie: Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Prick bottom of shell with a fork, line shell with foil, fill with dried beans and bake until edges are lightly browned- about 25 minutes.

Remove foil and bake another 10 minutes to lightly brown bottom of crust.

Cool completely.

IF YOU USE A PREPARED PIE CRUST, START HERE.

Reduce oven to 350.

In a bowl, whisk together buttermilk, butter, egg yolks and vanilla.

In another bowl combine sugar, flour and salt.

Whisk liquid ingredients into dry ingredients.

Pass through a fine strainer into a clean bowl.

Stir in lemon zest.

Pour mixture into pie shell and bake until center is just set, about 1 hour and 10 minutes.

Cool and refrigerate at least 4 hours.

Serve with berry sauce.

Triple Berry Sauce

adapted from Martha Stewart

1/2 cup sugar

1 TB freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 pints fresh blueberries, picked over and rinsed

6 oz (1 container) fresh blackberries

6 oz (1 container) fresh raspberries

1 teaspoon cornstarch

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, stir together sugar, lemon juice, and half of each kind of berry.  Bring just barely to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and simmer until the berries burst and release their juice, about 3 minutes.

In a small bowl dissolve the cornstarch in about 1 teaspoon of cold water and then stir into sauce.  Simmer, stirring, until it thickens slightly, about 1 minute.  Remove from heat and stir in remaining berries.  Refrigerate until chilled.  Stir again before serving.

Blueberry Tartlets

It’s still summer.  I’m still pregnant (but really, any minute now!)  And I’m supposed to “rest and stay inside.”  Which is easy to say and hard to do with a very active three-year-old who likes to go, go, go.  So I find myself in the kitchen with him a lot to keep us both from going a little crazy.

I had a batch of leftover cookie dough from the Daring Baker’s challenge recipe and also a pint of blueberries that needed to be used or frozen.  That and a free afternoon resulted in these:

Blueberry Tartlets

A cinnamon-shortbread cookie crust filled with blueberries – very simply mixed with lemon juice and sugar and a dash of flour.  (I was making this up as I went along, so no, I didn’t really measure anything.)

Then a little topping:

With a crumb topping before baking
With a crumb topping before baking

That’s butter cut into flour and sugar and sprinkled on top.  I baked them for 20 minutes or so in a 350 degree oven.  And they were so popular and gone so quickly, I never got a photo of the finished product!  Oh well.  It was a great way to use up the left over shortbread and it also made a very nice birthday treat for a good friend of my husband’s.  He had it for breakfast and claimed to have devoured the entire tartlet in about 10 seconds!

Tartlet

Summer!

Soooooo, at long last, the test is behind me and the lazy days of summer are in front.  Also, hot.  The days are very hot.  I’ve got lots to post – the completed Power Cooking stuff, an update on relishrelish.com and their menu planning service, as well as other recipes and Table-related goodies…but first, BERRIES.

Berries

I do love a good berry shortcake.  Or just angel food cake topped with berries and cream.  But, like most desserts that depend on just a few choice ingredients, you really want all the individual components to be delectable.  (Yes, I’m referring to avoiding those preservative-laden, cup-shaped sponge cakes they always have next to the strawberries in the store!)

So here’s a little twist on the traditional shortcake…brown sugar biscuits.  (And since I was serving to a crowd, I made it into a trifle so it would go farther…but you could do it just as easily in individual servings.)

My husband decided that the biscuits were yummy enough to stand on their own, for sure…and I didn’t have to think too hard to imagine them with a standard breakfast of eggs and bacon…a nice, sweet complement.

Mixed Berry Trifle with Brown Sugar Biscuits

Mixed Berry Trifle

First, the biscuits:

Brown Sugar Shortcakes (adapted from Cook’s Country 2006)

2 cups all-purpose flour

3 TB packed light brown sugar

1 TB baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

8 TB (1 stick) unsalted butter – cut into 1/2 inch pieces and chilled

2 TB unsalted butter – melted (for brushing)

1 large egg

1/2 cup sour cream

2 TB granulated sugar (or more brown sugar)

Heat oven to 375 degrees.  Line baking sheet with parchment paper (although I bake my biscuits on stoneware, which I prefer.)  Pulse flour, brown sugar, baking powder, and salt in food processor until all lumps of sugar are gone.  Scatter pieces of chilled butter on top and pulse until mixture resembles course meal (7-10 times.)  Transfer to large bowl.

Whisk egg and sour cream together and then stir into flour mixture – I used a large rubber spatula until large clumps form.  Knead the dough – lightly – until it comes together and no more dry flecks of flour remain.  Using a large ice cream scoop (size #10) scoop 6 dough rounds onto baking sheet.  Brush tops with melted butter and sprinkle with granulated sugar (I used more brown sugar here for color and flavor.)  Bake until golden brown 25-30 minutes.

Brown Sugar Biscuits

I used blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and raspberries for the filling.  After rinsing the berries, I took about half of them and smashed them a little to release some of the juice.  Then I mixed them all back together with a sprinkle of sugar and a few shakes of balsamic vinegar.  I let that sit in the refrigerator for several hours.

The topping was cream cheese (softened and whipped) folded into heavy whipping cream that had been whipped.  I added a tiny bit of lemon zest in the last few folds.

Then the biscuits got broken up and layered into the trifle bowl, berries, cream, biscuits, berries, cream…you know how a trifle works!

Berry Trifle Layer

Look how those biscuits just soak those berries right up – but trust me, they are hearty enough to take it without getting soggy.

This would easily feed a dozen or more and was convenient because the components could each be done ahead of time and assembled at the last minute.  And how great would these be as individual shortcake servings?  You would just need as many biscuits as you have people – and since these biscuits were huge, you could easily use the recipe for six to stretch to 8 or probably even 10.  Overall, it was a big hit – and I predict these biscuits will be making a solo appearance again soon.

Brown Sugar Biscuit

How could they not?  Yum.