Friday, November 10, 2017

BEST Blueberry Pie

Here is a not-pumpkin dessert for your Fall table.

Do you ever do that thing where you buy tonnes and tonnes of berries in the Summer and freeze them with the intention of baking something bright and delicious in the Winter when you long for Summer feelings, but then forget to use them entirely and they are still there the following Summer!? I do.

Don't let that happen this year.

Probably my favourite way to bake with blueberries is in pies! Blueberries are one of those fruits that benefit exceptionally well from some added sugar and a slow simmer. The flavour intensifies and it becomes irresistible. If you really think about it, fresh blueberries don't taste all that much. Most of their flavour is in the skins and extracting that flavour is exactly what happens when we let it bake for an hour under flaky pie crust.

Live up to those intentions and bake that berry pie this season. Don't wait until they're covered in ice crystals and totally broken (big thumbs down).

What happens when something as delicate as blueberries thaws and refreezes with the cycle of your freezer is that the water re-crystallizes slowly into much larger ice crystals that puncture the cell walls of the berries and damage their integrity so that when you go to use them and they begin to thaw, buckets of violet liquid (that's all your precious blueberry juice!) leaks out almost immediately. This leads to lost flavour and a soggy crust.

To summarize: let's use them before next Summer.

Now here's an important question that I think needs some attention:

What baking dish should you use?

This doesn't normally seem important, but it will affect your baking time. You may have lovely decorative ceramic pie plates that will present beautifully to the table, and by all means use them! Just note that it may take about 10 minutes longer for your pie to bake and you will definitely want to use very high heat at the beginning to seal in that crust (especially the bottom crust). If you have a bottom heating element in your oven, place the pie on the lower-third rack. Ceramic is a great insulator so it will keep your pie warm for longer, but this also means it takes longer to heat through.

Aluminum pie pans will conduct heat fast and certainly lend a crisp crust, but the obvious downfall is that they are not all that pretty. You might spend the whole day trying to convince people that your pie is not store-bought.

I prefer tempered glass for two main reasons. 1) It conducts heat faster than ceramic, and 2) It allows me to see through the bottom so that I know if my bottom crust is baked through and golden brown.

Either way, I hope you bake pies upon pies this holiday season.

If you still plan to do the pumpkin thing though, I recommend these:
Maple Pumpkin Pies with Cranberry Pecan Praline.

And if you want to brush up on your pastry skills, here's all you need to know:
How to make the very Best Flaky Pie Crust.

Big big love xo

BEST Blueberry Pie
makes about 8 servings

For the pie dough:
1/3 cup very cold unsalted butter, cut into ¾-inch cubes
1/3 cup very cold pure lard, cut into ¾-inch cubes
4 tbsp ice cold water
1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
2 tbsp granulated sugar
¼ tsp salt

For the filling:
25 oz fresh or frozen blueberries (about 5 cups)
½ cup granulated sugar
2 tbsp corn starch
1 tbsp all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp ground cardamom
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg (about 4 grates on a fine handheld grater)

For the topping:
1 large egg, well beaten
1 tbsp coarse sanding sugar

To make the crust, first place the butter and lard in the freezer for 15 minutes. 

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar and salt. Add about 3 tablespoons of fat (a mix of butter and shortening) and rub it into the flour mixture using your fingertips until it resembles coarse crumbs. The fat should be well dispersed so that the mixture feels mealy and the flour is less dusty. This will create a tender crust as the fat coats the flour particles and acts as a barrier to prevent the development of gluten proteins that can make the dough tough.

Add the remaining cold butter and shortening and toss it in flour mixture to coat. Using a pastry blender or a bench scraper, cut the fat into flour to break it down into pea-sized pieces. Get in there with your fingers and press some large bits of fat between your thumb and forefinger to flatten them out. Place the bowl in the freezer for 10 minutes to allow the fat to firm up.

Gradually sprinkle cold water over the chilled shaggy dough mixture one tablespoon at a time while gently tossing with a fork until the dough is moistened and it barely clings together in clumps. The dough will hold together when squeezed or pressed when it is ready, but it should not form a ball. Turn dough out onto a clean surface and bring it together with your hands, pressing in loose bits until it is evenly moist and cohesive but not completely smooth. Divide the dough almost in half (one half slightly larger than the other), flatten each portion into a disk, wrap well with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.

Preheat your oven to 425°F and place a baking sheet on the bottom rack.

Place the blueberries in a large bowl and set aside. Whisk together sugar, corn starch, flour, cardamom and nutmeg until no lumps remain and set aside. You will fold this together with the blueberries immediately before filling the pie.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll the larger half into a 12 to 13-inch circle, rotating the dough and adding more flour as necessary to prevent sticking. Carefully drape the dough over an 8x2-inch round glass pie dish. Gently press the dough into the bottom edges and up the sides of the dish. Refrigerate until firm, about 15 minutes, while making the filling and rolling out the top crust. This allows the rolled layers of gluten and fat to relax and firm up, creating a more flaky crust.

Once the bottom crust is chilled, begin to roll out the other portion of dough into a 10 to 11-inch wide round. Add sugar mixture to the bowl with the berries and fold them together until evenly blended. Pour into chilled pie crust. Brush edges with beaten egg and carefully drape chilled top crust over the filled pie. Press edges of top crust against bottom crust edges to seal. Trim off excess dough around the edges leaving a ½-inch overhang and then tuck it in by rolling it underneath itself (the top and bottom crust together) so that it sits against the edge of the pie dish. This ensures a tight seal on your pie. Crimp decoratively using three fingers - your thumb and index finger on one hand and the index finger of the other hand. Using your thumb and index finger from one hand, push from the outside edge of the crust toward the inside of the pie while pushing at the same time with the index finger of the other hand in the opposite direction between the other two fingers. 
Place the pie in the freezer for 10 minutes.

Brush top and edges of chilled pie lightly with beaten egg and sprinkle with sanding sugar. Make six 1½-inch incisions in an asterisk pattern on the top crust to let steam escape during baking.

Place pie on baking sheet on bottom rack of oven and bake for 25 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F and bake until juices have been bubbling for at least 5 minutes, 35-40 minutes longer. Loosely cover the edges with aluminum foil midway through baking to protect them from overbrowning if necessary. Transfer pie to a wire rack to cool completely before slicing.
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