28 July 2013

Classic Blueberry Pie

I've been interested in cooking and experimenting in the kitchen ever since I was a little girl. On uneventful summer days, my sister and I used to make "creations" by throwing random amounts of random ingredients into a bowl and then baking whatever dough or batter resulted and hoping it would turn into the most marvelous cookie/muffin/cake ever. Most memorable are the slightly-off-tasting-but-actually-not-that-bad green tinted cupcakes and my naive attempt at coffee cake, which I had misinterpreted as cake containing coffee. Needless to say the gummy flat cake flecked with my parents expensive coffee grounds did not impress.

When I got a little bit older, I starting reading my parents' copy of the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook, picking random recipes based on what ingredients we had in the kitchen, and trying my hand at them. I liked that cookbook because it not only seemed to have the recipe for every dish in existence, the recipes were all the simplest versions of themselves. Most of the time I could just pick something that sounded interesting and see if I could make it without having to ask my parents to buy me some obscure ingredients. Thanks to the BHaG cookbook I made risotto before I knew what risotto was, polenta before I knew what polenta was, and a vast array of other dishes for not much reason other than I was bored and felt like cooking. 

On one of these occasions, I decided I wanted to try to make blueberry pie. I had never made or even eaten blueberry pie, but I loved the way it looked with its dark purple-blue hue, delicate little berries, and flakey lattice top. Fresh blueberries were (are) expensive, so we only had a couple bags of frozen blueberries for me to work with- according to Better Homes and Gardens, that would be just fine! I remember being pleased and surprised by how simple the recipe was. The dough was a simple flour-butter-salt-sugar-water pastry and the filling was not much more than blueberries, sugar, and a touch of lemon juice. While I wasn't courageous enough to attempt a lattice top (opting for a traditional flat top crust instead), I had high hopes for this simple, pretty little pie. When it came out of the oven it smelled and looked perfect, but when we cut into it later that evening my heart fell as the filling dripped out from the pastry, making a thin juicey mess in the pie tin. It still tasted fine, but it was far from the picturesque, delicate blueberry pie I had imagined. I chalked it up to blueberries (especially the frozen variety) containing too much water and never made another attempt, preferring the sturdiness of apples or chocolate cream.

But now I do the grocery shopping for myself, so when I noticed Safeway had 2 lb boxes of fresh blueberries on sale for 5 dollars (versus the 3 dollar pint box I usually buy), I just couldn't resist. It wouldn't have been fiscally responsible! Of course 2 lbs of blueberries is way too much for a single person to eat before they go bad, so something had to be done. I decided it was time to make a fresh, more experienced attempt at blueberry pie. 

This recipe appealed to me because the author of the blog I found it on also lamented too-drippy pie filling, insisting that this pie is sturdy enough to hold it's shape without being so thick as to resemble Jell-O. The filling recipe is also very simple, but not as simple as the Better Homes and Gardens method, which makes me feel more confident because for some reason I tend to think more steps/ingredients=more consistent, controllable, and delicious results. 
 The only change I made was to use my favorite pastry crust recipe, which uses a mix of shortening and butter instead of exclusively one or the other. I like the flavor and crumbliness that butter lends to the crust, but find that shortening adds flakiness and helps keep the bottom crust from becoming thin, flat, and hard. 

Here is the link to the original recipe.

2.5 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup shortening
6-8 tbsp ice water

6 cups fresh blueberries, divided
1 granny smith apple
2 tsp lemon zest
2 tsp lemon juice
3/4 cup sugar
2 tbsp instant tapioca
1/8 tsp salt
2 tbsp unsalted butter
 1 large egg beaten with 1 tsp water
1. Line a baking sheet with foil. Place on the bottom rack of the oven. Preheat over to 400 degrees.
2. Make the dough by combining flour, salt, and sugar. Use a pastry cutter (or your hands) to cut in the butter and shortening until the mixture resembles course crumbs. Add ice water 2 tbsp until a cohesive (not sticky) dough is formed. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for one hour.
3. Place three cups of blueberries in a medium saucepan and cook on low, mashing with a spoon or potato masher until the berries have cooked down. They should turn into a thick, slightly chunky blueberry compote. Remove from heat and let cool.
4. Peel, core, and grate the granny smith apple. Place inside a paper towel and squeeze out as much excess liquid as possible. 
5. To the cooked berries, add the apple, lemon zest, lemon juice, sugar, tapioca, salt, and remaining blueberries. Stir to combine.
6. Roll out half of the pastry dough to form a 12 inch disc. Lay inside a 9 inch pie pan and trim edges to no more than 1 inch excess. Spoon the filling into the dish and spread evenly. Cut the 2 tbsp unsalted butter into pieces and place on top of the filling.
7. Roll out the other half of the pastry dough. For a classic crust, simple lay the disc of dough over the filled pan and cut 4-6 slits in the top for ventilation. For a lattice top, use a pizza or ravioli slicer (or a sharp knife) and cut 10-11 long strips in the rolled out disc of dough. Lay 5 strips vertically across the filling, spacing evenly. Fold up strips 1, 3, and 5 halfway and place a strip horizontally so that it crosses over strips 2 and 4. Lay strips 1, 3, and 5 back down. Repeat, folding up strips 2 and 4 and laying a strip horizontally over 1, 3, and 5. Do the same for the other half of the pie. Here's a visual explanation. 
8. Cut away excess dough from edges. Use the egg wash to adhere to top crust/strips to the bottom crust. Use your fingers or a fork to make a decorative pattern around the edge. Brush the top crust with the egg wash. 
8. Bake the pie for 30 minutes. Reduce heat to 350, and bake for 30-40 additional minutes, or until filling is bubbling and crust is golden brown. If necessary, line the outer crust with tin foil during the baking process to keep it from burning.

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