Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Piesignment #2 - Allison's Three Berry Pie

I have something I need to say about pies. They don't scare me. Never have, never will. I know this may sound a little cocky, or maybe a little silly to those of you who are also unafraid of pies, but I just had to put that out there. See, I hear all the time about the fear that pie crust instills in people, and I just don't get it. I guess I can see how it would be daunting; all that talk about keeping things super cold you think you'd have to live in Alaska to make an ok crust. Or how about the very specific instruction that the butter must be pea-sized before mixing in the liquid? I still don't know if I've ever achieved the perfect pea-sized piece of butter. And then there's the rolling out, and the horror stories of pie crust sticking and tearing, and ok this does sound a little terrifying.
But here's the thing, the most important thing about pie crust: homemade pie crust always taste better than store-bought, always! At least, that's what has been my experience. And so even if you mess something up, or it looks a little funky, you're still way ahead of the game in the taste department. When I began to bake about ten years ago, one of the very first things I ever made was pie, and since then I have continued to bake pies probably more than any other dessert. There usually is a pie of mine at every family gathering, every summer BBQ, and don’t get me started on Thanksgiving when the baking starts two days before the event and usually ends in 5 or 6 different pies.

Why so much pie? Part of it I think is because pie is just so darn simple to make, and anything that’s simple appeals to the lazy side of me. That’s right, pie is simple! Especially fruit pies. Because most pie crust recipes use the same method (cut cold fats into flour until it looks like coarsemeal, drizzle with a cold liquid and mix until it just comes together), the only part you really have to memorize are the ingredients. So once you’ve got the method down, and the ingredient portions memorized, you will never need a recipe again! Trust me, you'll love the feeling of having a pie crust recipe under your belt; it's like having a secret dessert weapon in your arsenal at all times.Because it means that you could be baking pies whenever and wherever you feel like it. Who knows when a dessert emergency may arise, and you are without a recipe?? The horrors. Ok, so maybe dessert emergencies don't really exist for most normal folks, but the point is, well I've kind of lost the point. How about this, being able to make a pie from scratch without any assistance except your own two hands and your brain will make you feel competent beyond your wildest dreams, and will be impressive to others as well. There's the point. I think.

Alright, back to the simplicity of fruit pies that I mentioned. Fruit pies are quite possibly my most favorite pies to make; for the same reason I've been going on and on about, which is that they don't really require a specific recipe to make. All you need is a bit of sugar, some thickener and maybe a splash of lemon juice to make the fruit shine. Which is really kind of the whole point of the pie right? I strongly recommend tasting your fruit pie fillings, which may or may not sound a little bit, well, duh. But I used to not be so much of a taster, and I always followed the recipes to the letter when it came to the amount of sugar to add. But not all fruits are made equal, and the amount of sugar you use will depend on how ripe or fresh the fruit may be. If you're like me and prefer to really taste the fruit, and not so much the sugar, than you may find yourself not adding quite as much as a recipe may say that you needed.

Here's my method for fruit filling - mix the fruit with some sugar, a thickener (I start with 3 tablespoons) and whatever flavoring you might be adding such as almond extract (oh how I adore pure almond extract), lemon juice, or a flavored liqueur. I then taste the filling to see if it needs more sugar or flavoring, adjusting if necessary. The next step is to let the mixture stand for about ten minutes which allows the fruits to release it's juices, which helps determine if the filling will need more thickener or not. If the fruit is really juicy and the mixture seems too loose, I will add a little more thickener, a tablespoon at a time, until it seems, ahem, thicker. I know this is kind of a vague description, but after making a few pies this way you will get a feel for whether a filling is the way you like it. Besides, no one is going to turn away one of your attempts if it is a little bit too juicy. I promise you.

I learned this method for filling from one of my very first cookbook purchases, All About Pies and Tarts, which is part of The Joy of Cooking series of books. It was also from this book that I learned how to make pie crust. You see, back in the day there were no such things as cooking blogs (at least if they existed I didn't know about them), the Food Network was not a channel I routinely watched, and I definitely didn't have multiple subscriptions to cooking magazines. So when I set out to learn how to bake a pie, All About Pies and Tarts was my teacher. And it was through the step-by-step photos, and the simple, easy to read instructions that I confidently learned how to make pie crust. And it still continues to be the book I turn to whenever a pie question arises.

When I went to make a pie for Fourth of July this year, I knew I wanted the crust to include stars of some sort. I have made variations of this design in the past, but have had trouble with the pie crust holding it's shape. Often the pie has come out of the oven looking like a mutated version of itself. I knew that a proper chilling before baking could help avoid part of the problem, but I was wondering if there were any other tips. So I turned to my trusty pie cookbook, and sure enough they had a suggestion. They recommended using a pie crust made partially with cream cheese, as it holds it shape better during baking, making it ideal for tart crusts and decorative pie crusts.
And wouldn't you know it but it worked? My stars kept their shape, and the crust was still flaky and delicious. Albeit I probably could have used more stars to cover the pie with, but oh well. It just made it a pie where the fruit was the star (pun intended). I used blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries for my three-berry pie filling, along with about a 1/3 cup of sugar, the juice of one lemon, and approximately 4 tablespoons of cornstarch. And oh did that combination make for some goood berry pie. Each berry kept its individual flavor, with the tartness of the blackberries melding beautifully with the sweetness of the blueberries and raspberries. And the white pie plate, along with the red and blue berries, and starry topping made this the perfect dessert for a Fourth of July table. This was a pie to be proud of.
Have you heard me blabber on about pie long enough? Well too bad, because I need to give a shout out to a blog participant of our Summer Pie Spectacular! These adorable star hand pies come from the blog Sunday Treats which is written by two sisters, Katie and Becky, all the way across the country in NYC! They've got a super cute blog with some great looking desserts.
A few other recent pie posts out in the blogosphere:

Joy the Baker - Blueberry Blackberry Pie

What are you waiting for? Go make some pie!

Making a Pie with Any Fruit
Adapted from The Joy of Cooking All About Pies and Tarts

Once you develop a feel for making fruit pies, you can virtually dispense with recipes. A 9-inch pie needs about 5 cups of fresh fruit or berries plus sugar, thickener, and a little butter. You will seldom go wrong if you use the formula below. There are of course exceptions; tart or sour fruits will require more sugar, apples need less thickener, while juicy berries may require more, especially if they are heavily sweetened.

5 cups sliced fruit or berries
½ cup sugar
3 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca or cornstarch
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 to 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 egg, beaten
Sanding or raw sugar

Roll out one disk of dough and fit into the bottom of a pie pan. Roll out second disk and place it on a lightly floured cookie sheet. Place both top and bottom crusts in fridge while preparing rest of pie.

Mix the fruit, sugar, thickener, lemon juice, and salt and let stand for 15 minutes before pouring it into the pie crust. Dot the butter over the filling. Cover pie with top crust or lattice. Seal the edge, trim, and crimp or flute. Cut steam vents in top crust. Freeze pie for 30 minutes.

Brush top of crust with beaten egg and sprinkle with sugar. Bake the pie in the lower third of a 425 degree oven for 30 minutes; then slip a baking sheet beneath it, reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees, and bake the pie until thick juices bubble through the vents, about 30 minutes more. If pie crust appears to be darkening too quickly, cover the edges with tinfoil.

Flaky Cream Cheese Pastry Dough

Makes two 9- or 10-inch pie crusts, or 9 ½- or 10-inch tart crusts

Use this dough when making tartlet crusts, or pies with lattice or decorative tops; as it will hold its shape better while it cooks.

2 cup plus 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons white sugar or 4 tablespoons powdered sugar
½ teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into ¼ inch pieces
6 ounces cream cheese, cut into ¼ inch pieces
6-8 tablespoons heavy cream
Additional ice water

Mix together the flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl or food processor. Using a pastry blender or the blade of a food processor, cut the butter and cream cheese into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs with some pea-sized pieces. Drizzle heavy cream over the mixture and stir together or process mixture until it begins to gather into moist clumps. Press the dough into a thick, flat disk, wrap tightly in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 2 days.


  1. This looks so yummy! I made a blueberry pie for piesignment #2 and somehow the pictures were lost on my sad! It was my first attempt at a fruit pie, and since it turned out so good I am definitely going to be making more pie soon...especially if there are more piesignments!

  2. looks great, and i'm glad you aren't afraid of pie. i'm not either - it IS easy!

  3. i know, what's with people being so scared of making pie? it's not that hard and it's so worthh it! this looks fantatic, and i love cream cheese dough!

  4. Berry pies are always a favourite. I love the cute stars on it too!

  5. cream cheese pastry dough! droooool.

  6. Hi gals! I just realized Becky and I never thanked you for the 4th of July star pies shout out. Thanks! Hope you're enjoying the end of summer!


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