Summertime fruit pies are decadent, extravagant denials of Winter. And in a place like Northern New England, Maine Blueberries are the epitome of transient, transcendent glory. Detailed ingredients are listed at the bottom.
Pie crusts have a reputation for being fussy, difficult to manage, and – worst of all – tasteless. I haven’t perfected my preferred crust YET, but this one is a significant improvement over the traditional flour/fat/salt/ice water blend.
The premise of every pie crust will always be the same. It’s essential to get the ratios exactly right, or the crust won’t hold together. This precision is misunderstood as mystical, however. There’s really just a few simple things to keep in mind, and you can make a terrific crust. If it gets too sticky, add a little flour. If it’s too crumbly, add a little water.
1.Fat, 1 cup
The fat you use, whether it’s butter, lard, shortening, or a combination of the three, will get soft very quickly as you work with it. When this happens, it will not hold together properly. So, if it starts to feel soft and slippery in your hands, out it back in the fridge for a half hour or so until it cools down again.
Lard tastes excellent, but obviously it’s not a very popular option. Then again, when it comes to a pie, if you’re going to obsess over calories and fat, maybe you should skip it.
Shortening works great. It’s cheap and easy. But it’s also tasteless. People say it will give you a flakier crust. Maybe so. But is it worth sacrificing the flavor? I think this is a difficult call. In a fresh fruit pie, I don’t know if it matters that much, because you really want the fruit to be the center of attention. In other kinds of pies and tarts, the taste of the crust has more presence. In those pies, butter is probably worth the fuss.
Butter. Ah, unsalted butter. It’s harder to work with, but tastes wonderful. If you keep it cold and remember not to panic while you’re mixing your dough, you’ll be fine.
The only critical point is the amount of fat you use. You need ONE CUP of your preferred lard/shortening/butter to make a standard two crust nine inch pie.
2. Flour, 2 1/2 cups, and a little salt, 1/4 teaspoon
Plain old fashioned all purpose flour. Two and 1/2 cups for the two crust nine inch pie.
Old faithful. You can do almost anything with all purpose flour.
But, it too can be kinda plain.
In this recipe, I substituted 1/2 cup of ground almonds for 1/2 cup of flour. It adds some texture and flavor to the crust, which is nice. Rather than just being a pie filling wrapped up in a doughy thing to hold it together, the ground almonds lend some shape and, dare I say, gravitas to the crust.
Next time, I’ll probably use a coffee grinder rather than my old nut grinder to achieve a finer texture. Of course, almond flour would work well, too.
I also added a little brown sugar for flavor.
I haven’t tried this, but I don’t see why you can’t play with what you use here a bit. Different flours have different gluten percentages and flavors, and different nuts have different levels of fat and moisture, too, but it’s your crust. Play with it.
You cut your fat gently into the flour using a pastry cutter. Leave it clumpy.
3. Ice Water, 4 – 9 tablespoons
This is no joke. It’s got to be as cold as you can keep it.
If you can keep your room and working surfaces cool, too, all the better.
You also don’t need very much. Most recipes say something like 3-6 tablespoons, with up to another teaspoon if needed, to “hold the dough together.” I think this is where we get scared with our crust. What on earth does that mean?
Personally, it has always taken me more like 7-10 tablespoons of ice water.
Here’s how to tell if you have enough:
If your dough is crumbly, you need more water.
If it’s sticky, you have too much. (So throw a little more flour in your hands and work it in. It’ll be fine.)
What you need to do is just pay attention to the feel of the dough. The precise amount of ice water needed will vary based on the weather, the temperature, humidity, phase of the moon, or who’s in political office. However, the dough will always always always feel *just so* when you’ve got it. If you overwork the dough and make the “crumb” too fine, it won’t hold together. I know it looks weird to have it all chunky, but it works.
Note: this is why you want to use your hands and a pastry cutter, not a food processor. The machine won’t tell you how your dough feels on a given day. Your hands will learn how to tell what it needs. Trust them.
Adding a little water at a time, gently and with a light touch work the dough until it holds together. I know it sounds vague, but you’ll know it when you see it.
And if it starts to get too warm, just put it in the fridge until it cools.
When it’s one ball, divide it into two separate chunks. Wrap each one in a plastic Baggie or Saran Wrap, and then flatten it into a disc. This will make it easier to roll out when it’s time.
Put it back in the fridge – unless you’re ready to roll it out right now. Then put the one you’ll use for the top crust in the fridge while you roll out the bottom.
The bottom crust needs to be a bit bigger than the pie dish you’ll use, generally about twelve inches in diameter. Don’t fret if it’s not an actual circle.
If it starts to crumble, add a few drops of ice water to the break and massage it back together. If it splits when you move it, don’t worry. You can smush it back together in the pan – and it’s going to be covered in pie filling anyway.
I promise, no one (but you) cares if it isn’t Martha Stewart Magazine perfect.
If you have berries, apply an egg wash to the bottom crust so it doesn’t leak or get soggy.
When you’re ready, roll out your top crust the same way, just a little smaller. When you place it on top, you can either seal the edges and cut some steam holes, or you can try a lattice design. Whatever you like. (As long as the steam can get out.)
The more often you make a pie crust, the better sense you’ll develop for how you like to do it and what the best ratios are. Fortunately, it really doesn’t take too much practice to get the hang of it. I have found, though, that you want to try to do a few relatively close together to keep the senses clear in your mind. One every year isn’t quite often enough to become a crust master. Take heart: the ingredients for crust are inexpensive and readily available, and you can always find people happy to eat pie.
One of my biggest pie complaints, especially with blueberry pie, is that they are too sweet. It’s all syrup and sugar and – ick. I want my food to taste like the ingredients I use not – something else.
So, in this recipe, I used less sugar than it called for, and it added a few spices. Next time I make it, I’ll probably only use a half cup of sugar, and a full 1/4 teaspoon of ginger. The addition of cinnamon and vanilla are just wonderful.
Maine blueberries have a different taste from other kinds. They are smaller and sweeter. You’ll want to adjust your sugars and spices to the fruit you have in your kitchen. I pulled back on the sugar for this reason.
Basically, for a fruit pie filling, you need fruit, corn starch to thicken, sugar and anything else you want to add for a wonderful pie filling. It usually takes about four cups of fruit.
Lots of recipes I’ve read ask for about 3/4 cup of sugar. I think it depends on the fruit and on what you like. I’d hesitate to use less than 1/2 cup, though.
Also, depending on the water content of your fruit, you’ll need around five tablespoons of corn starch or tapioca or substitute as a thickener.
Mix according to your tastes and preferences – it should smell wonderful – pour it in the crust and you’re ready.
Some recipes ask for little pats of butter on top of the fruit, but I haven’t noticed a difference to the taste or outcome of the pie either way.
Add your top crust. You can wash the top crust with egg whites so it will turn golden. You can sprinkle it with sugar or cinnamon sugar or anything else you like to personalize it and accentuate the flavors.
The first fifteen minutes should be at 425F, then turn down the oven to 375F for another 35-45 minutes. When your pie is bubbly and golden, it’s done.
You do have to wait at least four hours for it to cool enough to eat.
It’s hard. It’s harder than making the crust. But it’s worth it.
2 c all purpose flour
1/2 c ground almonds
1 c of butter, shortening or lard, or any combination of them
1 t salt
1 heaping t brown sugar
6-8 T ice water
1 quart Maine Blueberries
bwtn 1/2 and 3/4 c sugar
5 T corn starch
1/4 t salt
1/2 t cinnamon
1/8 t ginger
1 t vanilla extract
juice of 1 lemon, squeezed over the top
Preheat to 425.
425 for 15 mins.
375 for 35-45 mins, until golden and bubbly