Category Archives: Pie and pastry

Apple Pie With Altitude

I love, love, love apple pie!  When Jason and I moved to Colorado almost 11 years ago (I can’t believe it has been so long), I thought all of my baking recipes would still be ok.  Unfortunately, we had to suffer through quite a few soggy piecrusts until my brilliant husband realized what to do… Cook the apples in order to activate the flour just a little bit before baking them!  It sounds simple enough, but that little trick will make the pie absolutely amazing.

To start, make a piecrust.  I always listen to my mother when it comes to the crust; you must add sugar.

Pie Crust
Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens and Tami Elder

  •  2-¼ cups all-purpose unbleached flour
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 2-½ tablespoons chilled butter
  • ½ cup vegetable shortening
  • 8 to 10 tablespoons very cold water (I usually add ice to the water)

Combine the flour, salt, and sugar in a large bowl.

cubed buttah

Cut the butter and shortening into the flour mixture using a pastry cutter until the mixture becomes coarse crumbs.


Mix in the cold water, a little bit at a time just until it comes together.  Be careful to not overwork the dough, or else it will result in a tough piecrust.  Separate the dough in two, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until you are ready to use it.

crust resting

When I make a pie, I always double the piecrust recipe.  With the leftovers, we roll out the dough, sprinkle it with cinnamon and sugar, and bake in a 375-degree oven until the edges are golden brown, approximately 15 minutes.  Our mom always did this for us when we were kids, and we absolutely loved it.  My kids do as well!

Next, make the pie!

Apple Pie
Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens

  • 8-10 granny smith apples, peeled and sliced
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose unbleached flour
  • 1-teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

Combine the ingredients in a large bowl.

ingredients in bowl

ingredients, mixed

Heat a large skillet over medium heat, and melt 4 tablespoons of butter in the skillet.


Add the apple mixture and cook until they are slightly softened, about 15 minutes.

While the apples are cooking, roll out the piecrust and place one in a pie plate.  (My mom got this pie plate for me when they went to Poland for Thanksgiving.  It is beautiful!) Place the cooked apples in the pie plate, and top with the remaining piecrust.  Seal the edges of the pie, and cut a few slits in the top to let steam escape during baking. Sprinkle the top with a little bit of sugar.  Before baking, cover the edges of the pie with strips of foil to prevent the crust from over- browning.  Bake the pie in a pre-heated 375-degree oven.  Bake for 35 minutes, then remove the foil and bake for another 20 minutes.  Be sure to put a lining of foil or an extra baking sheet under the pie in the oven, because this pie can spill over.  It’s full of ooey gooey goodness!

ooey gooey

gooey gooey

Let the pie cool, slice and enjoy!

slided and enjoyed


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An Unexpected Journey

News flash!!! Even though we aren’t the very first in the world, we do get to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey before everyone in the U.S.  How’s that for exciting?  December 12 will find us at our local Kino following Bilbo Baggins’ quest, and it’s going to be an adventure for sure!

In other news, we’re going on an epic unexpected journey of our own.  After ten years in Germany, we are moving… Puerto Rico!  Yep, as Kara mentioned not long ago, a lot has been happening lately, and there is more to come.  I don’t even know where to start, but I guess it should be with a thank you to Kara, Janessa, Linda, and Kelly for keeping good things to eat on The Troika Table while I was busily starting the school year, finishing the fiscal year, applying for a new job that came open out of the blue, and getting ready for a big move.  While all that was going on, I didn’t stop cooking.  I even took a few pictures while I was at it, and some of those recipes will no doubt appear here in the future.  We also threw a few fun parties with food worth sharing (and I will, someday!).  And we took a nice drive to Poland with Kara, who came for one last trip home to Deutschland while it was still home.  We came home with some lovely Polish pottery, and since we are about to become islanders, we also picked up a couple of Borowski fish.


Little shopping excursion notwithstanding, you know how it is when you are getting ready to move.  We downsized, sold, recycled, and donated at least an entire moving crate’s worth of accumulated stuff (especially winter clothes, hee-hee), and of course we used up everything we could from the pantry and fridge.  There wasn’t much of sustenance left when moving day arrived.


No, we don’t normally store aspirin, aluminum foil, plastic cups, and paper plates and napkins in the refrigerator, but that seemed like the best way to keep the movers from packing them.  Everything else we wanted left alone went into the bathroom behind this sign:


Don’t you wonder what’s behind that door?  No, you don’t really want to know….nothing exciting, just the supplies we would need for final cleaning.

In the fridge we had the sweet potato pie that would be breakfast for the next three days of packing our household goods, various condiments, a half sheet of purchased flammkuchen crust left from our last party a couple of weeks ago, and not much else.  But I thought to myself, “Hmmm, that flammkuchen crust offers some real possibilities,” and the resulting lunch proved to be delicious.

Tante Fanny knows best

Flammkuchen, or tarte flambée, is a pizza-like Alsatian specialty.  It’s simple to make your own dough from this recipe if you don’t have Tante Fanny in your neighborhood store.  Traditional flammkuchen is nothing more than the dough rolled as thinly as possible, spread with crème fraiche, and topped with thinly sliced onions and lardons, baked in a hot wood-fired oven.  No wood-fired oven?  No worries, simply set your oven to 475 F.  I like to make flammkuchen as an appetizer for parties, and I’ve made versions with thin slices of potatoes or Hokkaido squash, diced bell peppers, sliced mushrooms, caramelized onions, and various cheeses.

Squash Flammkuchen

This time in addition to the crust, I had a little crème fraiche and a partial bottle of bacon pieces to work with, plus about a quarter of a small jar of candied jalapeños (by the way, if you haven’t tried making these yet, trust me, all you have to do is tie a ribbon around the jar and you have the perfect little Christmas gift for friends and coworkers).

Moving Day Flammkuchen

  • Flammkuchen crust – purchased or from recipe linked above
  • Crème fraiche – about ½ cup for a standard rectangle baking sheet
  • Toppings of your choice (see description above and use your imagination)

Place your baking sheet in the oven and preheat to 475 F. Roll the dough out on a sheet of parchment paper, then lift the entire sheet onto the hot baking sheet (ignore the foil in my photos – by this time I didn’t have a baking sheet available so I used a sheet of foil on the broiler rack).  Bake for 2-3 minutes, or until the surface of the dough is starting to feel dry.

Spread the dough with crème fraiche and add toppings of your choice.  For this flammkuchen I used about three tablespoons of prepared bacon pieces and maybe two dozen candied jalapeño slices.  Return to the oven and bake until the crème fraiche is bubbly and starting to brown a little.  Cut into squares and enjoy!

Candied jalapeno, bacon Flammkuchen

All dressed up with a place to go



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If You Think You Don’t Like Rhubarb

There are people like that out there, you know.  People who don’t like rhubarb, I mean.  I totally get it, and in fact I used to be one of them….but my husband most definitely was not.  Since I like him so much, for years I would suck it up and bake traditional rhubarb pies every spring, with a filling of sliced rhubarb coated in sugar and flour or cornstarch in between two perfect rounds of pastry.  And I always thought to myself, what a waste of a good pie crust!

Then one fine spring day I was visiting a nice lady named Ellie and as I was leaving she handed me a big bag of rhubarb from her garden.  I confessed that I’d never been too fond of rhubarb and she said something along the lines of “That’s because you’ve never had my rhubarb pie,” and then she pulled out a little tin recipe box and handed me a tattered magazine clipping.  I asked to copy the recipe down, but she insisted that I take the clipping because she had the recipe firmly committed to memory.  I have a vague recollection that she told me the recipe was cut from an old Better Homes and Gardens magazine, but I might be imagining that part.

Well, Ellie was right and this pie is really good…..and it’s the only kind of rhubarb pie I’ve made ever since that lucky day sometime back in the late 20th century.  I’ve changed the recipe just a bit, cutting down over the years on the original two cups of sugar to 1¼ cups, and that seems like enough to make the filling satisfyingly sweet while still letting the rhubarb tartness come through.  I think it originally had more flour, but with the eggs also working to thicken the filling, two tablespoons of flour is enough to do the job.  In fact, my friend Gariann came over to bake with me a few Saturdays ago, and we didn’t realize until she was mixing my filling and her pie was already in the oven that we’d skipped over the flour on hers, and from all reports it still turned out very well.  We went with a plain top crust on our pies, but a lattice crust would be a nice touch – easy to do, but not a requirement.  Don’t, however, skip the blind baking on the bottom crust, because the filling is very liquid at first and the blind baking ensures a perfectly done bottom crust.

Rhubarb Custard Pie

  • Pastry for double crust pie
  •  3 eggs, beaten (reserve a couple of teaspoons of the beaten egg to glaze the top crust of the pie before baking)
  •  1 1/4 cups sugar
  •  1 teaspoon vanilla
  •  2 tablespoons flour
  •  1/2 teaspoon salt
  •  1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  •  1/2 cup milk or half and half
  • 4 cups sliced rhubarb

Preheat the oven to 425 F.  Roll out pastry for the bottom crust and form a high fluted rim in the pie pan; blind bake for 10-15 minutes. Roll out the top crust while the bottom crust is baking and combine the filling ingredients except the rhubarb.  Put the rhubarb in the bottom crust and pour the filling over top.  With the rhubarb, start with 3½ cups and add more if there is room after you pour the custard filling on top – it will expand some during baking, so keep that in mind to avoid overflow burning all over the bottom of the oven (um, yes, voice of experience).  Cover the filled pie with the top crust, trim edges, and press lightly to seal. Whisk the reserved egg with a drop or two of cream or milk until it starts to get a little foamy, then brush it lightly over the top crust and sprinkle with a kiss of sugar for a pretty sparkle.  Cut slits in the top crust so steam can escape (you may need to recut during baking; also, it is a good idea to cover the fluted edge with strips of foil during the first half of the baking time so the edge doesn’t burn).

Bake at 450 F. for 20 minutes; reduce heat to 325 and bake another 45-55 minutes, until the filling is set and the crust is golden brown.  Let the pie cool 30 minutes or so before cutting; it is good warm, room temperature, or chilled, and any leftovers should be refrigerated.


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Chocolate is for lovers

Rich, warm chocolate.  Nutty, buttery pastry.  Pillowy soft whipped cream and a sweet little sparkle.  Oh, and did I mention French?  If you are feeling extra romantic, by all means, go all out on a $55,000 red velvet cupcake topped with an 8-carat diamond engagement ring (if you have the means and are looking for a tantalizing way to pop the question).  If your means are a bit more modest, though, try this chocolate tart, and your loved one(s) will be glad you did.

Tarte au chocolat!  It was the cover recipe I spotted on a French magazine back on Thanksgiving Day when we took a drive to Alsace and wandered through a grocery store (yep, we went grocery shopping for Thanksgiving…I was feeling a little humbuggy about being so far away from family on the holiday, which is just a normal work day to all our neighbors).  Well, right away I put the tart on my list for Christmas dessert.  However, with Kara home to help and guests who brought all kinds of delicious contributions, Christmas dinner evolved into a Mexican feast and we ate our fill and then filled in all the little extra tummy spaces with cayenne caramel corn, pepita brittle, soft gingerbread cookies, raspberry kolachky, polvorones, and other assorted nibbles, and we didn’t even give the tart a thought until the next day.  When I pulled it out of the fridge and cut in, it was really hard to slice through.  We chiseled away at little servings, but I remember remarking to Kara that I had abandoned my plan to write up the recipe for the blog because my guiding question is always “Would I make it again?” and in this case, the answer was no.  It was very fast and easy* to make, with a fail-safe crust and a nice deep chocolate flavor, but the texture was way too hard and heavy.

But then……fast forward a few days.  Kara was already back in DC, and I looked at the recipe again.  Now, I don’t speak French, but I can generally make out a written passage on a familiar topic due to similarities between French and Spanish.  I labored through the text and noticed one important detail I’d missed….or rather, I noticed I had read into the recipe something that wasn’t there.  It doesn’t say to chill the tart before serving!  I took out a slice and zapped it in the microwave for 30 seconds and found myself in chocolate heaven.  If you like chocolate**, you’ll love this chocolate tart.

Tarte au Chocolat
Adapted from Zeste Nouveau, Cuisinons simple et bon
October-November, 2011

Sablé Pastry:

  • ½ cup butter, softened
  • ½ cup powdered sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons ground hazelnuts (substitute almonds or other nuts)
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/3 cups flour

Cream together the butter and powdered sugar, then beat in the egg.  Stir in the ground nuts, salt, and flour and work the mixture gently until it holds together.  Flatten into a disc and wrap in plastic; chill in the freezer for 15 minutes or in the fridge for an hour or more.

Heat the oven to 325 F.  Roll the crust out on a lightly floured surface and cut a circle the size for a 9-10 inch tart pan (a regular pie plate is fine).  Fit the pastry round into the pan and trim the edges (no need for a fluted crust – the filling won’t fill the tart very deeply, and anyway, rustic is the new sophisticated).  Don’t start eating all the extra dough yet!  First, put the extra slabs of rolled pastry on a parchment-lined baking sheet and cut out little hearts with a cookie cutter, about an inch apart.  Now you can pull the extra dough away from the hearts and eat it if you want.

Cover the pastry in the tart pan with foil or parchment, then fill it with pie weights or dry beans.  Blind bake for about 10 minutes, then remove the foil/parchment and weights.  Break an egg into a cup and beat it until it is frothy, then use a little of the egg to brush over the partially baked crust and bake for another five minutes or more, until it is completely cooked through and just starting to brown.  Brush the raw dough hearts with egg as well and sprinkle the hearts lightly with sugar.  Bake the little hearts until they are golden brown and set aside to decorate individual tart slices.  Keep whatever egg is left to add to the filling (the original recipe says to use one egg plus a yolk for the filling and to use another yolk to brush the pastry, but this method works just as well and makes use of two whole eggs so you don’t end up with two extra egg whites).

While the pastry is baking, make the filling:

  • 8 ounces dark chocolate (I used two 100-gram bars, which is slightly less than 8 ounces)
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1 egg plus the extra beaten egg from the pastry
  • ¼ cup sugar (twice as much as the original recipe, but it seems needed to me)

While the chocolate is still in the wrappers, give them a couple of solid whacks on the counter top to break the bars into pieces.  Melt the chocolate pieces with the butter over a double boiler (if you cover it and keep a close eye on it, you can do the melting in the microwave if you prefer).  Beat the eggs and sugar until the mixture is thick and light yellow colored, then blend in the chocolate and butter mixture and beat until smooth.

Pour the chocolate mixture into the tart shell and return to the oven for another 12-15 minutes, until it is no longer liquid.  Cool before cutting, but serve at room temperature or slightly warmed.  Top with lightly sweetened whipped cream and the heart cut-outs.

Yield: 12 servings

*And I do mean easy.  The recipe is part of an article called Atelier chocolat (Chocolate Workshop) which features a dad making chocolate recipes with two little kids.  A six-year-old could make this recipe with a little help.

**I used one bar of 72%, and the other one, labeled Herren Schokolade (Gentlemen’s Chocolate), is 60%.  The mix seemed just right, but if you use all 60% you might want to cut back the sugar to 2-3 tablespoons.

Happy Valentine’s Day!


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Macadamia Pie for Australia Day

I know, I know, I’ve fallen behind on my pie a month promise.  I have been making pies – that’s the easy part (you know, like “easy as pie”).  But somehow there was always so much going on that snapping photos and writing up recipes at the same time was more than I could do.  This week it was a case of fortuitous timing.  First, the world’s leading producer of macadamias celebrates its national holiday TODAY (well, I guess by the time this gets posted, it will already be tomorrow in Australia).  So on to the second factor: I’ve been wanting to try using brown rice syrup in a nut pie, and my order from an online supplier came in the mail. Finally, we had a potluck lunch scheduled at work, which meant I could make the pie without being tempted to eat the whole thing myself.

This pie truly is as easy as pie, and if you want a recipe that will give you a reputation as a dessert maker, it is a good choice.  The pie is similar in ingredients and method to traditional pecan pie, and in fact when I first made it the only difference was in the nuts.  More recently, I’ve experimented with several different sweeteners, and by golly, I think this is it.  I love the brown rice syrup’s nice light caramel flavor, but if it is not available you can substitute corn syrup and use brown sugar in place of half of the white sugar.

Macadamia Pie

Adapted from a combination of many pecan pie recipes

  • Your favorite single-crust 9-inch pie recipe
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup brown rice syrup
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped macadamias (I used salted dry-roasted nuts in a jar and omitted the 1/2 teaspoon salt I would have otherwise used in the filling)

Bake the pie crust at 375 F. until it is all the way cooked through and just barely starting to brown (you may need to line with parchment or foil and weight, depending on your pastry).

While the crust is baking, lightly beat the eggs in a small bowl and save out a little less than a tablespoon as an eggwash for the pie crust.  When the pastry is just about done, use a whisk to beat the small amount of egg until it is foamy, then lightly brush all over the pie crust and return to the oven for another few minutes.   At this point you can go ahead and lower the oven temperature to 275 F.

At the same time, melt the butter in a heat proof bowl over simmering water (if you have a light-weight metal bowl that will fit over a 2-quart saucepan, that works well).  Quickly stir in the sugar and syrup and whisk until smooth, then before the mixture gets hot, whisk in the eggs, pouring them in a thin stream and stirring constantly.  Continue cooking over the hot water while stirring until the mixture reaches 130 F.  Why???… you may be wondering…..why, because that is what America’s Test Kitchen says to do in the Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook recipe for pecan pie.  According to the recipe testers, that is the way to get a perfect filling.  I tried it and I think they have something there.  However, if you wait a few minutes to pull your kitchen thermometer out of the drawer and by then the filling has risen to 149 F., don’t sob in abject sorrow while you pour it down the drain.  Instead, press on and it will be just fine (at least that was my experience).  Just be careful and use oven mitts when you are taking the bowl off the hot water pan, because the steam is dangerously hot.

Stir in the vanilla and macadamias, then pour the filling mixture into the hot crust.  Bake on a lower oven rack until it is no longer jiggly, probably about 50 minutes to an hour, depending on your oven.  Cool at room temperature before refrigerating.  The pie is good at room termperature or cold, and a little bit of barely sweetened whipped cream on top is a nice touch.

The folks at America’s Test Kitchen emphasize the importance of pouring the filling into the crust while both are warm, so if you broke down the steps and baked the crust ahead of time, it would be a good idea to put it in the oven for a few minutes to re-heat while you are making the filling.

A couple of other notes:

Brown rice syrup is very sticky.  It will be easier to get it out of the measuring cup if you first give the inside of the cup a little squirt of cooking spray.

I always use salted dry-roasted macadamias for this recipe, and the 6-ounce jar I buy is just the right amount (I eat one or two in the interest of quality control).  There are pre-chopped macadamias in packages, generally with the chocolate chips and baking nuts, but I’ve tried them twice and both times they were stale, so I head for the salted nut shelf in the grocery store when I am shopping for this pie.

Speaking of shopping, regular readers may have noticed that I know how to stretch a food budget and sometimes give tips for low-cost recipes.  Sorry, between the macadamias and the brown rice syrup, this isn’t one of those times, but it is a nice dessert for a special meal or an occasional treat.  The pie is rich, so you can slice small and serve twelve.


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For Thanksgiving or Any Time: Sweet Potato Pie

This is a nice variation on a traditional holiday favorite, and it is one of those desserts you can feel really good about, because the sweet potatoes are so good for you!  In fact, I often make this pie on a weekend and my husband and I eat it for breakfast during the week.  I started making sweet potato pie about ten years ago, using the Southern Sweet Potato Pie recipe in the Taste of Home Baking Book.  The original recipe was good, but a lot sweeter than we liked.  My first modifications were to double the quantity of sweet potatoes while reducing the sugar from 1 2/3 cups sugar down to one cup, and I’ve recently started using German röhrzucker (demerara), which I really like.  I also cut the butter in half and eliminated the corn syrup, and the final major change was to substitute plain whole-milk yogurt for evaporated milk.  The yogurt gives the pie a barely perceptible tang underneath the sweet potato flavor, along with a wonderfully smooth texture.

In addition to great taste, the pie is really simple to make.  Many recipes tell you to start with canned sweet potatoes or to peel, cube, boil, and mash fresh sweet potatoes, but there is an easier way: I bake the sweet potatoes ahead of time, whenever I happen to have the oven on for something else.  To bake, cut the sweet potatoes in half if they are large, and wrap in foil (they might leak syrup, so place on a baking sheet).  Bake until tender (40 minutes to an hour) and at that point you can refrigerate them for several days until needed.  When you are ready to make the pie the skins will slip right off; follow the steps below for a smooth creamy pie filling and fast clean-up.

Sweet Potato Pie

  • Pastry for single crust 9” deep-dish pie (recipe below)
  • ¾ cup plain yogurt
  • ¼ cup butter, softened
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar (I use demerara but regular American brown sugar is also good)
  • 2 baked sweet potatoes, peeled (about 2 to 2½ cups)
  • ¾ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 tablespoons flour

Prepare pastry with a high fluted edge and blind-bake for 5-6 minutes at 400 F. (see below).  While the crust is in the oven, put the remaining ingredients in the blender in the order listed.  If your blender jar has cup markings, you don’t really need to use a measuring cup except for the sugar.  Once the sugar is in the yogurt-butter-egg mixture, give it a buzz and then eyeball the liquid displacement as you add the sweet potatoes in big chunks until the volume of ingredients in the blender has increased by 2 – 2½ cups (the quantity is flexible depending on the size of the sweet potatoes).  If there is syrup from the sweet potatoes in the foil you baked them in, go ahead and pour that in too.  Add the rest of the ingredients and puree until smooth.

By this time, the crust should be done enough – put it on the bottom shelf of the oven and pour the filling in.  It will probably fill it clear to the top….if you end up with too much filling for the crust, you can bake the extra custard in a little ramekin.

Reduce the oven temperature to 325 F. and bake the pie for about an hour, or until the filling is no longer jiggly and a toothpick inserted near the center of the pie comes out clean.

Deep-Dish Pastry

  • 1 ¼ cups pastry flour*
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup butter or shortening*
  • ¼ cup or so cold water

Combine the flour and salt and then cut in the butter or shortening with a pastry blender until you have a mix of small and medium particles.  Add water a tablespoon at a time, stirring with a fork until the dough barely comes together.  If you are using butter, bring the dough together in a blob, wrap with plastic, and refrigerator for about an hour before rolling.  If you are using shortening, you can go ahead and roll the pastry.  The sweet potato custard will completely fill the crust and the finished pie is heavy, so use a glass pan or a strong metal one.  If all you have is a foil pan, place it on a baking sheet before you fill the crust.  For more pie crust tips, see this pastry tutorial.

*I’m a good pastry maker, if I do say so myself, but recently I’ve had several pie crust failures in a row.  One was my own fault because I had a lot going on in the kitchen at once and set a hot baking dish on my marble pastry board for a while.  The marble was still much too warm when I went to roll out my dough, so the tough, hard crust wasn’t really a surprise.  I also think I somehow ended up with a bag of flour that just wasn’t the best.   To get back on track, I bought German type 405 flour, which I think is very similar to American pastry flour.  I also re-verified my measurements by weighing ingredients (the traditional 3:2:1 ratio of flour:fat:water) and there weren’t any problems in the proportion.  I’ve also decided that a shortening crust stands up to a solid heavy filling like this sweet potato pie better than butter pastry.  I still like that butter flavor though, so when I was blind-baking I used an old trick of my grandma’s.  I’ll always remember Grandma in the kitchen of the restaurant she and Grandpa owned – she would dump a whole big bag of flour into a giant bowl, mix in shortening and water with her hands, and end up with a dozen perfect pies without ever measuring a thing.  I’m sure she used shortening because it was more economical and let her offer her customers homemade pie for a dollar a slice….she always brushed the crust lightly with melted butter, and that gave the pastry a nice buttery taste.


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Summertime, and the livin’ is easy

First, I’ll say right off that I come from a pie family. We’re also a musical family and a storytelling family, but I’ll save those topics for another day (except to say that, of course, I hear Ella singing in my head as I write).

But back to the pie! If you’ve never made a pie from scratch, let this be the day you change that. There’s really no mystery to great pastry. I personally like butter or a butter/shortening blend, but my mom and grandma used straight shortening and everyone always said they made the best piecrust in town. A while back someone I work with had some pie I took for an office potluck. She was impressed with the crust and commented, “I always buy frozen crust. It never even would have occurred to me that I could make my own.” Now this woman is one of the smartest people I know, and I’m certain she could successfully combine three ingredients with some water and end up with pastry…and so can you!

This particular pie started with an invitation to our friends’ for dinner. Jerry knew he could safely volunteer me to bring a pie because it’s my favorite type of dessert to make. Plus, these particular friends have a big blackberry patch right by their house, and the berries were ripe. So Jerry went over after work one day to do some picking with them, and I made the pastry that night and put the pie together the next morning. What can I say? It was the essence of late summer on a plate! Here’s the how-to:

Perfect Pastry

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cups cold butter (I’m not generally picky about distinguishing between salted and unsalted butter – whatever you have is fine, but margarine simply will not give the same good results)

Combine the flour and salt in a large shallow bowl. Cut about half of the butter in, using a wire pastry blender or two knives.

Then add the rest of the butter and continue cutting, so you have a mix of large and small flour-coated butter particles (with the large particles about the size of dry pinto beans, and the small ones about like lentils). Then take a half-cup to three quarters cup of very cold water and sprinkle a tablespoon at a time over the flour mixture, while at the same time lightly stirring it together with a fork until it just starts to form a dough.

Be careful not to add too much water – you don’t want it to be sticky, and you also don’t want to knead the dough or the crust will be tough instead of flaky. Once you can press it together, divide the dough in half, flatten each piece and wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for an hour or so.

When you are ready to roll, lightly flour the surface and your rolling pin. Plop a circle of dough down on the floured surface, then flip it over so both sides are lightly floured. Roll from the center to the edge, occasionally lifting with a big metal spatula and lightly re-flouring the rolling pin in between passes. Half of a 3-cup batch of dough will make more than enough for a bottom crust, but that is intentional. Place your pie plate on the dough and allow an extra couple of inches as you trim around it. Put the trimmings on a baking sheet for later.

Once you have the pastry round the size you need for the pie plate (dough should be about 1/8 inch thick, or even thinner if you can do it without it sticking and tearing), lift all around again with the metal spatula, then fold it in half, slide the pie plate in under the dough, and unfold it. By the way, I don’t generally butter the pie plate and it seems to come out just fine, probably due to the amount of butter in the pastry. Press the pastry edges up and pinch to make a rim, fluting with your fingers and thumbs to make it pretty if you like. Then go ahead and follow the same procedure for the top crust, except you will leave it on the rolling surface for a while if you are going to go ahead and bake the pie right away.

If the pastry-making is a preliminary step and you are making the pie another time: cover the bottom of a dinner plate with plastic wrap; loosen the pastry with the metal spatula and flop it onto the inverted plastic-covered plate (again, it will be more pastry than you need – put the trimmings on the baking sheet). Cover the rolled-out dough on the dinner plate and the pastry-filled pie plate with another layer of plastic and refrigerate both the bottom and top crusts until you are ready to bake.

And the trimmings? Sprinkle them with cinnamon and sugar and bake at 400 F. until golden brown. They can be enjoyed right away for a delicious foretaste of your perfect pastry, or you can save them for children who might be there when you serve the pie (for some reason fruit pie is not a favorite dessert for lots of kids, but they almost always like these cinnamon crusts).

Blackberry Pie

  • Prepared pastry (double crust)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup cornstarch
  • 6 cups fresh blackberries
  • 1 egg, separated
  • 2 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces

Preheat oven to 400 F. and remove crusts from the refrigerator if you made them ahead of time.

Combine the sugar and cornstarch in a large bowl and stir in the berries. Let sit for 15-20 minutes, stirring gently from time to time to release berry juice and dissolve the sugar.

Line the bottom crust with foil and fill with dry beans or other pie weights; bake for about 10 minutes (I always do this “blind-bake” step, even for two crust pies, because nothing ruins a pie faster than a gooey bottom crust).

While the fruit is sitting and the bottom crust is baking, beat the egg white with a wire whisk until it is frothy. After the crust has baked a while, remove the weights and foil and brush it with the beaten egg white, then pop it back in the oven for a few more minutes. If the crust starts to puff up, give it a couple of pokes with a fork to release steam.

Note: before continuing to the next step, if you live at a high altitude like Janessa (our Colorado cohort), you will probably need to pre-cook the fruit mixture in a saucepan so that it will thicken properly.

Use a big slotted spoon to lift the berries out of the juice and into the crust. Reserving just enough of the egg white to brush the top crust after you finish assembling the pie, pour the rest of the egg white and the yolk into the juice/sugar/cornstarch mixture and stir it together. Pour it over the fruit in the pie plate, then dot with pieces of butter.

With both layers of plastic still in place, flop the top crust off the plate onto the counter, remove the plastic from the concave side that is now on top, then use the other layer of plastic to help you position it on top of the pie. Press the edges together (it’s OK if you don’t get a perfect seal), trimming as needed. Brush the top with the rest of the egg wash, sprinkle lightly with granulated sugar for extra sparkle and crunch, and cut slits to allow steam to escape. A pie like this is bound to drip at least a little, so put it on a foil-lined baking sheet on the bottom rack of the oven.

Bake for about an hour. If after 30 minutes it seems to be browning too quickly, reduce the heat to 350 F. and pull up the foil from the baking sheet around the edge of the crust. It’s also a good idea to take the pie out and look at the bottom about halfway through the baking time (that’s why I always use a glass pie plate), and if it looks like it is getting too done, move the pie to the middle of the oven. You might need to re-cut the slits in the top crust during baking if they seal over. The pie is done when it is a beautiful golden brown on top and juices are bubbling happily through the slits in the crust.

Still with me? I realize I wrote this for a brand new never-made-pastry-in-your-life baker, so I hope if you are already experienced at this, you realized that you could skim through this long set of directions. I have lots of other pie recipes in the oven (I think I can safely promise at least a pie a month for quite a while), and in the future, I’ll cut back a bit on details and refer readers to this post as a tutorial for the basics.

As you can see in the last photo, this pie was minutes from perfection when it was time for me to go to work, so I turned off the oven and left it, and it turned out juuuuuuust right!


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