Blueberry Pie + A Lesson in Piemaking

I think I’d made a three-tier wedding cake before I faced down my fear of pie.

Back then, just the idea of pie crust — actually, the idea of anything that required a rolling pin — was enough to chase me from the kitchen. Had there been a pie therapist in town, I might have signed up for sessions. Instead, I spent a day with a friend who knew her way around dough, made a pie with her and then made a pie every day for weeks and weeks after.

That was before people were talking about how many times you have to do something to perfect a skill. (Had I known that the number hovered around 1,000, I might have stayed a scaredy-cat.) And it was also before the food processor, the game-changer in piedom. (You can make the dough without a machine, too. Read on.)

Today, I’ll make a pie like this double-crusted blueberry beauty even on days when I’m crazy busy. Contrary to what I used to think, pie is no biggie, and it can be tucked into almost any day. And it should be fit into these days, when fruits are so pie-worthy.

The filling is almost pure berry. There’s sugar, of course, but not lots, and lemon or lime juice, so important when you’re working with fruit; the citrus flavor cuts through the rich crust and the sweet fruit and makes you pay attention to the combination. The salt helps in that way, too. Then there are a couple of spoonfuls of flour, to turn the berry juice jammy. And finally, there’s my little sopper-upper trick: bread crumbs sprinkled over the bottom of the crust to form a slim barrier. If you’d like, you can replace the bread crumbs with cookie crumbs or, better yet, tiny cubes of stale plain cake.

Your password to pie is “chill.” Yeah, you should chill, but it’s the dough I’m thinking about. Refrigerators and freezers are a crust’s best friends. The butter in the crust — and the recipe is for an all-butter crust — should be cold and firm; frozen would be even better. And the water should be ice water.

Because I work the dough in a food processor, the job is done so quickly that the butter never has time to get warm and soft. (If you want to make the dough by hand, follow the recipe using very cold rather than frozen butter, and work the butter into the flour with your fingertips or a pastry blender. Similarly, you can make the dough in a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.)

Mix until you have a bowl full of moist clumps and curds; you don’t want the dough to come together and ride along the blade. Gather the dough together, divide it in half, shape each half into a disk and commit an act of pastry heresy: Roll the dough now! That might not sound sinful to you, but every pastry teacher I ever had preached the gospel of refrigerating and then rolling the dough. It took me ages to admit that I’d broken that rule (and was unrepentant).

Roll the soft dough between sheets of parchment (or wax) paper, lifting the paper frequently so that it doesn’t get rolled into the dough. Working this way is a pleasure; the greatest risk is that you’ll be so happy rolling, you won’t know when to stop. The time to stop is when the diameter of the dough is 11 or 12 inches. If the dough isn’t too warm, you can fit it into the buttered pie plate right away. (If it is unworkable, just chill it for 30 minutes before having another go at it.) Freeze the crusts while you make the filling, preheat the oven and toast your success.

When it comes time to construct the pie, pull the crusts from the freezer, fill the bottom crust and moisten the rim. Test that the top crust is supple enough to drape over the berries, center it, press it against the rim, trim the edges of both crusts flush with the plate and crimp them with a fork (or leave the overhang and flute the edges). Don’t forget to cut slits in the top crust, so the filling’s steam has a place to flee, and, if you’d like, brush the top crust with cream and sprinkle with sugar. Bake.

Then bake another pie. And another. Everything you learn from this blueberry pie will work for summer’s fruits and berries and hold for fall, when apples and pears will be ready for pie-ification.

Photograph by Scott Suchman.  (This story appeared in my Everyday Dorie column in Washington Post Food.)

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Blueberry Pie

With a pie crust dough that comes together in the food processor and can be immediately rolled, and bread crumbs to help soak up the fruit’s juices, this is a summertime classic you can master.

A note about macerating the fruit: If the blueberries you’re using are fresh and local, we recommended using the lesser amount of sugar.

Make Ahead: The pie crust dough can be wrapped well and refrigerated for up to 1 day or frozen for up to 2 weeks. The pie is best served the same day it’s made, but it can be refrigerated overnight.

Servings: 8
  • 3 cups flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
  • 16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, frozen or very cold and cut into small pieces, plus more for the pie plate
  • Up to 1/2 cup ice water
  • Heavy cream, milk or 1 egg beaten with a splash of water, for glazing
  • Sanding sugar, for sprinkling (may substitute granulated sugar)
  • 2 1/2 pints (5 cups) fresh blueberries, stemmed as needed
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup sugar
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon or lime, plus 1 tablespoon lemon or lime juice, or more juice as needed
  • Pinch salt
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 tablespoons plain dried bread crumbs

For the crust: Combine the flour, sugar and salt in a food processor and whir to blend. Scatter the pieces of butter over the flour; pulse in long spurts until the butter is well incorporated. This could take a dozen or more blitzes. Add the ice water a little at time, processing after each addition. Stop when you have moist clumps and curds (you might not need all the water to reach this point) – don’t process until the dough forms a ball; pinch some of the dough and it should hold together easily. Turn the dough out, divide it in half and shape each half into a disk.

If the dough is still very cold, you can roll it immediately; if not, wrap the disks and refrigerate them for about 30 minutes.

Use some butter to grease a 9-inch pie plate, then place the plate on a rimmed baking sheet.

For best results, roll the dough between sheets of parchment or wax paper. Working with one disk at a time, lightly flour a sheet of paper, center a disk on it, lightly flour the dough and cover with a second sheet. Roll each piece of dough into a round that’s between 11 and 12 inches in diameter. Fit one piece of dough into the buttered pie plate; leave whatever dough hangs over the edge. Keep the second circle between sheets of paper and slide it onto the baking sheet. Freeze (first choice) or refrigerate both the lined pie plate and the rolled-out dough while you preheat the oven and make the filling. The crust can be wrapped well and refrigerated for up to 1 day or frozen for up to 2 weeks.

When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Meanwhile, make the filling: Stir together the berries, 1/2 cup of the granulated sugar, the zest, 1 tablespoon of juice and the salt in a mixing bowl. Let the filling sit, stirring frequently, until the berries are juicy, 5 to 10 minutes. Taste the berries with a little of their syrup and decide whether you’d like to add some or all the remaining granulated sugar, and/or more juice. Stir in the flour.

Take the pie plate and dough out of the freezer or refrigerator.

Sprinkle the bread crumbs over the bottom of the crust, then spoon the filling into the crust. Peel away one sheet of parchment from the top crust and use it to line the baking sheet. (If you used wax paper, line the sheet with parchment, a silicone liner or aluminum foil to catch drips.) Use your water-dampened finger or a pastry brush to moisten the overhang of the bottom crust.

Lift a small section of the top crust off the paper. If it’s supple enough to work with, carry on; if it’s still brittle, wait a few minutes. Place the top crust over the fruit and lightly press the rim against the edges of the bottom crust. Use a sharp paring knife to cut both crusts flush with the pie plate. If you’d like, press the flat side of a table fork against the crust rim. Cut decorative slits in the top crust. Brush the pie lightly with the cream, milk or egg and sprinkle with sanding sugar.

Bake on the middle rack for 30 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 400 degrees; bake for about 30 minutes (total baking time is about 1 hour). If the crust is browning too quickly, protect it with a loose aluminum-foil tent. The pie is done when the crust is golden brown and juice is bubbling up through the top-crust slits.

Transfer the pie, on its baking sheet, to a wire rack and allow it to cool until it is just warm or reaches room temperature.