Blue

What a week it was.

Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t use this forum to air my grievances or share sad stories, but in this case, I feel like I have to.  I’ve been absent from writing and here is why: we lost a member of our family this week.  Our dear cat, Arthur, gave up the ghost on Tuesday morning while lying on my lap.  Roughly six weeks ago he was diagnosed with Lymphosarcoma, and the vet gave him maybe six months.  Unfortunately, he didn’t make it.  However, I know that he was loved intensely for his six short years, and he died on one of his favorite places.  These animals that spend every day with us…sometimes they blend in when we’re busy, and sometimes they push their way in right when we need it.  But when they’re gone, their absence is deeply tangible.  So, forgive me for my negligence.

As it happens, when I find myself in a blue state of mind, I like to cook.  I feel that cooking gets me out of whatever funk I might be in, as it forces me to pay attention, follow a method, and it forces me to redirect my energy.  All good things.  The result this time?  Blueberry pie, naturally.

I know, I know, this is the third pie I’ve done in as many posts, but so what?  It’s summer, the fruit looks fantastic, and really, who doesn’t like pie?  I’ll do something savory next time.  Promise.

Often, blueberry pie can either end up a soppy, runny mess, or a solid, overly gelled blob of fruit.  Delicious, right?  Not really.  For whatever reason, berry pies are super challenging.  The ingredients are delicate and must be handled with kid gloves.  It’s okay, though.  Just give yourself enough time, have your ingredients at the ready, and you’ll do just fine.

Apples, especially Granny Smith, are chock full of natural pectin, the substance needed to achieve that “perfect” look to a slice of pie.  Of course, one could use tapioca, cornstarch, or even boxed gelatin (yuck) to accomplish their goal, but why do that? A grated apple provides just enough natural thickener to ensure a lovely slice.

Blueberries are naturally both sweet and tart, and therefore, lend themselves nicely to lemon zest.  In addition to fresh citrus, I always really like adding fresh herbs to my desserts, and blueberry pie is no exception.  For obvious reasons, fresh thyme was the clear winner in the herb category, so I cut a little from my herb garden and tossed it with the blueberries.  In hindsight, I probably would have added a little more than I originally did, but hey, now I have an excuse to make another pie.  As though I needed an excuse.

Baking this pie did not bring Arthur back into our house or into our lives.  He will never again weave in between my legs as I cook in the kitchen, meowing approvingly, but I know he’ll be here in spirit.  Cooking and baking is like therapy to me.  I find them to be cathartic activities, and at difficult times in our lives, all we need is peace.  And a slice of pie.

Blueberry Pie with Lemon Zest and Thyme
Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen

For the double crust:

1/3 cup cold vodka (or ice water), plus a extra if needed
3 tablespoons crème fraîche (I prefer crème fraîche, but you can use sour cream)
2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 ounces) unbleached, all-purpose flour, additional for dusting work surface
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes and frozen for 10 to 15 minutes

Method for crust:

Mix 1/3 cup vodka and crème fraîche in a small bowl until combined.  Set aside.  In a food processor, pulse flour, sugar, and salt together until combined.  Scatter the butter cubes around the flour and pulse the mixture until the butter is the size of large peas, about 10 pulses.

Pour half of the crème fraîche mixture over the flour mixture and pulse just until incorporated.  Repeat with remaining crème fraîche mixture.  Pinch a small amount of dough between your fingers; if the dough feels dry and doesn’t hold together, then sprinkle 1 to 2 tablespoons of vodka over the mixture and pulse again.  You want to see large clumps and no dry flour.

Divide the dough mixture evenly in two and flatten each into a 4-inch disk.  Individually wrap tightly in plastic wrap and place in refrigerator for at least an hour.  Before rolling out, allow dough to sit on the counter for about 10 minutes to soften.

Ingredients for filling:

7 cups fresh blueberries
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, and shredded on large holes of box grater
1 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons instant tapioca, finely ground in coffee grinder
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
pinch of kosher salt
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1 large egg white, lightly beaten

Method for filling/baking:

Roll one disk of dough into a 12-inch round on a lightly floured surface, then fit it into a 9-inch pie plate, letting the excess hang over the edge.  Cover with plastic wrap and place in fridge to chill for at least 30 minutes.

Roll the other disk into a 12-inch round on a lightly floured surface.  Using a 1 1/4-inch biscuit cutter (or shot glass/spice jar lid), cut one hole out of the center of the dough.  Cut six more rounds from the dough, 1 1/2-inches from the edge of the center hole and equally spaced around center hole.  I wasn’t paying attention, and didn’t space my holes correctly, therefore, my dough looks a little wonky.  But it worked, nevertheless. 

Transfer that dough to a parchment-lined baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and place in the fridge to chill for at least 30 minutes while you work on the filling.

Place 3 1/2 cups of the berries in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Using a potato masher or fork, mash berries several times to release their juices.  Continue to cook, stirring often and mashing occasionally, until about half of the berries have broken down and the mixture is thickened and reduced to about 1 1/2 cups.  This should take 8-10 minutes.  Cool slightly.

Adjust the oven rack to the lowest position, place a rimmed baking sheet on rack, and preheat oven to 400ºF.

Place the shredded apple in a clean kitchen towel and squeeze out as much liquid as you can.  Transfer the apple to a large bowl and stir in the cooked berries, remaining 3 1/2 cups uncooked berries, sugar, tapioca, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt, and thyme.  Stir until combined.

Spread the mixture into the dough-lined pie plate and scatter the butter pieces over the top.

Transfer the top dough to the pie by rolling it loosely over your rolling pin and gently unrolling it over the mixture.  Trim, fold, and crimp the edges, and brush with egg white.

Place pie on heated baking sheet and bake until the crust is golden, about 25 minutes.  Reduce the temperature of the oven to 350ºF, rotate the baking sheet, and continue to bake until the juices are bubbling and the crust is a deep golden brown, about 30-40 minutes longer.  Cool the pie on a wire rack to room temperature, about 4 hours.

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