Have you had some culinary breakthroughs lately? Was there some process you couldn’t bring yourself to abandon, but couldn’t quite perfect, either? Last week I wrote about how I kept toting dried beans home from the grocery store, even though I wasn’t very good at cooking them, and then finally, I read a cookbook that taught me how to simmer a tasty pot of beans. That’s basically the story of my life when it comes to cooking. For some reason, I keep trying most culinary processes until I find that missing something that makes it all start to click.
That’s how pie crust was for me. Since I love pie, and since my husband’s face lights up whenever I say I’m going to make one, I have been trying to make pie crusts for years. And for many years I would glower if I overheard people saying pie crust was easy. What are they doing, I wondered, so that it doesn’t stick to the counter, and so the finished product doesn’t acquire the texture of a deflated balloon?
One of the things Marie stressed was to keep everything cold, and even to put butter back into the fridge after you’ve cut it. She also emphasized how important it is to maintain the shape of the dough. Keep it round, or you’ll never be able to get it back to being round.
Marie kindled my interest in mastering the pie crust process, so a few weeks later, I listened to a “Two Weird Hungry Girls” podcast about pie crust and learned just how small you have to get the crumbs in the dough: cornmeal-sized, if you’re going to use it for the bottom crust. If the pieces are bigger, the butter will melt and leave holes in the bottom of your pie! I also learned to banish my idealistic habit of serving pie fresh from the oven. Instead, I had to replace my image of oven-warm pie with the age-old picture of the pie crust cooling by the open window. The filling holds together much better after the pie has cooled. Good news if you’re planning a lot of dishes for the holidays, right?
Pie was one of a few dishes I brought to a Thanksgiving meal we shared with friends this year. My husband volunteered me to make “a berry something pie.” Hm. I’d been thinking apple, but cognitive constraints are good for creativity, so I started playing around with the idea of a berry something and decided to make it blackberry apple.
At Thanksgiving, our friends mentioned that they had once had a pie or crisp that blended apples and blackberries along with almonds and salt. A few weeks later, I headed to the internet to find the recipe for this kind of pie, but came up empty. However, our friends had described it so vividly I thought I could give it a shot. So here is my Brambleberry Almond Pie, which adds toasted almonds and a touch of kosher salt to the crumb topping.
- ½ cup flour
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¾ teaspoon sugar
- ¼ cup unsalted butter
- ½ teaspoon lemon juice
- 1½ tablespoons water
- 4 cups sweet apples (such as Gala), peeled and sliced thin
- 1½ cups blackberries
- ⅓ cup sugar
- ⅓ cup all-purpose flour
- ALMOND CRUMB TOPPING:
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- ½ cup packed brown sugar
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped almonds, toasted
- 1-2 pinches kosher salt
- CRUST: Freeze water and butter while mixing dry ingredients. Refrigerate the lemon juice. Mix flour, sugar and salt. Cut the butter into tiny pieces and mix it into the flour mixture, working it with your hands until the mixture resembles corn meal. Add lemon juice and water. Mix gently. On a floured countertop, gently shape the dough into a ball. Wrap the ball and let it rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
- FILLING: While dough rests, mix together apples, blackberries, sugar and flour in a large bowl.
- CRUMB TOPPING: In a separate bowl, mix flour and brown sugar, and then cut in butter with a pastry blender or fork. Mix in almonds.
- ASSEMBLY and BAKING: When the dough is ready, roll it out on a floured surface, transfer it to a pie plate, and shape your crust. Add the filling, top with almond crumb topping, and sprinkle with the pinch or two of salt. Bake at 375F for 50-60 minutes, until crust is golden.
I’m planning to roll out a few more pie crusts this weekend to prep for my parents’ Christmas visit, and as I do, I’ll be imagining cutting into the first slice of another delicious Brambleberry Almond Pie. My pie crust skills may not be “perfect” yet, but it sure is a delicious learning process.