Blueberry Pie

My parents and I lived in Nova Scotia for a couple of years in the late 1970s, and one of my fondest memories of this time involves pie made from blueberries we picked at my dad’s friend’s farm. Mom was a pretty good but inconsistent baker. Her pastry sometimes required a saw to cut. Occasionally the filling wouldn’t gel, and we’d end up with a gooey mess that had to be spooned into individual bowls. These imperfections didn’t matter to me. Her homemade pies were always tastier than any other, and the mishaps were the price of working by hand from memory.

Now that I’m grown up and have a kitchen equipped with labor saving devices she only dreamed of, I’ve come up with a recipe that works every time. But it must be followed closely, every item carefully measured and respected. Respect your pastry and it will respect you!

I hunted around for pastry recipes for years before settling on this one as my go-to. It’s from The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook and never fails. 

The blueberry filling was inspired from an episode of America’s Test Kitchen in which I learned that tapioca combined with pectin from a shredded apple will make your pie gel every time. No mess, guaranteed. The original recipe calls for 2 tablespoons of diced butter scattered over the top of the filling before placing the top crust over it. I don’t bother with this and find it makes no noticeable difference to taste or texture.

Important Notes

Before beginning, dice the butter and shortening and place them on separate plates, cover with plastic wrap and freeze for two hours. Cold fats are critical to the success of your pastry. Next, put a glass of water with ice into the fridge. When it’s time to measure the water, place a small sieve over a measuring cup and pour over the water, leaving the ice in the sieve.

I find a kitchen scale is a tool worth having when baking because measuring by weight is much more precise than using a measuring cup. I wish more recipes written by pros provided weight data; if they did, more home cooks would be happier with their results.

Pastry

  • 2⅔ cups (12¼ ounces (350 g)) pastry flour.
  • ⅔ cup (3½ ounces (100 g)) all purpose flour.
  • 2 tablespoon sugar.
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt (less if using a finer grind of salt).
  • 1 cup (8 ounces (226 g)) unsalted butter.
  • ¼ cup (2 ounces (60 g)) vegetable shortening.
  • ½ cup  (4 ounces (118 ml)) ice cold water.
  • 2 teaspoons white distilled vinegar.
  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer with a paddle attachment combine the flours, sugar and salt. 
  2. Add the fats, mixing on low speed until the mixture looks shaggy and the butter is reduced to pea-sized bits. Stop the mixer and check the size of the butter. Mix a bit longer if still noticeably chunky.
  3. Stir the water and vinegar together and add them to the mixing bowl and continue to mix on low speed until the dough almost comes together.
  4. Turn off the mixer and scrape the bowl to combine everything, leaving no chunks of dry ingredients. Mix again if necessary for a couple of rotations of the paddle. Do not overwork the dough. Squeeze the dough in your hand. It should come together into a chunk. If the dough seems dry add more water, a spoonful at a time and mix until the desired texture is achieved.
  5. Remove the dough, knead it until it comes together as a whole and then cut it in half and shape each half in to round balls, flatten them a little with your palm, wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour or overnight before rolling out.
  6. Make your filling before rolling out the pie dough.

Filling

  • 32 ounces (just short of 1 kg) fresh or frozen blueberries.
  • 1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and shredded with a box grater.
  • ¾ cup (5 ounces (140 g)) sugar.
  • 2 tablespoons instant tapioca.
  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest.
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice.
  • Pinch of salt.
  • 1 egg white, beaten with a fork for brushing the surface of the pastry.
  1. Grind the tapioca in a spice grinder.
  2. Place half of the fresh or frozen blueberries in a saucepan over medium heat. If using fresh berries, mash them with a potato masher a few times to release their juices. No need to mash frozen berries.
  3. Cook, stirring every few minutes, until the mixture is reduced by half to about 1½ cups. This will take about ten minutes. Let it cool a bit.
  4. Place shredded apple in a dish towel and squeeze out as much liquid as possible by twisting the two ends of the towel. Transfer to a large bowl. 
  5. Add the cooked berries and the uncooked berries to the bowl with the apple.
  6. Stir in sugar, tapioca, lemon zest and juice, and salt. Set aside and roll out your pastry.

Assembling Pie

  1. Heat the oven to 400℉ (200℃). Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil.
  2. When ready, prepare a floured surface for rolling out the dough.
  3. Remove one disk from the fridge and roll it out into a circle big enough to cover the bottom and sides of a 9-inch (22 cm) pie pan. Don’t fear adding flour to the rolling surface and pin to prevent the dough from sticking as you work.
  4. Drape the rolled dough over the pin and spread it over the pan. Use your fingers to gently press it into the bottom and sides of the pan. Trim the edges so that you have just enough excess around the edge to tuck the top crust over and in to create a good seal. Not quite a half-inch or 1 cm. Put it in the fridge.
  5. Remove the second disk from the fridge and roll it out. You may need to let it rest for a few minutes to make rolling it out easier.
  6. Use a small biscuit or cookie cutter to make a hole that’s about 1½-2 inches (3 cm) in diameter in the center. This will be the center of your pie. You can make additional holes as I did for venting or add slashes once the pie is assembled and ready to go into the oven. Alternatively, you can skip the hole cutting and make a traditional lattice crust instead by slicing the rolled dough and interlacing the pieces over the filling. I felt lazy today and made the holes instead.
  7. Put the filling into prepared pie dish and spread it out so that it’s even.
  8. Put the top crust over pie using the rolling pin method to transfer from the rolling surface to the pie. Trim the overhanging dough to ½ inch (1 cm) beyond the edge of the pie plate.
  9. Pinch the edges of top and bottom crusts firmly together. Tuck the overhand underneath. Folded edges should be flush with pie plate. Crimp the dough around the plate to ensure a good seal. Make a few short slashes with a sharp knife around the top crust to provide additional venting.
  10. Brush top of pie with egg white.

Baking

  1. Place pie on foiled lined baking sheet and bake in the preheated oven until the crust starts to turn golden brown, about 25-30 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 350℉ (175℃), and continue to bake until the filling is bubbling and the crust is deep golden brown, another 35 to 50 minutes. If you used frozen berries this may take longer.
  2. Let pie cool to room temperature before serving.

Storing

  1. Pie will keep at room temperature for two days. Simply wrap with aluminum foil. There is enough acid and sugar in a fruit pie to prevent harmful bacteria from building up quickly. The pastry loses its beautiful texture after refrigeration, so don’t put it in the fridge unless you must. 

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