Fresh-baked apple pie and cheddar cheese: An iconic combination. (Pie by John Lehndorff; photo courtesy of Danny Lanka)
By JOHN LEHNDORFF
I’ll be spending part of my Labor Day weekend in the land of pie. On September 3 I’ll be the chief judge at the Hay Days Pie Contest in Hygiene . On September 5 I’ll be judging pies in Louisville. We need more pies and competitors to keep pie craft alive. Here’s a feature I wrote for the Denver Post that may help you overcome pastry-phobia and enjoy pie-making.
There’s something about pie crust that scares the pastry out of people. Otherwise confident cooks avoid pie-making, deeply fearful of failing to make a flaky crust. Such a loss. After a few decades of baking and judging pies, I’ve learned a few practical secrets. Here, in honor of National Pie Day Jan. 23, is all you need to know about mastering pie baking, along with a recipe for my favorite, wild blueberry pie.
Enter a caption
1. Don’t cheap out. Your pie is only as tasty as the ingredients inside it. Use the best. For my blueberry pie, I use only the pricier frozen wild blueberries because they taste more “blueberry-y” than your bloated, flavorless conventional blueberries. Besides, how often do you make a pie from scratch these days?
2. Be a butter cubist. To ensure flakiness, you don’t want the butter (or shortening or lard) to melt into the flour. Slice sticks of chilled or frozen butter into tiny cubes and bits that get coated with flour and eventually create flakiness.
3. Glass rules. Metal and ceramic pie pans work, but glass pie plates hold and distribute the heat more evenly. Most important, you can see if the bottom crust is baked.
4. Make it moister. Colorado’s low humidity means that your flour is drier than it would be in, say, Oregon. Don’t be afraid to sprinkle in a little extra ice water as you work the dough. By the way, the altitude doesn’t really affect how pies bake.
5. Avoid a sticking situation. Roll out your chilled, floured disc of pie dough inside a freezer bag, plastic produce bag or between sheets of waxed paper. Then it will be easy to transfer the rolled-out top or bottom crust into the pie pan without tearing.
6. Gentle on the pastry. Don’t overmix the crust unless you like edible cardboard. You’re making a delicate pastry, not giving a Shiatsu massage.
7. Waiting is the hardest part. If you want to make a great pie, put in the time. After you make the crust, leave it in the refrigerator for at least three hours before rolling it out. Leave it in the oven long enough so it is really baked. Then wait a few hours, better yet overnight, to eat it. Patience pays off taste-wise when it comes to pie.
8. Protect the crimp. Sometimes the crimp, the crust around the top of the pie, browns before the rest of the pie is fully baked. Protect it from burning by making an aluminum-foil tent to shield it.
9. Seek ye the pie elders. Tips and cookbooks are handy, but the best way to understand pie-making is to make pie with a master piemaker. These older bakers have often made thousands of pies in their lifetime and don’t use a recipe. Seek one out in your family or neighborhood, and tie on an apron. Consider shooting a video you’ll cherish in years to come.
10. Practice makes flaky. To get good, make pies — lots and lots of pies. What of all those extra pies? Give them away. In my experience, nothing makes people happier than feeding them pies made from scratch.
The art of pie is alive in Colorado (Photo by Kim Long)
Double-Crusted Deep-Dish Wild Blueberry Pie
Makes four to eight wedges, preferably a la mode with vanilla ice cream.
2½ cups all-purpose flour
2 sticks (1 cup) chilled unsalted butter
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice (or vinegar)
About ¼ cup ice cold waterMilk, for brushing top
2½ pounds (about 8 cups) frozen wild blueberries
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Optional: ½ teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
To make crust: Combine flour, sugar and salt in bowl. Add chilled or frozen butter in tiny cubes and mix into flour until crumbly with some pea-sized chunks. Do not overmix. Mix egg yolk with lemon juice and a tablespoon of ice water as needed. Add to flour and then sprinkle on remaining ice water. Work the dough gently until it forms a ball. Add flour as necessary. Form into two discs and cover. Let dough rest at least three hours in the refrigerator.
For filling: Melt butter in a saucepan, preferably nonstick, over medium heat. Add 4 cups of blueberries and stir in sugar, lemon juice, vanilla extract, salt, cinnamon and zest, if desired. Sprinkle in cornstarch while stirring constantly. Cook until the filling bubbles and thickens. Remove from heat.
To make the pie: Preheat oven to 450. Roll out bottom crust — try not to stretch it — and place in a 9-inch, deep-dish glass pie pan. Add remaining frozen blueberries and top with filling from pan. Gently mix filling with blueberries. Top with crust and crimp the edges. If you don’t make a lattice, cut a few vents in the top crust. Brush top with milk.
Bake on a cookie sheet in the low part of the oven for 30 minutes. Lower heat to 350 degrees and bake for another 40 to 50 minutes. Deep-blue juice should be bubbling up. Pick up the pie with oven mitts to make sure the bottom crust is lightly browned. Shield the crimp, if necessary, with an aluminum foil sleeve. Remove from oven and allow to cool for at least three hours before slicing.
The Hay Days Pie Contest starts is 1 p.m. Sept. 3 at the Stone Church of the Brethren in Hygiene. Fruit and nut pies are welcome; No refrigerated or frozen cream or custard pies. Pies can be gluten-free; Special contest kid pie bakers under 14.
Judging starts at 1:30 p.m. Results announced at 2:30 p.m. when the Pie Social begins with homemade and donated pies sold by the slice with ice cream
The Louisville Homemade Pie Contest is Labor Day, Sept. 5, at Memory Square Park. To enter a pie: thehuckleberry.com
ZEN & THE ART OF PIE
National pie expert John Lehndorff guides Zen and the Art of Pie, a 3-hour immersion in all things pastry-related including 500 years of pie history, literature, popular culture and recipes. He will reveal how to transcend dough-phobia, become one with the dough and survive the rigors of judging pie contests. John Lehndorff is the former Chief Judge of the National Pie Championships, Executive Director of the American Pie ouncil, spokesperson for National Pie Day and a pie making teacher. Some day he hopes to open the National Museum of Pie. This is not a hands’-on cooking class but there will be pie to taste and recipes to take home. 1 to 4 p.m. Oct. 23; $45; Boulder Book Store
Pumpkin Pie Days in Longmont, Colorado
A FEW PIE WORDS
“I believe in pie. My favorite food, bar none, is warm, fresh wild blueberry pie a la moded with good vanilla bean ice cream but my faith transcends simple taste. When push comes to shove (as it so often does in life), I trust what lies within flaky crust. I honestly believe that if we all sat down and ate pie together, we’d find common ground. Our nation would be a better place if we made pie, not war.http://thisibelieve.org/essay/51095/
Pie & Cheese: https://johnlehndorff.wordpress.com/2015/09/29/pie-with-cheese-ancient-pairing-tradition-or-an-a-la-mode-travesty/
John Lehndorff writes the Nibbles column for the Boulder Weekly and hosts Radio Nibbles on KGNU. He is the former dining critic at the Rocky Mountain News. A veteran pie judge, he has also headed the American Pie Council, directed the Great American Pie Festival, edited the Pie Times newsletter and taught pie-making classes. For more pie: https://johnlehndorff.wordpress.com/?s=pie
IN CRUST WE TRUST