Posts tagged summer
Tuesday, August 17, 2010

gazpacho

gazpacho

Goodness, folks, where did you come from? You are just about the most amazing bunch of people, you know that? I give you boyfriend news, and you send me the internet equivalent of a hug and a squeal; I send an online video your way – and you’re all support and glee! How did I luck out with you as an audience? I must’ve done something right!

I want to take a minute and just say something here (all the while you look at these amazing tomatoes) about the internets, and friendship, and taking chances, and following your gut. I want to take you through a little exercise, on a journey of linking events. Last summer, I had just moved to Brooklyn and as I was settling into my apartment, I was also ordering kitchen goodies to fill out my new, shiny, spacious kitchen (I am still pinching myself that I have a kitchen like this, in a rental, in NY, but I digress). I had accidentally ordered two cherry pitters and was “complaining” on Twitter about my lack of attention to detail and whatever would I do with two pitters? Enter Jennie, who is one of my dearest friends now, who half-jokingly responded, I’d be happy to take one off your hands and refund you the cost. And I wrote to her, look since we’re in the same neighborhood let’s meet up and I’ll give you the pitter. Free of charge. Because, they are, like, $12 and charging you for that would just be silly. Right? Right.

scooping out the tomatoes

So Jennie and I, two perfect strangers, outside of being Twitter buddies, met up at One Girl Cookies for a coffee and a pitter drop-off. Jennie, and this tells you about the kind of person that she is (and that kind is amAzing!), brought me some tomato jam she had made earlier (which I promptly ate in one sitting with one of those gigantic spoons you see in pictures here) because she liked sharing as much as I did and because Jennie, at heart, is a mom. But mostly because Jennie looks to seeks out individuals such as herself that she can build communities with. Jennie, at her core, is a builder and a nurturer.

o hai, am a little piece of crustless baguette!

Something about that meeting, maybe it was our candor, maybe it was our similar sense of humor (dry, sarcastic) that sort of sealed the bond between us almost instantly. I call her my neighbor-sister-in-crime. I’m not sure what she calls me, but I’m sure it’s something nice. But we’ve become fast friends because we took a chance and we had a good gut feeling. Now, fast forward a few months to late fall and the Bon Appetit bake-off. Jennie had mentioned that her friend Alice, of Savory Sweet Life was coming to town. Jennie had roomed with Alice at another conference, and Jennie, who’s a keen judge of character, thought Alice was kind, sweet, and joyous. After Alice and I exchanged a few emails about hotels in New York and their respective costs, I quickly realized how quickly everything in New York can add up. I knew Alice had three kids, and that money could and should be spent on them, and I offered Alice and her husband my place to stay. I didn’t think much on it, nor did I contemplate the matter that long.

scooping out the tomatoes

I suppose it’s a little odd to invite people you’ve never met to stay in your home. I suppose it’s also a little odd when someone you’ve never met before offers you their place to stay. You might start doubting that person’s sanity. Home is a very personal thing. It’s your haven, your cocoon, your place of rest and protection. After a bad day, home envelops you, holds you close. Home offers things like soup and stews and blankets and warm cups of tea. And if you’re anything like me, then you’re a bit of a homebody, and like to spend your evenings curled up with a book on the couch, the television softly on in the background. But even though I treasure my home, I also understand that for a lot of people, coming to New York is a huge financial burden. Especially if you have children.

scooped!

I’ve grown up in a very “open” house so to speak – people came and went, and we always had someone over. By nature, Russian culture is very communal: people’s accomplishments and contributions are measured through their involvement with families and communities. Little premium is placed on being an individual, whereas in the American tradition we are reminded of the “rugged individualism”. In America you are encouraged that you must push your limits, that ceilings exist only to be broken, that your inner voice should be the strongest one.

mashing the garlic into a paste

Growing up with these two cultures, I am an amalgamation of both views, depending on the situation. I am very “Russian”, I suppose when it comes to sharing my space, as I love to have people over, love to host them and don’t feel annoyed when hungry friends show up unannounced. So sharing my home with Alice seemed natural. Something in my gut told me I should take a chance and had I not listened, I wouldn’t have met Alice and become friends with her the way that I have. Had I not arranged to meet Jennie for coffee, who knows if she and I would have grown to be so close? I am grateful for these opportunities, grateful that I have people at my table eating, and grateful for all of you. It’s nice to have you here, at my virtual table, even though I can’t feed you directly, I can pass these recipes on to you.

food processor, i love you

So how does this sop tie into all this? Well, I made it a few weeks back for a Sunday supper for some folks we had over for dinner: Andrew’s younger brother and an out-of-town friend. There we were, gathered around a table on a Sunday evening, ushering in a new week. And also eating this soup, among other things. And that’s what I love the most, a house full of people, eating and laughing together. I think this is the single reason I cook – to me it’s an expression of love, of family, of community. I started cooking in earnest when I felt uprooted and disconnected from home, and didn’t know where I belonged. A kitchen gave me a home.

what summer means to me

Now, about this soup, I can say nothing less than the following: Universe, this is my favorite summer soup hands down! It is summer in bowl in all its tomatoeness. It’s fresh, it’s cold, it has a bite of garlic and a brightness of vinegar. It is the also one of the easiest things to make and somehow manages to look really sophisticated and impressive. It got me thinking that these would be perfect served at party in tiny shot glasses. Easy to consume, delicious, and leave you wanting more. Everyone at the table wanted seconds, which made my heart sing. Needless to say, there was nothing left for the following day.

hang on, little tomatoes!

So this soup, and this is my long-winded way of telling you this, is for all of you. You who come to read for the stories. You who come just to look at the pictures. You who cook from this site and send me feedback. You who’ve stumbled here by accident and decided to stay. My favorite soup of the season – is for you. I hope you like it, and thank you for being here.

mile end delicatessen mile end delicatessen

Continue reading gazpacho.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

hungarian sour cherry cake

hungarian sour cherry cake

Well, thank you, dear friends, for such an lovely outpouring of support and enthusiasm! The comments, the emails, the tweets! You are too good to me! I remember the amazing support almost two years ago when I took a little time off and even though it was a tough time for me, your comments and emails made feel really loved and connected to this lovely web of people somewhere out there, reading, and actually caring. Thank you for coming here, and thank you for staying here. I can’t wait to share more of my “hunk” with you!

hungarian sour cherry cake

Considering how lovely you have all been, it seems terribly unfair of me to tell you about sour cherries when they’re done for the season, and all you can really do is just stare at these pictures and bookmark the recipe in hopes of remembering next summer (don’t worry I’ll remind you!). Except, this cake was so good, I just couldn’t let it languish in the depths of my computer for a whole year – it was going to get lonely and would need some company. Besides, I know some of you are quite the industrious types, and probably froze your sour cherries like I did. I do this with cranberries every November. I buy a half a dozen bags and stuff them in the freezer and then make boozy banana bread studded with those gems. Next year, you should do the same with sour cherries. This cake could come in handy on a cold, rainy day when you want to hang out in your house and bake.

hungarian sour cherry cake

Whether or not you froze them this year, I wanted to tell you about this cake so much, I simply couldn’t wait a year. All that excitement of the moment just might fizzle, and excitement is a terrible thing to waste. I bought these cherries in the eleventh hour of the sour cherry season, at a stand at the Union Square Market. The stand appeared to be the only one selling sour cherries, and upon spotting it, I let out a little squeal. I had plans, friends, for these babies. These cherries were going to be baked into a pie that inspired me not just by its lovely top crust design (aren’t circles pretty?), but also by the pre-baked bottom crust (genius!). I had the recipe printed and stuck to my door. I even had a pie crust skulking about the freezer. But then I spied this little winner of a recipe at Saveur and could think of nothing better for these sour cherries than finding themselves surrounded by a whole wheat thin layer of cake. They would look so pretty scattered around.

hungarian sour cherry cake

Some of you might still be wondering what is the big deal about sour cherries. Most of you wondering that have probably never tried them. It’s difficult to put into words what sour cherries are like. My best description of them goes a little something like this: a sour cherry is what a sweet cherry aspires to be. Don’t for a second think that I’m downplaying the glory that a sweet cherry is. But that tart zing, the opalescence, that gentle yield to the touch, the ephemeral, fleeting season – a sour cherry is something of a treasure. Blink – and you’ll miss it.

egg shells hungarian sour cherry cake

We had them abundantly in the summer in Russia, upon our arrival to the US, they were nowhere to be found. Of course, I was too busy lamenting my introduction to Nutella (while we were in Italy) and its absence from the American supermarket shelves to really notice or care about sour cherries’ absence from the produce landscape. It wasn’t until a few years later, when my family and I went to visit their friends in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and took a road trip through the Michigan countryside, that I rediscovered sour cherries again. There were numerous stands by the side of the road offering travelers pints of sour cherries and freshly hot-smoked trout. To this day, one of my favorite meals remains this trout, mixed with cold, boiled potatoes we brought with us on the road, and sour cherries for dessert. I had forgotten how tart and delicious they were.

hungarian sour cherry cake hungarian sour cherry cake

When I finally got around to my batch of frozen and pitted cherries, I was feeling rather bold, and decided to give the recipe a major overhaul, swapping out enough ingredients to create a recipe distinctively different from its original creation. I still credit Saveur with the inspiration, which goes a long long way. I decided to stick with wheat flour and only wheat flower; I scaled back the sugar, because I always prefer my everyday cakes to err on the less-sweet side. Out went the kirsch, and in went creme de cassis – I’ve got nothing against kirsch, but I wanted something with a more berry-like zing, and creme de cassis sings so beautifully in desserts. Have you ever had creme de cassis? Smelled it? It’s intoxicating – I am always tempted to pour a bit over a “boule” of vanilla ice cream, because it’s really one of the best things ever. And also, in the spirit of full disclosure, I realized I was flat out of kirsch, and felt a bit lazy having to walk over two whole blocks while all my ingredients sat neatly in a mise en place. In my last throes of creativity I decided to use buttermilk instead of regular milk the original recipe called for. I find that buttermilk yields a more tender crumb in a cake, and who doesn’t like a tender crumb?

hungarian sour cherry cake

This is a hearty cake – the whole wheat gives it heft and body, and the berries make the batter shine. But here’s the rub – this cake would be a perfect breakfast cake over coffee on a crisp, rainy fall day. So, don’t despair if sour cherries are out of season, throw some blueberries in it. Or, I wonder, how will this cake taste with some thinly sliced apples, sprinkled with cinnamon? I bet you it’ll be perfect. You really can’t go wrong!

hungarian sour cherry cake

I made this a week ago and a bunch of us, my plus one included (should I tell you his name?) ate it for dessert and there was still lots of the cake left over, (this makes a lot of cake, so be sure to invite friends over!) and then (and this part here is tragic and my lower lip quivers as I type this), then we forgot about the cake and it sat in the fridge for over a week until I discovered it again, but by then it had gone bad and needed to be tossed. But I can’t bring myself to do it. Sour cherries! I worked so hard for them! All the pitting and freezing and unfreezing! Sigh. I’ll have to dispose of the cake tonight. Most likely with a proper burial, followed by moment of silence. And perhaps a somber song or a poem.

hungarian sour cherry cake

Continue reading hungarian sour cherry cake.

Monday, August 9, 2010

cucumber yogurt soup

cucumber yogurt soup

Today, I have soup for you. Not hot soup, mind you, because we are in the midst of summer, nobody wants to eat piping hot soup. Not me, at least. This here today is cold soup – cold cucumber yogurt soup to be exact. It’s amazingly refreshing, I promise you. I even had it for breakfast the day after I made it – over one of those days the heat index broke 100. I realize it’s less than traditional to eat soup for breakfast, but then again, I am also a fan of cold lo mein the morning after a night of Chinese food. Go figure.

The way this summer’s been going, I’m looking forward to eating a lot of this soup. Full bowls of it with crusty hunks of bread, kohlrabi salad, and buttermilk granita. Anything to keep me from turning on the stove or the oven. I do break down sometimes, in an attempt to conquer fear, or bring the summer barbecue inside my tiny apartment, but if I can get away with not raising the apartment temperature I’m all for it.

cucumber yogurt soup

Speaking of hunks (I do know a way with burying the lede, don’t I), I’ve been keeping something from you. Or rather someone. And it’s partly been because I have been so protective of it (him), and partly because I wasn’t sure how to. You see, every time I wanted to tell you about this someone, words would fail me. Like, really fail me. Every time I tried, I would stare at the computer screen, not sure where to start and how to finish. What I want to say go so far beyond language that for now, I’ll say just this: he makes my heart and my life fuller and brighter like a great big song that you want to fill a space with – a song that is deep, clear, resonant. He’s the best “plus one” a girl can hope for, and an eager and enthusiastic eater – an inspiration and a support. And it’s nice to say things like “our dinner” and “we ate” because sharing a meal with him is always a joy and I’m grateful for each little moment like this – really grateful. That’s all I’ll say for now, but expect him to be an ever-growing presence here. I’m happy. Really, truly, ridiculously pinch-myself-I’m-not-dreaming happy.

cucumber yogurt soup

But – back to this soup, which, incidentally I had all to myself. The best part about this soup, besides the fact that it’s delicious, is that you don’t need to turn on your stove, which I already said, but let me stress it again – it is marvelous to make something so quickly and so easily, especially when there’s not enough iced water in the world to cool you off. This soup comes together in mere minutes. That’s right – minutes. The weeknight meals I tell you about that take under an hour to cook while you drink wine? Well, you can definitely have a glass of wine while prepping this, but I’d be surprised if you were able to finish it by the time this soup was done. Unless, of course, you just downed it (no judgment here!) There are no hard and fast rules here – use more or less of the herbs you want, and if dill isn’t to your liking, you can always swap it out for parsley or chives. I think the mint is critical here as it gives the soup its wings, if you will.

cucumber yogurt soup

I could almost hear my oven whimpering when I walked into the kitchen, pulled out my ingredients, and five minutes later sat down to eat this soup. I felt a little badly ignoring it so, but I more than made up for it the following weekend when we had some company over. I ate this soup with my larger-than-life old Russian spoons I inherited from our family friend’s mother after she passed away. I love those gigantic spoons – they mean business. And a perfect vehicle to transport delicious soup from bowl to mouth. I only wished that I could have shared it that evening, though I’m not too worried – we’ve got more sweltering days coming our way and it’s only a matter of time before I’ll reach for this recipe again and make a double batch, to share. See, I just wrote “we” and “our” and it made me all aflutter and smiley – isn’t love grand?

Continue reading cucumber yogurt soup.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

apricot blueberry thyme jam

apricot blueberry thyme jam

I’ve been a bit of a hypocrite. I’ve encouraged you to go to your kitchens unafraid and undeterred, while I have been harboring a few fears of my own. I suppose it’s only natural to be intimidated by something unfamiliar, to be so wholly overwhelmed you don’t even know where to begin. So while you want to try, you never quite get around to it. Fear wins – you lose. It’s a bit silly, if you ask me.

apricot blueberry thyme jam

But what is it we’re really afraid of? What is the worst possible thing that could happen? Your creation is a fail. An epic, larger-than-life, inedible fail. Well, for those moments, when you have burned your dinner, or under-baked a cake, or overworked you pie crust, or produced the saddest, most deflated meringues the world has ever seen – it’s always good to have the makings of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich; some heavy cream, a whisk, a chilled bowl and berries; some frozen puff pasty on hand, and a box of your favorite cookies, to remedy the situation. But failure in the kitchen also lends itself to an opportunity to laugh heartily at what went wrong. Last summer, I served the book club ladies the most vile clafoutis known to man. I, thankfully, had another dessert on hand, but it was quite funny – the clafoutis – it looked liked vomit. Another time, I tried to feed them barely edible bread pudding (again, I had another dessert on hand). That second time, I just showed them the finished product and promptly dumped the whole thing in the garbage.

apricot blueberry thyme jam

And aside from the pie crust fear (a fear I successfully conquered) nothing else has given me anxiety like canning and pickling. And now, I can tell you, this bête noire has, largely, been put to rest. I don’t know what it is about canning that used to (used to! see, past tense!) make me so nervous. Maybe it was just the steps: the hot water (painful burns!); the cans themselves (where to get canning jars?); the receptacle that allows you to easily (and safely!) place and remove the jars from the boiling water; the “do-i-boil-the-tops-of-jars” dilemma (yes!); how much space on top do I need to leave before sealing (about a quarter inch!); is pectin necessary (no, just cook to 220 degrees F); and so on and so forth. For some reason, preserving was my boogey man.

apricot blueberry thyme jam

When I mentioned my preserving anxieties to my friend Jennie, she wasted no time and put me in touch with the lovely folks at Ball jars, who promptly sent me a canning “Discovery” kit. The kit came with 3 jars, a basket in which you place your jars, for easier manipulation, and a recipe booklet. And since I now had all the necessary tools to make jam, all I needed to do was actually just make it. I picked up some blueberries at the farmer’s market and found apricots at my local grocer. I hadn’t intended to put them together, but when I laid out my produce on the counter and was putting everything away, the combination struck me as somewhat curious. What I wanted here was something slightly unusual, surprising even. Thyme seemed like a good addition that would highlight the fragrant fruit and offer an herbal note to a nose full of fruit.

cooking the fruit

Jam-making does not require crazy measuring, and it’s pretty difficult to mess up. You chop up your fruit, sampling here and there along the way. You place everything in a nice heavy bottomed pot. You want your pot to be as wide as possible because larger surface area allows your jam to become more jammy faster. The greater the surface area – the more moisture evaporation taking place. Simple physics, really.

sterilizing...

Once the fruit is in, you add your sugar. Personally, I don’t like to overdo it with sugar. You are, after all, making jam – not candy. At the same time – skimp on the sugar and your jam might not set properly. Add your herbs, or vanilla, or whatever that extra element you want. If you just want fruit and sugar, no problem! If you want to add a little lemon juice, that tends to make the fruit sing – go for it! And then, and this is important here, you want to add a pinch or two of salt (depending on how much fruit you’re working with). Once you’ve done all that, turn on the burner, bring the whole mess to a simmer, skim the foamy parts, and let the fruit cook slowly, stirring on occasion. I prefer to bring my fruit to 220 degrees F and not add the pectin.

kitchen set up while jamming

Some fruit, such as the cranberry, has a lot of natural pectin – which explains why your cranberries becomes jelly-like so quickly when you cook them down. Other fruit, like stone fruit, does not have a lot of pectin, so you either cook it to a proper temperature without pectin, or you add pectin, which comes in powder and liquid form. Either way, you are looking for that point in time when you drip a little jam onto a plate and instead of it spreading out in a messy puddle, the drip holds together a bit, bound by that viscosity that forms when you cook fruit and liquid for some time.

my jars!! aren't they pretty?

When that done, you sterilize your jars, making sure they are dry. You sterilize the tops of the jars and the rings too, in case you’re wondering. Then you fill up your jars with the jam, leaving a quarter inch of room on top, place the lids on the jars, and screw on the rings, but not too tight, just enough. After awhile, you should hear a click or a pop, that’s your jars sealing themselves. No sound? Top of the lid still pointing upwards? Press the lid downward gently. If it collapses and doesn’t come up – voila! You have sealed with success. If it pops right back up, you might want to re-sterilize and start the process anew.

someone needs a wide-mouth funnel

So this is what happens when you get so fed up with your fear, you mutter to yourself, to hell with it and just go for it. You wind up with two jars of delicious jam, sitting in your fridge, awaiting their fate. And quite frankly, what would I have done had my jars not sealed themselves properly? I would have gone into my kitchen, taken out the biggest spoon I own, and ate my jam in one sitting just like that – au naturel. If only every kitchen failure tasted as good.

testing for donness

Continue reading apricot blueberry thyme jam.

Friday, July 16, 2010

oven barbecue ribs

barbecued ribs

In my next life, I want to be a pit-master. I want to live in Texas, preferably in the Hill Country, and dedicate my life to slow-cooking meat. I can’t imagine saying this twelve years ago at the height of my impassioned vegetarianism. Ironically, it was barbecue that brought me back to my meat-eating ways. Ribs, to be precise. My, how I’ve come full circle. I’m now not only eating ribs, I’m making them too. Twelve years ago, I couldn’t imagine myself ever eating meat, but now! Now one of my dream vacations involves a hands-on intensive course learning how to grill properly. Grill like I mean it – with gusto.

liquid glaze misemixing the rub

Sadly, in my current life, I am outfitted with an apartment sans a back yard, and subsequently without a grill or a smoker. If I want barbecue, I have to either go out for it, or make it myself. In my kitchen. Using an oven. I can just see barbecue devotees rolling their eyes as they read this – barbecue in the oven? You’ve got to be kidding! And I swear to you all that the second I get my hands on a backyard, some serious, real, honest-to-goodness grilling is going to happen. You can hold me to it. I’ll make up for lost time.

ribs, rubbed

Speaking of time, the key to making ribs in the oven at home is simply ample time. You can’t rush the process – or disaster will follow. This is a thing of patience: you surrender the ribs over to low heat for several hours and you let the slow-cooking process do its thing as the meat grows tender, flaky, relaxed. [I resist using words like “succulent” and “moist” because I strongly dislike them. These, as well as the word “juicy” make me shudder and lose my appetite.] Instead of just cooking your meat at high temperature, which can yield some tough and chewy results (fail!), you gently coax it into a state of gradual submission (success!), so it practically falls off the bone when you try to bite into it.

It didn’t hurt that the meat came from one of my favorite purveyors – these ribs were perfection, with a nice layer of fat to keep them from drying out, and a healthy pink color. I’ve been to the farm where these ribs came from and you can tell – these are some of the happiest and well-cared-for animals you’ll see. The pigs were practically smiling.

ribs, rubbed

I made these over the 4th of July, when the East Coast heat wave was in full swing and it was far too hot to do anything outside. I turned the a/c on, dialed the oven to 200 degrees F, and puttered around the kitchen busying myself with potato salad and pie until the ribs were done and ready for our plates. We ate them in a pinch with only a few ribs left over for the following afternoon lunch. When life gives you ribs – you fire up the grill. But when life gives you some ribs and an oven – well, you know what to do.

ribs, rubbed and rested

Continue reading oven barbecue ribs.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

blueberry strawberry pie

blueberry strawberry pie

I am a girl who loves a good fruit pie. I can think so nothing more delicious in the summer, and I love making it almost as much as I love eating it. But, I have a bone to pick with fruit pies because they are finicky and temperamental in the summer months. My biggest gripe is that the best time of the year to make fruit pies is also the most challenging. If you’ve ever made your own crust, you know crust’s two mortal enemies are heat and humidity, and guess what New York summers are known for? Meanwhile, farmers’ markets are brimming with the most ripe, fragrant fruit begging to be eaten, canned, and turned out in baked goods. Other than enjoying summer’s bounty as nature intended, what more glorious way is there to showcase fruit at the peak of its season than baking it into a pie? Never mind that you dread turning on your oven when temperatures cross into the triple digits, as you yourself slowly cook in your tiny urban apartment. So when the pie is baked – so are you.

flying pigs farm rendered lardscraper, rolling pin, pie dish, iced coffee

And yet to me, despite the heat and the sweat, the process of making pie is one of life’s greatest pleasures. I love to see the dough, crumbly and speckled with pea-sized pieces of butter come together, love shaping the pie crusts into disks and chilling them. Love to prepare the fruit: pit the cherries, hull the strawberries, blanch the peaches. Love to flour my counter and roll out the dough out and place it into the pie dish. But nothing gives me more glee and jubilation than piling the fruit into the pie shell, seeing it tower before my eyes.

an almost perfect circle

Fruit pies offer a taste of summer, a burst of sunshine topped by a sugary, flaky, buttery crust. Crust is key to a good pie, in my opinion. But with fruit pies, you often face a soggy bottom – the upside of a fruit pie is also its downside. And I used to think, such is the way of the world. I had to just make do and carry on. But there’s a genius solution in place – pre-baking your bottom crust! It’s genius, really, and you can kiss those soggy bottom crusts goodbye.

blueberries, strawberries, thyme

A solution came my way in the form of a book and a New York Times article almost simultaneously. I was lucky enough to receive a review copy of Bill Yosses’ and Melissa Clark’s new book, “The Perfect Finish: Special Desserts for Every Occasion”. I leafed through the entire book the night it arrived in the mail, and there wasn’t a single thing I didn’t want to make, but a recipe for a pie crust caught my eye first. I’ve been a long-time fan of Bill Yosses, the executive pastry chef at the White House; and Melissa Clark’s recipes and I go way way back. I’ve been inexplicably drawn to her recipes, not just for the New York Times, but for other publications like Food & Wine. I have, on many an occasion, clicked on tempting recipes only to discover that they have been written by her. When I saw the method for pre-baking crust, and then saw the New York Times sour cherry pie recipe, I knew that I was never again going to have a soggy crust in my pies. Hurray! I want to twirl around the room in jubilation!

blueberry strawberry pie

Pre-baking is the bees knees! So ingenious I’m sad I didn’t think of it myself. It makes absolute perfect sense and is worth the extra time spent in the kitchen. You can pour yourself one of these and read a book, or look out the window, or stick your head in the freezer for a minute to cool off. Whatever you do, you can pass the time swimmingly because it’ll be well worth the extra effort.

blueberry strawberry pie

I bet there aren’t any disagreements over wanting a flaky bottom crust. So we’ve got that going for us, right? Now that the matter is settled, let’s move on to the content of the crust. There’s some debate out there, an each option with its own fervent following: all-butter, butter-with-shortening, or butter-with-leaf lard? My own personal preference (at this point) is tied between an all-butter and a butter-leaf-lard crust, between which I will alternate depending on my mood and if I have access to quality leaf lard. No matter which recipe you go with, you want to find the best quality butter around. Better butter means higher fat content. Higher the fat content means a flakier crust. It’s that simple.

blueberry strawberry pie

Whatever method you choose to go with for your crust, you will want to work quickly, be it cutting your butter into flour (in a pre-chilled bowl, of course!), shaping your dough into disks, or rolling it out. You have a few minutes between the too-hard-and-crumbly dough and too-warm-and-tearing dough; and overworking the pastry releases the dreaded glutens, diminishing your crust’s flakiness. I am not trying to frighten you, my lovelies, but instead give you as much information and ammunition to tackle this perfect-time-for-pie-but-it’s-too-hot-to-make-it conundrum. Knowledge is power, and I know you will do beautifully. But most importantly, I want you to not be afraid. Worst case, if your pie refuses to roll out, you can gently press pieces of it into the pie dish and then when you are ready to top your pie with the second crust, you can use a cookie-cutter to shape crust circles and lay them on top (another genius Melissa Clark idea). Which will save you the possible aggravation and yield a rather pretty pie. And you will get points for taste and looks. Bonus.

blueberry strawberry pie

Then you can kick back and pretend the whole thing was completely effortless, because neither heat, nor humidity got anything on you. You can totally reward yourself with a slice of pie, because you earned it, friend. Just be sure to share some with me.

blueberry strawberry pie

Blueberry Strawberry Pie
Crust adapted from “The Perfect Finish: Special Desserts for Every Occasion” by Bill Yosses and Melissa Clark and from NY Times piece by Melissa Clark

Ingredients:

Crust:
20 tbsp (283 grams) unsalted butter, chilled and cubed (use high fat butter like Plugra)
7 tablespoons (100 grams) heavy cream
3 tablespoons (40 grams)rendered lard (or use more butter)
3 3/4 cups (469 grams) all-purpose flour, plus additional for rolling the dough
1 tablespoons (12.5 grams) granulated suga
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt

Filling:
8 cups blueberries and strawberries (mixed)
1 teaspoon fresh chopped thyme
freshly squeezed lemon juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
1/4 cup (57 grams) packed light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon (7 grams) creme de cassis
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 large egg white (28 grams), room temperature, lightly beaten (if using a traditional crust on top and not cutting out circles)
1 1/2 teaspoons Demerara or granulated sugar
1/4 cup (45 grams) cornstarch

Preparation:

For the crust:

Pre-chill a stand mixer beforehand. Once cold, place butter, cream and lard. Beat on low with a paddle attachment until smooth. In another bowl, thoroughly mix together flour, sugar and salt. Add about a third of the flour mixture to the butter mixture and beat on low until the mixture comes together like a fairly wet dough. Add the remaining flour and mix until the dough just begins to come together. Once that happens, turn the dough out on a floured surface and knead gently into a small ball. Divide the ball in half, wrap each half in plastic wrap and flatten into disks. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight (or up to 3 days).

For the filling:

In a large bowl, toss together blueberries, cut-up strawberries and thyme. Add lemon juice, sugars, salt, creme de cassis and vanilla extract. Set aside to macerate for about half an hour.

After the half hour passes, add the cornstarch and mix it until it completely dissolves. Set aside.

Assembling and Baking the Pie:

On a lightly floured surface, roll out one of the disks of dough to a 1/4-inch thickness and fold it in half. Then re-roll to a round about 12 inches in diameter and the thickness of about 2 quarters. This thickness will give you the layers of flakiness you so desire in your pie dough, particularly the bottom part. Transfer the dough to a Pyrex 9-inch pie pan (or a dark steel pie pan), and trim the edges so they are even with the rim of the pie pan. [Pyrex is particularly useful here as it allows you to see the doneness of the bottom crust due to its transparency.] Cover the dough with plastic wrap you used in chilling this disk, and place in the freezer for 1 hour.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 425F. Remove the pie pan from the freezer and line the dough with aluminum foil on top, delicately pressing it to form to the shape of the pan. Place the baking beads, dried beans, or uncooked rice (or lentils, etc.) on top of the foil. Bake for 30 minutes and allow to cool on a cooling rack afterward. After the pie cooled off, preheat the oven again to 350F.

While your shell is baking, roll out the second disk of dough. Using cookie cutters (I used the circle ones of various sizes) cut out a bunch of circles from the rolled out dough. Place on a baking rack and refrigerate until ready to decorate the top.

Pour the berry filling into the pre-baked pie shell. Place your pie dough circles on top of the pie, starting in the center and filling out to the outer sides. Make a pattern pleasing to your eye. I liked placing my circles slightly atop their neighbor circles to create some kind of a cohesion. I used tiny circles to fill in some gaps. When done with the top of the pie, sprinkle some Demerara sugar on top of the pie.

[If you prefer a traditional pie topping, you can, instead, roll out the pie shell and create a traditional pie crust topping. Be sure to slice a few vents on top to allow the pie to breathe. If you do make a traditional topping, then be sure to use the whipped egg white as glue for your pie crust top. Brush the edges of the pre-baked shell with the egg white before placing your rolled out raw shell on top.]

Bake for 1 hour, on an aluminum foil covered rimmed 11 x 17 inch baking sheet on the center rack until the pie is deeply golden and you can see the thick juices bubbling through the openings.

Let cool before serving as it allows the starch to set a bit and give the pie some structure. Otherwise, your pie will ooze and fall apart when you are trying to serve it. While it’s the pie’s taste we are all most concerned with, it is a great feeling of accomplishment to be able to serve the pie to your guests where the slice has great structure and holds its shape.