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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Mixed Berry Pie for Pi Day!

My sister is a high school math teacher, which is why I know that today is Pi Day.  You know, pi = 3.14 and it's March 14th, get it? Anyone? No? Right . . .   

Anyway, in honor of Pi Day, I am posting the first from-scratch pie I ever made.  Back in 2007, my boss brought in her copy of Rose Levy Beranbaum's The Pie and Pastry Bible for a lab mate of mine, who then baked a Blueberry/Peach pie to share with the lab.  I had never tried blueberry pie before and didn't think I would like it, but it was sooooo good!  I don't know why I ever hesitated to try blueberry pie!  And the crust was amazing, which is odd because I usually don't like crust.  It turns out, she made it from scratch!  What?!  A pie crust that didn't come from a Pillsbury box?  (No offense, Mom!)  I never thought making a crust from scratch could be so different from the store bought ones, but it was.  
Doesn't the tart on the cover look delish?!?  I had this copy of the cookbook on loan until I received my own, along with Ms. Beranbaum's Cake Bible (more on that later), for Christmas 2008 from my mother-in-law - are you seeing a theme here :)  We both love cookbooks!  I absolutely love The Pie and Pastry Bible.  First of all, Ms. Beranbaum includes all of her measurements in terms of weight, which I love.  She also explains a lot of the science of baking - why certain steps are taken, what it really means if dough is under/over-worked, etc. And she includes tips for successful baking and troubleshooting ideas.  I can see where some might get overwhelmed by all the text - I did at first - but it really is a great, comprehensive guide to pies and pastries.  

I am also inspired by Ms. Beranbaum's beginnings as a baker.  She had no experience baking when she first got married, and learned everything she knows throughout her adult life.  That reassures me that I'm not 'behind' the learning curve; there's still hope!

Now on to the pie.  After discovering my love for blueberry pie, I decided to make one on my own following the recipe for "Blueberry/Cranberry Internet Pie" as a guide.  I love all kinds of berries, so I though substituting mixed berries (strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries) for the cranberries would be a good start.  The pie was so awesome that I made it again for my dad's birthday last year.  I'm including the recipe for both the crust and the filling. I love this crust recipe because it can be made in a food processor.  Unfortunately, I don't have a KitchenAid stand mixer (yet!  That's another post all it's own), so a lot of recipes are off limits for me, specifically a lot of breads and doughs - that is unless I want to knead by hand all day, which I don't!  

This is a pretty long recipe, so if you have your own crust in mind, just skip to the filling part. The whole process is a bit time consuming, but can be broken up over the course of a few days, so it's not too bad.  

The filling burst through the top crust, so I recommend more slits to vent.

Basic Flaky Pie Crust

For a 2-crust 9-inch pie

14 Tablespoons (200 g) unsalted butter, cold
2 1/4 c. + 2 Tablespoons (or 2 1/4 c. dip and sweep method*, or 320 g) pastry flour** or bleached all-purpose flour
1/4 + 1/8 teaspoon salt
Optional:  1/4 teaspoon baking powder (if not using, double the salt)
5 to 7 Tablespoons ice water
1 Tablespoon cider vinegar

*Dip and sweep method is explained under "Pointers for success for making flaky pie crusts"
**Commercial or homemade pastry flour is recommended , as it will result in a more tender crust than one made with all-purpose flour (see below how to make your own pastry flour)

1. Divide the butter into two parts, about two thirds to one third:  4.5 oz and 2.5 oz (9 T and 5 T).  Cut the butter into 3/4-inch cubes.  Wrap each portion of butter with plastic wrap. Refrigerate the larger amount and freeze the smaller amount for at least 30 minutes.  Place the flour, salt, and optional baking powder in a recloseable gallon-size freezer bag and freeze for at least 30 minutes.  

2. Place the flour mixture in a food processor with the metal blade and process for a few seconds to combine.  Set the bag aside.  

3. Add the larger amount of butter cubes to the flour and process for about 20 seconds or until the mixture resembles course meal.  Add the remaining frozen butter cubes and pulse until all the frozen butter is the size of peas.  (Toss with a fork to see it better).

4. Add the lowest amount of ice water and the vinegar and pulse 6 times.  Pinch a small amount of the mixture together between your fingers.  If it does not hold together, add half the remaining water and pulse 3 times.  Try pinching the mixture again.  If necessary, add the remaining water, pulsing 3 times to incorporate it.  The mixture will be in particles and will not hold together without being pinched.

5. Divide the crust mixture in half at this point (for top and bottom crusts), place each portion in a plastic bag.

6. Holding both ends of the bag opening with your fingers, knead the mixture by alternately pressing it, from the outside of the bag, with the knuckles and heels of your hand until the mixture holds together in one piece and feels slightly stretchy when pulled.

7. Separately wrap doughs with plastic wrap, flatten into discs, and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes, preferably overnight.  

Storage:  Refrigerated, up to 2 days; frozen, up to 3 months.

Making your own pastry flour:  if using a scale, do two thirds bleached all-purpose flour to one third cake flour by weight.  If measuring by volume, use the following proportions:  4 cups of bleached all-purpose flour, measured by dip and sweep, and 2 1/4 cups of cake flour, measured by dip and sweep.  Stir the flours lightly before measuring and mix them well after combining them to blend them evenly.  This will make 6 1/4 cups of pastry flour (almost 2 pounds).  Store it airtight.


* For flaky crust, ingredients must be cold to start with and stay cold.
* Use the correct flour.  It is practically impossible to make a flaky crust or even one that holds together using cake flour and equally difficult to make a tender crust using unbleached all-purpose or bread flour.
* If using baking powder, be sure not to use SAS baking powders, which contain sodium aluminum sulfate, or the crust will have a bitter aftertaste.  Use an all-phosphate product containing calcium acid phosphate, such as Rumford, available in some supermarkets and most health food stores. (I found Rumford at my local grocery store - it's next to the Clabber Girl brand in a red container).
* If not weighing the flour, use the dip and sweep method:  Lightly stir the flour, then dip the cup into the flour and sweep off the excess with a metal spatula or knife.
* Brush off any excess flour on top of the dough after shaping it, as it will taste bitter after baking.

Blueberry/Mixed Berry Pie 

Basic Flaky Pie Crust for a 2-crust 9-inch pie
1 1/2 cups sugar (amount for the blue/cran pie, so you can probably reduce it, I used between 3/4 cup to 1 cup)
1/3 cup cornstarch (dip and sweep method)
1 Tablespoon finely grated lemon zest 
3 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
a pinch of salt
2 packages or 1 1/2 pounds (680 grams) frozen blueberries
1 package frozen mixed berries
1 Tablespoon heavy cream or milk
1 Tablespoon sugar

1. Make the dough.

2. Remove the dough for the bottom crust from the refrigerator.  If necessary, allow it to sit for about 10 minutes or until it is soft enough to roll.

3. On a floured pastry cloth or between two sheets of lightly floured plastic wrap, roll the bottom crust 1/8 inch thick or less and large enough to cut a 13-inch circle.  Transfer it to the pie pan, easing it in to fit up against the sides.  Trim, if necessary, to 1/4 inch past the edge of the pan.  Cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for a minimum of 30 minutes and a maximum of 3 hours.

4. In a large non-reactive saucepan, stir together the sugar, cornstarch, lemon zest, lemon juice, and salt.  Add the blueberries and mixed berries and toss to coat them well.  Allow the mixture to sit for about 30 minutes or until a little liquid starts to form.  

5. Cook the berries over medium heat, stirring constantly, until very thickened and some of the the berries are just beginning to burst, about 8 to 10 minutes after it comes to a boil.  Remove the pan from heat and allow the mixture to cool completely, without stirring, about 1 hour.

6. Transfer the berry mixture to the pie shell.

7. Roll out the top crust large enough to cut a 12-inch circle.  Use an expandable flan ring or a cardboard template and a sharp knife as a guide to cut the circle.

8. Moisten the edges of the bottom crust with water and place the top crust over the fruit.  Tuck the overhang under the bottom crust border and press down all around the top to seal it.  Reroll the scraps no more than 1/8 inch thick and cut them into decorative shapes.  Brush the top crust with cream or milk and arrange the decorative pieces on top of it, overlapping them slightly.  Brush them with the remaining cream or milk and sprinkle all over with the sugar.

9. Cover the pie loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for 1 hour before baking to chill and relax the pastry.  This will maintain flakiness and help to keep the crust from skrinking.

10. Preheat the oven to 375F at least 20 minutes before baking.  Set one oven rack at the lowest level and one at the highest level and place a baking stone or baking sheet on the lower rack before preheating.  

11. To make a steam vent use a small cutter, the bottom of a pastry tube, or a knife to cut a small hole (about 1 inch) in the middle of the top crust.  Lift out the cut round of pastry and discard it.  I think a few slits should be cut to prevent the mixture from splitting through the top crust, which happened the first time I made this pie as shown in the picture above.  Set the pie directly on the stone and bake for 40 minutes.  Transfer the pie to the upper rack and continue baking for 20 to 30 minutes or until the crust is golden brown.  (The filling will not bubble).  After 1 hour, protect the edges from overbrowning with a foil ring.

12. Cool the pie on a rack for at least 6 hours before serving.

Store:  Room temperature, up to 3 days.

Her notes:  I find that in my oven it works well to bake this pie for the first 40 minutes directly on the floor of the oven instead of the bottom shelf.  Frozen blueberries work well for this filling because they release their juices more quickly than fresh ones, but fresh blueberries are fine to use as well.

My notes:  I tried baking on the oven floor, and even the lowest rack, and the bottom got too brown, too fast.  I suggest just baking it on the middle rack and monitoring it every so often.

Source:  Adapted from The Pie and Pastry Bible


  1. This looks delicious. Isn't it fun to make pie from scratch?

  2. Love all your tips and the hearts on top of your yummy mixed berry pie!

  3. How neat that is was Pi Day...yours looks sooo good! I love berry pies.

  4. Your first from-scratch pie is quite impressive! I love the cute hearts :)

  5. Everything about this pie looks delicious!

  6. I, too, used to only bake homemade pie crust when we were both much younger. I have just gotten in the habit of taking shortcuts. Maybe your blog will inspire me to enjoy cooking again. There are several recipes that I want to try....just not the peppers :)
    Seriously, I have missed a few days, and I am enjoying catching up on my reading!
    Love, MOM


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