Today: A brighter, lighter blueberry pie for Labor Day.
If you've ever cooked a blueberry for more than a minute, you know their fatal flaw.
A blueberry is really just a sack of tart-sweet juice, barely contained by an thin, taut orb of skin. It's nature's tiniest water balloon, and like any good water balloon, it wasn't designed to last.
So when we want to bake them into a pie, we know they're going to swell through their skins and surrender all their juice, which then needs to be jammed up with sugar and thickeners. There's nothing necessarily wrong with that -- throw on a scoop of vanilla ice cream and it's not not going to get eaten.
But there's another sort of blueberry pie, one that uses a lighter touch, managing to preserve fresh blueberries in their natural state and ensconce them in a sauce -- made, of course, from more burst blueberries. Fannie Farmer has one, and Sara Moulton does too. Evan Kleiman even took blogger Dorothy Reinhold's on TV to declare its genius.
I'm particularly fond of Rose Levy Beranbaum's version from The Pie and Pastry Bible. The filling has only 4 ingredients, and the highest blueberry retention rate of any I've tried -- using the least sugar, the least cornstarch.
"Here is what my thinking was behind it: Blueberries are such a great burst of flavor when raw but when cooked become soft and bitter requiring quite a bit of sugar," Beranbaum told me. "I also noticed that blueberries turn brilliant navy blue when heated only slightly, so my theory was I could just heat most of them and use the rest to bind them. And it worked as I had envisioned."
Here's all you have to do:
Make whatever single pie crust. You can use your go-to ratios, or I've included Beranbaum's recipe, which is excellent, and has all sorts of clever tricks.
She uses pastry flour and vinegar for less gluten development and a more delicate crust, baking powder for a little extra lift. She freezes part of the butter, and bashes it into the flour with a rolling pin.
Whatever dough recipe you use, you'll just roll one out, crimp it or not, and blind bake it. You can brush on some egg white for extra insurance, but you don't really need to.
Then you'll take a quarter of your berry haul -- this is your chance to weed out the soft ones -- and cook them in a little water until they explode (about 3 minutes).
As they're bursting into a syrupy pulp, you whisk in a slurry of cornstarch and water, plus lemon and salt.
The rest of your berries get folded in next, off the heat, and they light up -- from a low dusty blue to shimmering indigo in seconds.
Then you pour it in your pre-baked crust. And you're done.
The only hard part is waiting two hours to eat it.
Rose Levy Beranbaum's Fresh Blueberry Pie
Adapted slightly from The Pie and Pastry Bible (Scribner, 1998)
Basic Flaky Pie Crust for a 9-Inch Pie
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold
1 1/3 cup + 4 tablespoon pastry flour or 1 1/3 cups (dip and sweep method) bleached all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 to 3 1/2 tablespoons ice water
1 1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar (optional)
1/8 teaspoon non-aluminum baking powder (if not using, double the salt)
Open-Faced Fresh Blueberry Pie
1 tablespoon egg white, lightly beaten (optional)
4 cups blueberries, rinsed and dried
1/2 liquid cup and two tablespoons water, divided
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons lemon juice
Pinch of salt
1 1/2 cup whipped cream (optional)
Rose Levy Beranbaum photo by Matthew Septimus, all other photos by James Ransom