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 a 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.
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 How to Make It
1. Make the Crust
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. It takes a cue from our favorite parts of laminated dough—layers upon layers, absurdly delicate flake—and makes the process much more manageable (with all the upside).
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 (read: no soggy bottoms in sight), but you don't really need to.
2. Make the Blueberry Filling
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.
3. Put it All Together
Then you pour the cooked mixture in your pre-baked crust. And you're done.
Serve this light and fluffy blueberry cake, scented with bright lemon zest and juice, with whipped cream, a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream, for breakfast with a cup of coffee, or (our favorite) next to a glass of ice-cold milk.
Don't be shy about playing around with the ingredients in this summer-ready buckle: Use all blueberries if you like, or even swap out the cherries for small-diced peaches.
Rose Levy Beranbaum photo by Matthew Septimus, all other photos by James Ransom
Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].
This article was updated by the Food52 editors in June 2020 to include more ways to use up all those fresh summer blueberries.
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I'm an ex-economist, ex-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."