September 15, 2008

Making my first pie

I’ve been thinking about trying to make pie for a while. Even though I’ve been baking since I was a kid, I never learned how to make it. I think I was intimidated by the degree of difficulty involved, and scared that my pie crust would fall apart and the whole thing would be a disaster.

Well, I read a lot of food blogs, and recently on one of them, readers were asked to write in with their food phobias. Many, many people said they were afraid to make pie crust, so I guess I’m not alone. After reading so many pie crust and other pastry recipes on all those blogs, I realized it didn’t sound that hard after all.

So, a few weeks ago, I made my very first pie, with fresh fruit from the wonderful outdoor market (see previous post). The pie was a blackberry and apple pie from a Nigella Lawson cookbook we have. I was excited and nervous as I weighed the fruit and gathered the ingredients. Nervous because we were having some of J’s new friends over to share the pie with us, and also because Nigella has let me down in the past.

I love Nigella Lawson, I love her cookbooks, and for the most part, I love her recipes. But I’ve made a few that have turned out less than fabulous, so I was hoping this wouldn’t be one of them.

Well, thank God Nigella came through. Even though the pie crust was a bit stiff and kept breaking in places, and even though I was using a 9-inch pie plate instead of an 8-inch one liked she called for, it worked out splendidly.

J’s friends loved it and so did we. It was juicy and the cornmeal in the crust added a nice crunch to the butteryness. The combination of blackberries and apples is delicious. The rosewater adds a nice subtle flavour, but I don’t think it’s really necessary if you don’t have any.

This pie has a lot of filling and when you pour it in, it seems like it’s going to spill out, but it doesn’t. But I can’t even imagine it all fitting in an 8-inch pan.

One more thing: this pie crust doesn’t last very well. We ate most of the pie the day I baked it, but when we had the last slices the next day it had turned slightly soggy, so beware.

So don’t be afraid of pie! If this crust is too finicky for you, just look for another recipe, since there are millions out there. Now that I’ve made my first one, there’s no turning back.

Blackberry and Apple Pie

From How to Be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson

For the pastry:

4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, diced

4 tablespoons vegetable shortening, teaspooned out

1 1/3 cups self-rising cake flour

Scant ¼ cup fine cornmeal

2-4 tablespoons salted ice water or enough to bind

Squeeze of lemon juice as needed

For the filling:

About 1 ½ pounds Golden Delicious or other cooking apples (2 medium) I had to use

4 apples to get 1 ½ pounds so I’m not sure where she gets her mammoth apples…

¼ cup unsalted butter

7 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon rosewater

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

3 scant tablespoons cornstarch

12 ounces (3/4 lb.) blackberries

For the glaze/topping:

1-2 tablespoons milk

1-2 tablespoons sugar

8-inch shallow pie plate

Mix the flour and cornmeal together in a shallow bowl, add the cold butter and shortening and stir gently to coat. Put in the deep freeze – no need to cover – for 10 minutes. As you do so, put your water in a bowl or cup with a pinch of salt and transfer to the fridge. Either in a processor or – for choice – in a free-standing mixer with flat paddle, blend the fats and flour until you have a mixture that resembles sandy porridge (You can also use a pastry cutter or two butter knives to mix).

Then, gradually process or paddle (or mix) in the liquid until the pastry is almost coming together. Use your hands now to form it into two discs, one slightly smaller than the other. Cover with plastic wrap and rest the pastry in the refrigerator.

Preheat the oven to 375˚F, remembering to put a baking sheet in at the same time. Peel, core and slice the apples. In a saucepan, melt the butter and add the sugar, rosewater and cinnamon, then cook the apples in the pan for about three minutes; remove them to a dish with a spatula. Pour the caramelly juices into a measuring cup and whisk in the cornstarch to form a paste.

Line the bottom and sides of the pie dish with the bigger disc of pastry (I had to roll it out first), and put the apples and blackberries into the pie. Pour over the cornstarch-butter mixture, stirring gingerly to cover all of the fruit without tearing the pastry. Roll out the smaller disc of pastry, dampen the edges of the pie with water, and put the pie lid on top. Crimp the edges, either by hand or using a fork, to seal. (Since my pie crust was a bit skimpy there wasn’t enough to reach all the way to the edge, so I had a lot of fruit poking through.) Decorate the top with any pastry scraps, made artistically into leaves, or stamped out into miniature apple shapes with cutters, or whatever takes your fancy.

Glaze with milk (I used soy) and cook for 30 minutes, by which time the still slightly knobbly top should be golden (My pie took almost twice as long to get golden). Sprinkle with sugar when it comes out of the oven, and leave for about 15 minutes before cutting into it.

Serves 6.

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