Each week I follow along with Ina Garten (aka the Barefoot Contessa) and attempt to recreate one of her dishes in my tiny New York City kitchen. The catch? This is my version of cooking school and I’m making these recipes for the first time. I’ll share both my successes and um, challenges, along the way and we’ll see if I can keep up with the Contessa!
Episode: “Easy as Pie”
The Set-up: Ina and Michael The Florist are trading lessons – she’s showing him pie techniques and he’s showing her flower arranging tricks.
0:44 – Since they’ll need fuel for the baking lesson, Ina is making Raspberry Corn Muffins to get them started.
1:07 – Ina promises that these corn muffins won’t be “dry as a bone” and she’s not messing around – between the eggs, milk, and two sticks of butter about 3 cups of liquid is mixed in.
2:00 – Pro Tip #1: Don’t over mix the muffins or the gluten will develop and make them tough. Pro Tip #2: Use an ice cream scoop (the kind with the trigger) to portion the batter perfectly.
3:39 – We check in with Michael The Florist and he’s prepping to show Ina how to make a “hedge” flower arrangement.
4:26 – Back with Ina to pipe raspberry jam into the corn muffins. I can see that my lack of a piping bag is holding me back from filling things up with jam…
5:11 – Michael The Florist arrives and is immediately handed a freshly baked, freshly be-jammed muffin. I bet they’re still warm and I reeeally wish I had one right now.
9:13 – Pastry Lesson #1: Lighten the flour and level it off in the measuring cup. If you forget how many you’ve put in, start over. (Not that I’ve ever had to do that…)
10:01 – Pastry Lesson #2: Really cold butter, really cold shortening, really cold water. If you’re me you’re wondering how on earth she diced shortening and then you’re remembering that they make it in sticks now. Progress in our time!
11:19 – Pastry Lesson #3: Quickly collect the dough into a ball, wrap it in plastic and chill it in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to let it relax. Keeping everything cold makes the butter release steam when it hits the hot oven.
13:30 – Both fillings need a thickening agent to help the fruit and juices stay together in the pie. The Strawberry Rhubarb calls for cornstarch, while the Fresh Blueberry uses flour. I wonder why the difference? This calls for some research…
14:31 – Pastry Lesson #4: Generously flour the surface before rolling out the crust to make sure it doesn’t stick.
15:16 - Pastry Lesson #5: Roll the dough from the center turning the crust periodically to form an even circle.
16:43 – Pastry Lesson #6: If the edge cracks, brush it with just a little with water and press the pieces back together.
17:05 – Pastry Lesson #7: Hold the pie plate you’re using over the rolled dough to help determine if it’s large enough. Then use the rolling pin to help lift the crust into the pan and ease the dough into the bottom. Don’t stretch it!
18:39 – Ina is doing a lattice top on her pie and Michael The Florist is doing a plain top. I still haven’t attempted a lattice top, but it seems far more do-able than it used to.
22:24 – Pastry Lesson #8: Glue the top and bottom crust together with egg wash and then press together with a fork, or by folding the bottom over the top and crimp the dough between two fingers so that it forms a ruffle along the edge.
23:46 – Time for the flower lesson, and in case you’re wondering, Michael The Florist is wearing a peony colored sweater that matches the blooms perfectly.
24:52 – A hedge arrangement seems to be long rectangles of that green foam flower oasis in low trays that are then covered with the flowers like a topiary. And now I want them to make one with boxwood.
25:29 – Flower Lesson #1: Choose a consistent color palette in a variety of shapes and textures. Flower Lesson #2: Place the larger flowers first then fill in with smaller blooms working from hydrangeas, peonies down to garden and spray roses.
26:03 – Flower Lesson #3: To ensure guests can see over the flowers put your elbow on the table and don’t make the arrangement any taller than your wrist. This is a brilliant hack. Flower Lesson #4: Avoid heavily scented flowers like freesia and lilies, they compete with the food!
27:44 – Wedding-ish flowers are done, but instead of cake Ina and Michael The Florist gleefully decide they’ll celebrate with “Pie!!!” instead.
28:57 – A toast with forkfuls of flaky pastry and fruit before Michael The Florist tries to abscond with the rest of the Fresh Blueberry. Ina resists tackling him to the ground, but just barely.
I’ve been trying to up my pie game this year (2015, The Year of the Pie) and I truly am finding that practice is leading to better results.
This pie making tutorial is right on point for summer – so much fruit, so many pies to make!
Who else thinks that both Ina and Michael The FloristTM will continue to outsource their flower and pie making needs, respectively?
I’ve basically only ever made apple pie, which now that I read it in black and white sounds kind of sad, so Fresh Blueberry Pie was a new challenge and pie crust is always a challenge for me, although I’m getting better! I took a class with Food52’s pie whisperer, Erin McDowell last December and my efforts with this recipe were definitely influenced by the wisdom she shared.
Dough Recipe – Confession time: shortening creeps me out, and while I’ve used it in pie crust before I wanted to try making a crust with butter only. Or, more accurately Erin McDowell’s All Buttah Pie Dough doubled for two 9” crusts.
Dough Mixing – Ina’s technique of using a food processor to mix the dough is amazingly easy, so much better than using a pastry cutter and trying to mix it by hand, although it certainly can be done.
Soggy Crust Avoidance Step #1 – I love fruit pies, but soggy bottom crust, not so much. If you’re with me on this, then I have fantastic news!!! I tried a new technique called par-baking – Erin’s guidance on the subject is detailed here – but in a nutshell it means partially baking just the lower crust (10-12 minutes was about right – you don’t want the edge to get too dark when it bakes again later.)
Soggy Crust Avoidance Step #2 – I also brushed the par-baked crust with egg wash before filling it with the blueberries, a recommended step for further preventing the crust from absorbing too much juice. The result: a crisp, firm bottom crust that has enough structural integrity to hold the slice together! [choirs of angels sing…] It does take an extra step, but for me it’s worth it.
Fancy Top Crust – I admit, I got a little fancy here, again Erin is responsible for giving me ideas, but here’s the good news: this is at least as easy as making a top crust and possibly a little easier. I just rolled out the dough to about the size I’d need for the top crust, then used large star-shaped cookie cutters. I free-form layered the stars on top of the blueberries and brushed each layer with egg wash to help the pieces stick together. That’s it!
Small Kitchen Friendly?
More than most pies, no peeling or slicing required! For the pastry I used a 6 cup food processor, 9” pie plate, measuring cups and spoons, rolling pin, cookie cutter, a utility knife, a small cutting board, pastry brush and a small bowl. Additionally, for the filling I needed a medium mixing bowl, microplane zester, and rubber spatula. Plastic wrap, parchment paper, and pie weights (dry rice or beans work perfectly and can be re-used) round out the necessary items.
As you can imagine a Fresh Blueberry Pie with a crisp, all buttah crust is pretty darn amazing. The blueberries are perfectly complimented by the gentle zing of lemon zest and turn just this side of a molten blueberry preserve. I served it to friends who had come over for Saturday night cards – we’re channeling our parents and trying to learn bridge. Perfect on it’s own, even more delicious with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Maybe for this weekend or the Fourth of July?