It's taken me a while to come to terms with the fact that this blog contains something of a contradiction. Despite its name, this will actually be my first post about pie, at least about one that I myself have made. I mention this just in case you were wondering, dear reader, why a blog called A Finger in Every Pie never seems to deal with, well, pie. Tarts, yes, cookies and cakes a-plenty, healthy vegetable treats, savory dishes of all descriptions -- but it's true, it's true, we have been sadly remiss in the pie department.
You see, the name of the blog came about when I was, of course, trying to think of something snappy and clever and food-related. At one point, the term "a finger in every pie" was running in competition with "a piece of cake", which (considering that my baking abilities seem to be much more attuned to turning out successful cakes than good pies) might have been a more fitting choice. However, the blog name "A Finger In Every Pie" just seemed to have that slightly naughty bit of mischief that suited me, a dabbler in all things rather than a mistress of any. "A Piece of Cake" would have had a breezy arrogance that I misliked, implying that it was all just too, too easy for me. Which, as you'll see, is never really the case.
Although faced with the dreaded pie anxiety syndrome whenever I have occasion to pick up a pastry blender, I do love pie. As you know from the previous post, we almost never go to the Blue Benn without taking a piece of pie to go, even though we're too full from our meals to eat dessert on the spot. Last weekend, after driving me to Montauk for a work retreat and then picking me up as well, G indulged me by making a not-inconsiderable detour to Riverhead on the way home so that I could buy pies at the famed Briermere farm stand. Greater love hath no domestic partner, since this entire taking-to and picking-up operation pretty much killed his weekend, entailing many hours of horrendous driving with merely my undying love and gratitude as recompense, and my company on only half the drives as consolation. And with all that, he still stopped for pies.
Two weeks ago, when we had that piece of bumbleberry pie from the Blue Benn after our speeding ticket fiasco, I told you that I'd try to make my own. I spent some time reading recipes, deconstructing and reconstructing what I would want in such a pie. Truthfully, that Blue Benn pie slice was a bit lacking in the berry department, having a rather high ratio of apples to other fruit. I know that many a bumbleberry recipe includes apples, but as far as I'm concerned, the berries are the thing. Last weekend's pies from Briermere had admirable crusts, but the lemon meringue's meringue was overbeaten and overbaked, causing the fluffy whites to be grainy and separated, with an overly eggy flavor. The raspberry peach (which I chose since they had no bumbleberry, jumbleberry, nor 3-berry either), obviously made with out-of-season fruit, also lacked enough berries. And it was a bit on the over-thickened side for me. I prefer a filling that errs on the side of a bit runny rather than overly gloopy.
So I set off, as promised, to make my own bumbleberry pie. I had the perfect occasion, too, since we'd been invited for dinner by Nathalie and Josh, and I'd said I would bring dessert. I eschewed the idea of apples, since I think they're best off in a pie of their own, where they can shine in spice-laden glory, rather than interfering with my precious berries. Instead, I thought to use some lovely, ruby-red rhubarb, which I'd also purchased along with pies at Briermere last weekend, and which was holding up just fine in the fridge.
Early yesterday morning I got up with pie on my mind. I laid my crust anxieties aside for the moment, made a crust which came together easily (perhaps a little too easily), and popped it into the fridge for a little rest. Then I was out into the world. Would the farm stands have berries other than strawberries? If so, bumbleberry it would be -- if not, strawberry-rhubarb would have to be my game. I was in luck -- there were local strawberries, blueberries and raspberries for sale, if at slightly astronomical early-season prices. I also looked longingly and with no little surprise at the baskets of sour cherries, which had come in literally WEEKS earlier than last season. No time for them today, however, nor in the coming week, since I'd be out of town all next week. I could only hope there would still be some left when I returned to the city.
After numerous other errands, I returned home and rolled out the crust. I'd watched an online video with a very self-assured, slightly stuffy and condescending lady named Caroline who showed me once again how to roll out my dough into a perfect circle, drape it lovingly into my pie pan, line it with fruit, and top it with another flawless perfect dough circle, crimping it all into perfect glory. The rolling went well, despite the fact that I dropped my extremely heavy marble rolling pin on my toe, which I seemed to have yanked out from the crushing blow just in the nick of time. Bruised but not broken. These things never seem to happen to pie-lady Caroline, or at least they don't show up in her videos. But yes, the rolling itself was going nicely, and once again, a little too much so. My suspicions were aroused. This dough wasn't crumbling on me. It was holding together so well, so...so...oh lord, so stretchily, glutinously well, that I could tell it wasn't going to be the flaky, buttery mass of my dreams. Ah, well, too late now. The filling would have to be the thing.
Chopped rhubarb went into my bowl along with all my lovely berries. A measure of sugar, and some clear jel, recommended to me instead of cornstarch and/or tapioca (and no better or worse for you than either of those, I'm quite sure). Then came the touch that set this pie apart from all other bumbleberries -- a couple of splashes of eau-de-vie de framboise. No interference from citrus juices or rinds, no cinnamon or other spices, no extracts -- just a clear distillation of berry aroma to heighten what was already there. Despite my crust misgivings, I piled it in, crimped away, and did as guru Rose Levy Beranbaum suggested -- placed a cookie sheet lined with greased foil on the lowest oven rack to preheat while my pie had its last pre-baking chill-out in the fridge. An hour or so later the crusts had browned well, and the pie had spilled enough of its juices that I could be sure the fruit was cooked.
The pie was still quite hot when we boxed it up, grabbed a couple of bottles of wine and set off for Nathalie and Josh's home, picking up a pint of good vanilla bean ice cream on the way. Dinner was wonderful -- tapenade toasts to accompany strong drinks, an insalata caprese to follow, spicy pasta and then grilled tuna and vegetables -- a real treat for us, since we have no grill and indeed no outdoors in which to have one. Josh and Nathalie live in a studio which is admittedly small for their needs and liking, but it's in a lush doorman building -- and they can never ever move, according to Josh, since it's one of those NYC miracles with an unmentionably low rent. It has another huge advantage -- a lovely terrace, which Nathalie has, with her artist's sensibilities, transformed into a lush urban jungle of flowers and gorgeous living bamboo, making a sweet green screen of privacy. Josh grilled up masses of food on their little hibachi, and insisted on putting about a pound of tuna on each of our plates, which despite its deliciousness, we could only dent slightly. After much laughter, many unprintable jokes and comments, and bottles of excellent wine (including a special score which Josh had brought back from a recent trip to France) we were ready for a breather. And then we were ready for pie.
Truly, it was just as I'd thought. The filling was fantastic, with that true berries-of-the-woods flavor, and properly runny but not soggy. But the crust was far too tough for my liking. I could tell that it simply wasn't short enough. It needed more butter, and perhaps a bit of shortening as well. I pouted, and said I'd have to try again. The others, with their lips empurpled and their mouths full of pie, protested that it was all delectable, but didn't demur at the idea of having another a few weeks hence.
Jumbleberry, Rhu-bumbleberry, BumbleRhuberry, or just plain Bumbleberry Pie
Your favorite pie crust recipe, enough for 2 crusts (I won't include the less-than-stellar one that I tried)
2 cups rhubarb, cleaned and diced in 1/2 inch pieces
3 cups fresh strawberries, cut in halfs or quarters, depending on size
1 1/2 cups blueberries
1 1/2 cups raspberries
Scant cup of sugar
1/4 cup ClearJel (from King Arthur Baking Company) or equivalent cornstarch and/or quick-cooking tapioca
2 tablespoons eau-de-vie de framboise
bits of butter for dotting
Preheat your oven to 425F. Roll out your crusts and line your pie tin (I used a ten-inch, which was probably why 7 cups of fruit worked well; if your pie-plate is nine-inch, you may want to use only 6 cups of fruit, and adjust the additional ingredients accordingly) with the bottom crust. Mix the sugar, ClearJel and salt in a small bowl. Put all the fruit in a larger bowl, and toss lightly with the sugar mixture. Add the eau-de-vie, and toss again. Place the fruit, nicely mounded, in the pastry-lined pie tin. Cover with the other crust, and crimp it all together artfully, remembering the stuffy pie-lady's video. Stab a few steam vents in the top crust. Place the pie in the fridge for a last pre-chill before baking. Line a baking sheet with foil and grease it lightly, then place it on the bottom rack of the oven to preheat. After 15 minutes or so, place the pie on the baking sheet, and bake for 20-30 minutes. Check to see that the edges aren't over-browning. If they are, crimp foil around them or use pie shields. Lower the heat to 375F, and bake for another 30 to 40 minutes, until the crust is well browned and rich juices have bubbled over onto the pie sheet. Cool for at least 3 hours before serving. I love all fruit pies with vanilla ice-cream, but if you prefer whipped cream or indeed no accompaniment at all, that too would be fine.
Notice: AFIEP will be on hiatus for a while, since I am off to a conference/retreat in the beautiful Cascade mountains of Washington State. I will return with tales to tell, I'm sure.