berry season is here!

I hadn’t been to the farmer’s market for a few weeks so was pleasantly surprised to see loads of strawberries, raspberries, and even a few tart cherries on Saturday.  Allegedly there are some local blueberries that are coming in too but alas, I bought mine on sale at the supermarket last week and they originated in California.  Never mind.  The season is upon us no matter where the berries may have grown!

I had been craving blueberry muffins ever since I brought the blueberries home so this morning got to quick work making it happen.  I tried a Barefoot Contessa recipe that sounded interesting due to the streusel topping (I’m a sucker for streusel toppings) and use of lemon zest in the batter.  I know Ina is a big fan of using lemon zest to bring out other flavors in baking (or adding coffee to chocolate baked goods to deepen the chocolate flavor) and it really works here.  It brightens the flavor of the muffin, if that makes sense.

They were a cinch to make and they made a lovely second breakfast this morning.  The first breakfast of steel cut oats was hearty and all but not the most exciting.  (No offense steel cut oats, we’re still bros.)

Blueberry Streusel Muffins (from “Barefoot Contessa: Back to Basics” by Ina Garten)

  • 3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 4 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups buttermilk, shaken
  • ¼ pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 ½ teaspoons grated lemon zest
  • 2 extra-large eggs
  • 2 cups fresh blueberries (2 half-pints)

For the streusel topping:

  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, diced

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Line two 12-cup muffin tins with paper liners.

Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl and blend with your hands.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, butter, lemon zest, and eggs.  Stir the buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture with a fork, mixing just until blended.  Fold the blueberries into the batter.  Don’t overmix!  With a standard (2 1/4-inch) ice-cream scoop or large spoon, scoop the batter into the prepared cups, filling them almost full.

For the topping, place all the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade and pulse until the butter is in very small pieces.  Pour into a bowl and rub with your fingers until crumbly.  Spoon about 1 tablespoon of the streusel on top of each muffin.  Bake the muffins for 20 to 25 minutes, until golden brown.

final burst of summer

How can it be Labor Day weekend already?  Didn’t summer just get started?  Just a few weeks ago I bought raspberries, blueberries, cherries, and yes even strawberries at the farmer’s market and now the only fruit I can find there is apples?  What???

No matter.  I didn’t let a little lack of fruit at the farmer’s market stop me from making something I wanted to ever since I saw a picture of it in July’s Bon Appetit magazine: hand pies.  And not just one batch of hand pies– I went full-on and did a double batch for a bbq I attended and made both blueberry and cherry varieties. 

And what does every pie start with?  Crust of course.

I made a lot of crust.  I knew there were going to be a lot of people at the bbq and since the recipe only made 12 individual pies I didn’t want anyone to feel left out so made 24 little hand pies.  What was I thinking?

The making of the crust was pretty simple, as was the making of the fillings.  In general, I find pies to be one of the easiest and quickest desserts to make and the thought of individual pies just seemed so quaint and fun that I couldn’t help myself.

I had visions of wrapping them all cute in individual wax paper bags and serving them from a basket lined with a vintage dish towel with some fun floral pattern on it.  Sounds lovely and charming, right?

A word to the wise: do not make these when you are slightly pressed for time.  Also it’s probably a good idea not to make them the first time you meet your future in-laws, say, or when you’re trying to impress your new boss.  Neither of those things was the case with me, I’m just trying to think of scenarios when it might not be a great time to try something so meticulous as crafting hand pies.

The rolling out of the dough and the slicing up into squares went well.  Dropping filling onto the squares even went pretty well, too.  (Note the below image was the last batch I put together.  The first few go-rounds were definitely not so photo-worthy…)

I’m a generous person and I want everyone’s pie to have a generous portion of filling.  That is not a good way to think when making hand pies.  A little dollop will do in this case.  Anything more than that will ooze out the side of the pie and prevent you from being able to seal it.

Sealing the pie is key.  Above is one of the few pies that actually looked halfway decent.  Below you will see the finished product when pies are not sealed properly.  Not the prettiest, but thank goodness for that parchment paper.  That saved me from having to scrub the baking sheets afterwards.  Thank you parchment  paper!

Fortunately the pies were not so unattractive once peeled off the parchment paper.  In fact, they were even kind of cute.  I ran out of time for the whole wax paper bag thing, but in the end it didn’t really matter– they were a hit at the bbq.  Happy Labor Day weekend and I hope you enjoy these last moments of summer!

Hand Pies (adapted from Blackberry Hand Pie and Cherry Hand Pie recipes from www.epicurious.com)

  • Pastry dough for a double-crust pie (see recipe below)
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 2 tablespoons raw sugar

Blueberry Hand Pie Filling

  • 2 ½ cups blueberries
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon tapioca flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 6 tablespoons sugar

Cook blueberries, tapioca flour, cinnamon and sugar in a 2-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until mixture just boils and is thickened, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a shallow bowl to cool.

Cherry Hand Pie Filling

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons tapioca flour
  • 2 cups fresh cherries, stemmed and pitted, or about 12 ounces frozen pitted cherries, unthawed
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

Combine fresh cherries, sugar and salt in a large saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until cherry juices are released, about 5 minutes. Add tapioca flour; bring to a boil, stirring often. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally.

Hand Pie Instructions

Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 375°F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Roll out half of dough 3/4 inch thick on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin into a 16- by 11-inch rectangle, then trim into a 15- by 10-inch rectangle, reserving scraps. Cut into 6 (5-inch) squares. Place a heaping tablespoon of fruit filling in center of 1 square. Moisten edges of square with milk and fold into a triangle, pressing edges to seal. Transfer to a lined baking sheet and press tines of a fork around edges of triangle. Make 5 more triangles in same manner, arranging them 1 inch apart on baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough and filling, rerolling all of the scraps together once to make 12 triangles total.

Brush triangles with milk and sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons raw sugar. Bake, switching position of pans halfway through baking, until pies are golden, about 30 minutes total. Transfer pies to racks to cool.

Pastry Dough (found at epicurious.com)

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1/4 cup cold vegetable shortening (preferably trans-fat-free)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 5 to 7 tablespoons ice water

Blend together flour, butter, shortening, and salt in a bowl with your fingertips or a pastry blender (or pulse in a food processor) just until mixture resembles coarse meal with some small (roughly pea-size) butter lumps. Drizzle 3 tablespoons ice water (for a single-crust pie) or 5 tablespoons for a double-crust pie evenly over mixture and gently stir with a fork (or pulse) until incorporated.

Squeeze a small handful of dough: If it doesn’t hold together, add more ice water 1/2 tablespoon at a time, stirring (or pulsing) until incorporated. Do not overwork dough, or pastry will be tough. Turn out dough onto a work surface. For a single-crust pie, divide dough into 4 portions; for a double-crust pie, divide dough into 8 portions. With heel of your hand, smear each portion once or twice in a forward motion to help distribute fat. Gather all dough together with pastry scraper. For a single-crust pie, press into a ball, then flatten into a 5-inch disk. For a double-crust pie, divide dough into 2 pieces, with one slightly larger, then form each into a ball and flatten each into a 5-inch disk. If dough is sticky, dust lightly with additional flour. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and chill until firm, at least 1 hour.

chess pie, take two

After making the chess tart a few weeks ago I quickly researched other versions of chess pie and found one that involves two things I know and love: blueberries and mascarpone cheese.  I happened to have some mascarpone cheese leftover from something I baked a few weeks prior, so thought it was a sign from the heavens.

This pie was not as sweet as the chess tart and the blueberries and mascarpone complimented each other well.

A short post today but will be back later in the week with a rustic cherry pie.  My favorite!

Blueberry Mascarpone Chess Pie (recipe by John McMillan published in Fresh Home magazine)

  • Pie dough (see recipe below)
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup 2% milk
  • ½ cup butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, divided
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
  • ¼ cup Mascarpone cheese

Roll dough out and place in 9-inch pie plate; flute edges.  Line unpricked pastry with a double thickness of heavy-duty foil.  Bake at 450 for 8 minutes.  Remove foil; bake 5 minutes longer.  Cool on a wire rack.

In a small bowl, whisk the eggs, sugar, milk, butter, 1 tablespoon flour and vanilla.  Toss blueberries with remaining flour; fold into filling.

Pour into crust.  Drop cheese by teaspoonfuls over filling.

Bake at 350 for 40-45 minutes or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean (cover edges with foil during the last 25 minutes to prevent overbrowning if necessary).  Cool on a wire rack.  Refrigerate leftovers.

One Crust Pie Pastry (from Betty Crocker’s Cookbook)

  • 1 cup all-purpose or unbleached flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon shortening
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons cold water

Mix flour and salt in medium bowl.  Cut in shortening, using pastry blender or crisscrossing 2 knives, until particles are size of small peas.  Sprinkle with cold water, 1 tablespoon at a time, tossing with fork until all flour is moistened and pastry almost leaves side of bowl (1 to 2 teaspoons more water can be added if necessary).

Gather pastry into a ball.  Shape into flattened round.  If desired, wrap flattened round of pastry in plastic wrap and refrigerate about 30 minutes to firm up the shortening slightly, which helps make the baked pastry more flaky and lets the water absorb evenly throughout the dough.

Roll pastry on lightly floured surface using floured rolling pin into circle 2 inches larger than upside-down pie plate.  Fold pastry into fourths and place in pie plate; or roll pastry loosely around rolling pin and transfer to pie plate.  Unfold or unroll pastry and ease into plate, pressing firmly against bottom and side and being careful not to stretch pastry, which will cause it to shrink when baked.

blueberry morning

Fact: I ate blueberry cobbler for breakfast this morning.  I had some left over from a cookout I hosted yesterday and the options were either the cobbler or yogurt and fruit and I eat yogurt and fruit for breakfast 297 days a year so the choice was clear.

I was kind of a picky eater when I was a kid and sometimes my mom would let me eat her home-made pies for breakfast.  She says she figured they had fruit in them and fruit was good for me, so why not.  I like this line of thinking and figure it applies to cobblers too.

I’ve been really into making pies lately but for this go-round decided to make a cobbler instead because they are slightly more low maintenance and I’m all about low maintenance.  No rolling out pie crust here.  In fact, cobblers encourage you to be sloppy and their recipes usually instruct you to “pile” “heaping” measuring cups full of dough on top of the fruit.  Awesome.

Looks like a pretty well-rounded breakfast, no?

Blueberry Cobbler (from www.epicurious.com)

  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 6 cups picked over blueberries
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into bits

In a large bowl stir together the cornstarch, sifted, and the granulated sugar and add the blueberries and the lemon juice. Toss the mixture until it is combined well and transfer it to a buttered 10-inch (6-cup) deep-dish pie plate.

In a bowl combine well the flour, the brown sugar, forced through a sieve, the baking powder, the salt, and the cinnamon, add the butter, and blend the mixture until it resembles coarse meal. Add 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons boiling water and stir the mixture until it just forms a dough. Drop 1/4 cupfuls of the dough over the blueberry mixture and bake the cobbler on a baking sheet in the middle of a preheated 400°F. oven for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the topping is golden and cooked through. Serve the cobbler warm with ice cream.