Pie is a surprisingly divisive topic. I’ve seen perfectly sane bakers on the verge of a fist fight over whether the best crusts are made with butter or lard. I’ve heard pastry chefs talk mountains of trash over other chefs’ under-baked or over-browned pies. I’ve seen people almost in tears because of a soupy filling, ready to throw in the towel and give up pie-making forever.
I get it. Pie is not the easiest baked good to master. The different water and pectin content of fruit makes the filling tricky. A golden, flaky crust takes patience and attention to detail. I understand why so many of you are intimidated to bake up a pie of your own.
But you shouldn’t be.
I’m not going to go so far as to say that pie is easy. There are about a dozen steps for baking a lovely one. To do it right takes the greater part of a morning or afternoon. But a bubbling-hot pie, fresh from the oven is a thing of beauty. And a still warm slice with a scoop of vanilla ice cream is one of life’s great pleasures.
In this respect, pie is like a lot of other great experiences. It’s daunting and takes work and sometimes feels unattainable. Like actually understanding wine. Or finally buying a pair of jeans that make your ass look amazing. Or finding that perfect someone to grow old and grey with.
Or venturing to a glorious city like Paris on your own--which is what I’m currently doing. Despite the fact that this is my favorite city in the world, and that I’ve been here more times than I can count, and that I actually enjoy being alone, I feel out of sorts and awkward. I woke up feeling like this whole trip was a bad idea and that I’d be much happier at home in my own bed.
Luckily, I’ve had these feelings of homesickness and insecurity often enough to know that they aren’t real. They’re just my mind trying to trick me into playing it safe.
Life, however, is way too short for always playing it safe. There are too many inspiring people to meet and too many new places to discover. And too many pies to bake.
So I’m here to remind you that if you think there’s something spectacular on the other side of your dreams, it’s always worth the discomfort it takes to get there. Even if the thing or person (or pie) turns out not to be as life-changing as you’d hoped, the journey will leave you that much richer.
Double-Ginger Blackberry Plum Pie
- 1 recipe flaky pie dough (see below)
- 2 lbs firm-ripe plums (I used Italian prune plums, but any mix of plums will work)
- 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
- 2 ½ tablespoons cornstarch, divided
- 9 tablespoons sugar, divided
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger
- 1½ oz. (1/4 cup) candied ginger
- Pinch salt
- 8 oz blackberries (about 2 cups)
Flaky Pie Dough
1 lb + 2 oz (4 cups) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
8 oz (2 sticks) butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled
5 oz (1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons) lard, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup cold water
1 whole egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water (or 3 tablespoons cream or milk), to glaze
1-2 tablespoons turbinado, demerara or sanding sugar (regular old sugar will work, too)
*Notes: I straddle the Great Pie Crust Debate by using both butter and lard in my crust. The butter adds flavor, but also extra flakiness as the water in the butter is transformed to steam in the oven and creates little pockets throughout the dough. The lard creates flakes as well, adds tenderness and, due to its higher melting point, makes the dough easier to work with. I render my own leaf lard or buy it from Bob's Quality Meats or Rain Shadow Meats here in Seattle. If you don’t want to use lard, I recommend an all-butter crust (just sub butter for the lard in this recipe)--it will be delicious and only a bit harder to work with. If you work quickly and your ingredients are super cold before you begin, you shouldn't even notice any difference.
- Freezing your lard before you begin will make it easier to cut into pieces.
- Some varieties of plums can release a lot of juice once you sprinkle sugar on them. If your plums give off a lot of liquid, you’ll need to pour most of it off before baking to avoid a soggy crust and loose filling.
- If you manage to save some pie for later, don’t refrigerate it! This ruins the beautiful, flaky texture of the crust. Just tuck it under a dish towel and leave on the counter overnight.
Before you begin, make sure your butter, lard and cold water have been in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. If the weather is warm or your kitchen tends to be toasty, chill your flour as well.
In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar and salt. Separate the pieces of chilled butter and toss them in the flour mixture to coat. Do the same with the lard. When all the pieces of fat have been coated in flour, pick up a piece of butter or lard between your thumb and first two fingers. Slide your thumb over the butter or lard while pressing down on it in order to form a long, thin strip. Drop this strip back into the bowl so it becomes coated with flour. Continue until all the pieces of butter and lard have been flattened. Some of the flakes will break and the dough will take on a slightly crumbly or sandy appearance, which is just fine. Place the bowl in the freezer for 5-10 minutes to re-chill the fat.
Drizzle the cold water and vinegar onto the chilled flour and fat mixture, tossing constantly with a flexible silicone or rubber spatula or a large spoon. Continue adding water until the mixture is moist enough to form a dough when you pinch it together. If you have used ¾ cup of water and the dough seems dry, give it a few more turns with your spatula or spoon and then pinch off a golf ball sized piece of dough. Squeeze it and see if it wants to come together into a dough. If it is too crumbly and won’t form a dough, add a bit more water, a couple teaspoons at a time, until the mixture forms a dough when you pinch it together.
Turn out the dough (it will be shaggy) onto a large work surface and gather it together into a ball. Do not knead it as this will toughen the dough. Divide it in half with a bench scraper or knife. Form each half into a ball and then flatten each ball into a disk about 3/4-inch thick. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap or parchemnt and chill for at least an hour before rolling. (The dough can be refrigerated for up to 2 days, or placed in a ziploc bag and frozen for up to 2 months. If frozen, thaw the dough in the refrigerator overnight and soften slightly at room temperature before rolling out.)
Roll out one disk of dough to roughly 1/4-inch thickness. Place the dough into a pie plate. Lift and press it into the edges of the plate. Do not stretch the dough into the edges as this will make your crust shrink as it bakes. Trim and crimp the edges of your crust and place the pan in the freezer for at least 15 minutes.
On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the other disk of dough to roughly 1/4-inch thickness. Cut out a circle roughly 1 inch larger than the top diameter of your pie plate. For a latticed pie, cut this circle into wide strips. Place the strips on a plate and refrigerate while you make the filling.
When you are ready to bake the pie, arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat it to 425°F.
Cut the plums into quarters if they're large or halves if they're small, discarding the pits. Place the plums in a large mixing bowl and toss gently with the lemon juice and ½ cup of the sugar. Set aside to rest for 20-30 minutes. Pour off the juice from the plums, discarding all of it except for ½ cup. Toss the plums (and ½ cup juice) with two tablespoons of the cornstarch, the candied and dried ginger and a pinch of salt.
Place the blackberries in a medium mixing bowl and toss with the remaining 1 ½ teaspoons of the cornstarch and 1 tablespoon of sugar.
To fill the pie crust, pour half of the plum mixture onto your well-chilled or frozen bottom crust. Arrange half of the blackberries over the plums. Top with the rest of the plum mixture and then the rest of the blackberries. Place the dough strips from the refrigerator on top of the berries, weaving them into a lattice pattern. Trim the edges to overhang by ¾ inch. Fold the top edges of the lattice over the bottom crust, tuck the edges under and crimp. Place the filled and topped pie back in the freezer to chill for 15 minutes.
(I know, I know. There’s a lot of chilling and freezing and waiting around. But taking the time to par-freeze your pie will help keep your crust from slumping in the oven.)
Brush the top crust with the egg wash (or cream or milk) and then sprinkle with the sugar. Place the pie on a sheet pan and bake until the crust is lightly browned, about 30 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F and continue baking until the crust is dark golden brown, about 45-60 minutes longer. I like my crust deeply caramelized.
Remove the pie from the oven and allow it to cool before serving. (The longer you let it cool, the easier it will be to slice.)