italian plum pie

italian plum pie

I’m writing you this week from Brussels. Beau and I are staying with friends and recharging between the Paris photography workshop we hosted and the retreat we’re leading in Portugal. Since we arrived, our days have mostly involved sleeping late, cooking with all the gorgeous fall produce, leisurely meals with friends and long walks through the forest. Needless to say, I do not want to leave.

double-ginger blackberry plum pie

Image: Olaiya Land

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.

Image: Olaiya Land

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. 

Image: Olaiya Land

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.

Image: Olaiya Land

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.

Image: Olaiya Land

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.  

Image: Olaiya Land

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.

Image: Olaiya Land

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.)

Image: Olaiya Land

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.

Image: Olaiya Land

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.)

Serves 6-8.

Image: Olaiya Land

cardamom-roasted plum sundaes

cardamom-roasted plum sundaes //
cardamom-roasted plum sundaes //

We had  a dinner party last week to celebrate my friend Sanda being in town with her family. For those of you who don’t know her, Sanda is a talented photographer and a fantastic cook. Oh, and she happens to be the voice behind the beautiful food and lifestyle blog Little Upside Down Cake. No pressure.

I invited several Seattle friends to join us, including other accomplished cooks and food aficionados, and set about crafting my menu. 

cardamom-roasted plum sundaes //

I knew that there were several food allergies and restrictions to take into consideration. It was only when I tallied them up that I began to doubt the genius of my plan. Between the 10 of us, there were half a dozen major dietary restrictions.

Full disclosure: I am an inveterate omnivore. There is nothing I don’t or won’t eat. (Well, tripe and I have some issues, but that’s another story…) I know there are LOTS of people who don’t or can’t eat various foods these days. But somehow I don’t really have any of them in the circle of friends I cook for often. And so I’ve been sailing along cooking and eating whatever I please and not thinking twice about anyone’s special dietary needs.

Until last week. 

cardamom-roasted plum sundaes //

I’m a little embarrassed to say that working out a menu without wheat or dairy or corn or oats or pork or alcohol that was at least kid-friendly-ish was more of a challenge than I expected. Perhaps no one knows this better than Beau, who had to listen to me whine and moan about it for at least a week beforehand. (Have I mentioned what a good husband I have?)

I was jolted awake late one night by thoughts of dinner party disaster and proceeded to spend the next several hours “brainstorming”. Beau found me at 6 the next morning, huddled under a pile of cookbooks on the couch muttering vaguely about gluten-free desserts and how to put together an appetizer course without charcuterie. He pried the cookbooks from my hands and ushered me back to bed. 

cardamom-roasted plum sundaes //
cardamom-roasted plum sundaes //

Eventually, I decided I was being ridiculous (even by my own weird and obsessive standards) and that I needed to stop freaking out and just do my best and hope the dinner would go over well. 

I think it went over just fine. I ended up making dishes from all over the Mediterranean--lamb with pistachio-mint pesto, roasted beets on white bean hummus with fresh herbs, heirloom tomatoes with a currant-pine nut vinaigrette. And for dessert, I decided to keep it as simple as possible and came up with these Cardamom-Roasted Plums. 
I halved ripe plums from the farmers market and tossed them with brown sugar and a little fresh orange juice to highlight their sweet and sour character. Then I added a cinnamon stick and some ground cardamom because plums + cardamom = deliciousness. I finished with a drizzle of olive oil to ensure a silky texture and roasted the plums in a hot oven until they released their juices and made a gorgeous jewel-toned sauce. I spooned the warm plums and sauce over vanilla ice cream for the dairy lovers and this really delicious frozen cashew cream for those not so into dairy. 

They were my favorite part of the meal. 

Besides the company, of course. And the reminder that challenges often yield the sweetest rewards.

cardamom-roasted plum sundaes //

Cardamom-Roasted Plum Sundaes

  • 1 ½ lbs plums, halved (or quartered if large) and pits removed
  • Juice of one large orange
  • 6 tablespoons water
  • ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • ¼ cup light brown sugar (loosely packed)
  • Pinch kosher or sea salt
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Vanilla ice cream, to serve

*Notes: You can use any kind of plums or pluots you like. Feel free to mix for variety of texture and flavor.

- Don't stop at ice cream. Roasted plums are delicious on yogurt, fresh ricotta, oatmeal, rice pudding... And if you add a bit less sugar, I bet they'd be quite nice on roast pork or duck, too.

cardamom-roasted plum sundaes //

Preheat the oven to 450° F. 

Place plums cut-side-up on a parchment-lined rimmed sheet pan. Pour the orange juice and water over the plums. Sprinkle the brown sugar, cardamom and salt over the plums. Nestle the cinnamon stick down among the plums and drizzle the olive oil over the top.

Roast in the preheated oven until the plums are soft (you want some to be falling apart) and their juices have thickened slightly, 15-25 minutes. The time will vary depending on the size and ripeness of your plums.

Remove from the oven and cool slightly.

To assemble the sundaes, scoop the vanilla ice cream into bowls or cups. Top with warm plums and sauce and serve immediately.

Makes enough plums for 8 sundaes.

cardamom-roasted plum sundaes //