Grandma’s Pie Crust and Creeping Blackberries
We were able to pick enough wild blackberries last week to make a nice little pie. These real natives come on earlier than the introduced ones and their berries are small but packed with an intense blackberry flavor that will probably surprise you. If you can find enough of these guys to justify a pie or batch of preserved don’t pass it up, they are truly memorable!
Blackberry pie is one of my favorite desserts, well I love any pie really! I learned to make pie from my grandma Judy and use her crust recipe religiously. It makes flaky, flavorful crust, almost every time. Even when I have an off batch and it’s a little harder,tougher or less flaky it’s still pretty dang good.
One of the most important thing about making a good crust is the fat you use. It affect the flavor, texture and color. Many people use vegetable shortening but I think it makes a sad crust and it’s not any better for you than any of the other fats you could use. I use a mix of lard, coconut oil and butter for my crust ( all of which you can find at Wal-Mart so not being able to find them is no excuse to use vegetable shortening!).
You can make crust with just coconut oil or just lard but I find replacing even a few tablespoons with butter yields a better color, texture and flavor. You want your fats as cold as you can and still be able to work them into the flour, it makes a flakier crust. If you decide to use all coconut oil be aware it has a very low melting point. In hot weather or if you handle the dough a lot that can mean you will actually need less fat to get the crust right. Just work coconut oil into the flour in small portions, that way you can stop adding fat if it doesn’t need more instead of having to add more flour to make up for extra fat.
It’s also important to have your liquids cold. This, along with the fat, helps prevent gluten strand formation. Gluten is what gives bread that chewy texture. Warm water will encourage gluten formation and result in a tough pie dough.
*unbleached all purpose flour is probably going to be your best choice for flour, cake or bread flours will be your worst*
You can use this crust with any filling you like
This time our pie was a small blackberry. I sweeten to taste and add about a 1/3 of a cup of flour to thicken the juice.
4 cups flour (more for kneading and rolling)
1 1/4 cups fat
dashes of salt
1 egg + 1 tbs vinegar + water, to make 1 cup of liquid
Baked at 375 °F
Sift or whisk your flour and salt together. Then cut in the fat with a pastry cutter or a fork and your fingers. It should make a course crumb, if the flour already feels greasy you need to add more flour or the crust will be crumbly not flaky. Beat your egg, add a cap or tablespoons of vinegar and cold water to make a cup worth of liquid. Beat the egg, vinegar and water together well.
The liquid should make a course soft dough. If there are crumbs that didn’t get water add a little more to just wet them. Be careful about adding more water, add very small amounts until you reach a soft course dough.
Flour your work surface and portion half your dough out, this will be your bottom crust. Now you gently knead the dough. You are just trying to make a little texture, work the stickiness out and make the dough a cohesive lump. Once it seems like you will be able to roll the dough out in one piece you can stop kneading.
Lay down more flour and flour the dough. To get a circular crust, rotate the dough and the angle you are working from, to get a square crust work in mostly north-south east-west and only rotate it 90 degrees at a time. If at this point you realize your liquid/fat/flour ratio was off and the dough is not working like it should, sticking or crumbling; just stop and refrigerate the dough. It will harden the fats back up and stop more gluten strands from forming. Once the dough is chilled you can try again.
I try to eyeball how big the crust needs to be by comparing it to the pan. We prefer a thicker crust so you should experiment to see what you prefer, our crust is between an 1/8 and 1/4 of an inch thick.
Press your lower crust into the pan and add your filling. If you have a more floured side remember to put that facing in towards the filling, the flour will help thicken your filling. My grandma always adds butter on top of the filling and the top crust as well, I don’t do that, but I do use butter in my crust which grandma doesn’t always do.
Take the remaining dough and do the same as you did with the bottom crust. Gently knead and then roll it out to covers the pan and is the same thickness as the bottom crust.
There are a million ways to do the next two steps, so have fun with attaching your crust and making vent holes. I attach the top crust by pinches the overlay of both top and bottom crust off the edges. Then I press the top crust down into contact with the filling, roll and tuck the edges so it’s below the edge of the pan.
I used a meat fork to poke vent holes this time, I think the pie looked very pretty.
Since this pie was small I had about another single crust left over. Pie dough freezes lovely and can be refrigerated, in a cold fridge, for about a week before you use it. It works best if you freeze extra pie dough in flat disc.
I bake my pies, generally, at 375 °F unless the filling needs a different temperature. I never try to time them, which makes my husband crazy, It’s better to go by when the filling and crust is finished. Just check your pie often!
That’s about it Folks!
Try to temper your appetite long enough to let the filling set up before cutting into your pie.
What’s your favorite pie?