Vacation Blueberry Pie

Cooking in an unfamiliar kitchen is always a bit of an adventure.  You never know what you’re going to find, what “obvious essentials” will be glaringly absent, what will need to be improvised, and whether you’ll rise to the occasion.

Vacation Blueberry Pie (10 of 12)

Last week, our family all rented a house together in Cape Cod.  And I should say extended family–not just us three sisters and our parents but various generations of in-laws and of course my two sons to lap up all the attention.  While we made sure to eat plenty of fried seafood, ice cream, and pizza, we also made use of the kitchen, which came fully stocked with all sorts of pantry items of varying age (how old exactly were the three 16 ounce jars of ground nutmeg?) and provenance.  And because the rule of the house was that anything you use up has to be replaced by the end of your stay, lots of boxes were nearly–but not quite–emptied.  It’s always the technicalities isn’t it?

Vacation Blueberry Pie (3 of 12)

Since we had a full house, though, we were going to the grocery store seemingly every day.  And with so many people to feed, in summer, I decided I had to make a pie.  But here’s that part about the trickiness of baking in someone else’s kitchen.  There was no pie plate to be found.  Nor a rolling pin.  And I hardly have to tell you that lacking those two items, there was no pastry cutter.

Vacation Blueberry Pie (4 of 12)

Vacation Blueberry Pie (6 of 12)

But this is a happy tale of staring down hardships and succeeding, not a mournful tale of a dessert that never came to be.  After all, adversity is the mother of invention.

Vacation Blueberry Pie (8 of 12)

Vacation Blueberry Pie (7 of 12)

As for the first obstacle–the missing vessel–a 9 X 13 casserole dish proved to be more than a perfect substitute.  More than perfect since its roomier size meant more pie for all–hardly a tragedy.  I used 1 1/2 times my normal pie dough recipe which yielded a generous amount of crust.  And that dough was made by the most low-tech method of all, simply rubbing the butter into the flour:  a technique I have a newfound confidence in, thanks to this video.

Vacation Blueberry Pie (5 of 12)

Finally, the best kitchen hack, and one which proves that good wine always saves the day.  A wine bottle (we had a few in the fridge) made a fine stand-in for a rolling pin, with its naturally cool surface, heft, and smooth cylindrical shape.  It was easy to maneuver, despite its missing “handle” on one end, and while I feared sloshing alcohol would be distracting to my work, a full bottle turned out to glide right along the surface.  The label left a slight indentation in the rolled-out dough, but for me the additional evidence of my weapon of choice was charming rather than frustrating.  I wouldn’t, however, recommend using a fine vintage for this, if you’re one of those people who saves the labels in a wine diary–things got a bit messy.  All in all, I was pretty excited about this whole process.  I’ll be using a rolling pin when available but freely admit that I’ll be patting myself on the back about this one for a while.  Who cares if I can’t claim to have invented the idea?  Note that I’ve added extra tips on the rolling out process–applicable to whatever tool you’re using–in the recipe itself.

Vacation Blueberry Pie (2 of 12)

I subbed in limes for lemons, as I like to do–its zing pairs nicely with blueberries, and we had plenty on hand for gin and tonics anyway.  Brown sugar had been purchased for cookies and was used instead of the pantry’s remaining scrapings of white sugar.  After all, we wouldn’t want to have to replace it now, would we?

Vacation Blueberry Pie (1 of 2)

Bright afternoon sun, sea air only steps away and fresh blueberry pie passed around a large table.  And a bit of adventure (broadly defined). Can’t get more summer than that.

Vacation Blueberry Pie (2 of 2)

Vacation Blueberry Pie

Note:  These measurements are for a 9 X 13 casserole dish. If  you’re in a more fully stocked kitchen and want to use a regular pie plate, use 6 cups of blueberries, and reduce the sugar (so long as you want to keep it on the less sweet side, as I do).

Pie Crust 
  • 3 3/4c flour
  • 4 1/2 t sugar
  • 1 1/2 t salt
  • 3 sticks (12 ounces, or 1 1/2 cups) very cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2″ pieces
  • 3/4 to 1c ice cold water (put a cup of the coldest water you have in the fridge with ice in it for at least 15 minutes).

Pie Filling

  • 8c blueberries (4 pint packages)
  • 2/3 c brown sugar
  • 1/4c corn starch
  • 1 lime (zest and juice)

Note that there is chilling time in this recipe, so make sure to factor this into your plans.  This need not be a nuisance–you can make the crust a day (or a few) ahead so that you need only roll it out, fill it, and bake it the day you want to serve it.

Make the pie crust.  Stir the flour, salt, and sugar together.  Cut the cold butter into the flour mixture until it is pebbly with pea size chunks, and clumps together when you grasp it.  (See my post here for full instructions, or alternately rub the butter into the flour as I described earlier in this post).  Dribble in the cold water and stir with a spatula until it forms a rough ball.  Only add as much water as is necessary to form the ball–it may be less than the recipe calls for and will depend on the humidity in your kitchen.

Dump onto a clean surface and flatten the dough into a rough square.  Cut it in half, with one half slightly larger than the other.  (This happens to me without even trying, of course!)  Wrap in plastic and chill for at least an hour.

Take the larger piece of dough out of the refrigerator and unwrap.  Place on a well-floured surface, then flip it over.  This is easier than flouring your rolling pin, though technically it’s better to flour the pin.  I like to make fingerprint indentations around the perimiter of the dough to help soften the edges–this seems to help prevent cracking.  Note that although the name of the game in pastry is cold, cold, cold, I do find that if the dough is TOO cold it’s almost impossible to roll–though no one ever seems to admit this.  You can whack it a bit with your rolling pin to soften it or just give it a few minutes to soften slightly on its own before proceeding.

Roll the dough out into a large rectangle.  Trim it so that it measures 13 inches by 17 inches.  Fold in half, and then in half again, and transfer to the casserole dish.   Chill for a half hour.

In the meantime, make the filling–stir together the berries, sugar, cornstarch, zest, and juice and set aside.  Preheat the oven to 425F.

Remove the second piece of dough from the refrigerator, and roll into a rectangle trimmed to measure about 11 inches by 15 inches.  Remove the casserole dish from the refrigerator, fill with the berries, and transfer the second piece of dough on top.  Pat it down gently over the filling, and crimp the edges together with the lower layer of crust.  (Crimp with your fingers by holding your thumb and pointer finger together on one side of the joined pieces of dough, while using your other pointer finger to push the dough into those two fingers–I think of it like making little triangles).  Trim any excess dough, cut slits in the top to let steam escape, and slide onto a cookie sheet to catch any spills in the oven.

Place the dish on the cookie sheet in the oven and bake for about an hour or until the juices are bubbling and thick and the crust is nicely browned.  After 45 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees.

Vacation Blueberry Pie (9 of 12)

Scandinavian Oatbake with Blueberries and Raspberries

The pernicious “bigger is better” myth even threatens to influence the selection of cookbooks for my ever-growing collection. I tend to think that biggest bang for my book buck is a hefty, substantial tome–the more recipes the better, right?  (How many do I use?  Don’t ask).  Meanwhile, I’ll admit to sometimes looking askance at the more modest ones: how much am I going to use a little book? Surely it always seems that they’ll just take up shelf space–and surely you’ll not get that much use out of it right?

Blueberry Raspberry Oat Bake (2 of 6)

But now it’s time to dredge up another cliché: quality over quantity always wins. Perhaps big books are just too overwhelming, or perhaps it’s just a question of picking the right books: If that slender little volume is full of amazing recipes, it’s most definitely the better value.  A carefully curated set of great recipes is more valuable than a book that just flings lists and instructions at you, none of which are particularly compelling.  No secret that I turn to Kim Boyce’s Good to the Grain more often than perhaps is wise, or Anupy Singla‘s Indian Slow Cooker which is at least as virtuous as it is easy to fit into a workday.  And now I’ve found another–Miisa Mink’s utterly charming Nordic Bakery cookbook, based on favorites from her bakery in London.  Since it opened in 2007, my stay in London only just barely overlapped with its arrival, which, while sad, may be a good thing.  But now that I have this cookbook in hand, I’ve already baked several recipes in a matter of days, all of which disappeared in a blink of an eye.

Blueberry Raspberry Oat Bake (4 of 6)

I love Scandinavian baking for its use of whole grains such as rye and oats, its generous use of cinnamon and cardamom, and its unabashed enjoyment of the tiny delicate fruits of summer–berries of all sorts, from lingonberries to the poetically named cloudberries–as ephemeral as their name, and which are gathered wild (though you can buy jams from both at Ikea rather than foraging north of the artic circle).

More to the point here, what I love about this  cake its slightly different (but decidedly unfussy) way of bringing familiar ingredients together.  Oats, berries, milk, flour–all the components of a classic morning quick bread, but united in a slightly different way:  soaking the oats in hot milk, then mixing into the batter.  Berries strewn on top of a gently sweet and moist cake.  I made it on a Friday evening when Marie was coming to visit for breakfast the next day, and it barely made it to see the morning light.

One comment on this cookbook:  as I said, I’ve made several recipes in the past few weeks (some,  like this one, more than once) and they’ve all been delicious.   And in some cases the amount of butter seems excessive–in particular where the butter is melted as the final touch on buns or smear into cinnamon rolls before shaping into logs.  I’ve always had extra left over and I’m not shy about using butter.   I’d almost say that something got lost in the translation from British to US measurements, except that everything has turned out remarkably well.  I’m left to think I may not be so profligate with the butter as I think, which is almost as happy a thing to think about as this recent news item about salt intake.

Blueberry Raspberry Oat Bake (6 of 6)

To sum up, though, don’t be deterred by this book’s slim profile.  You will find plenty to make.  Trust me.  I’ve bought a lot of cookbooks.  I have wisdom to share on this point.

Scandinavian Oatbake with Blueberries and Raspberries

Notes:  In this recipe, a 2lb loaf pan is called for; I used a 1 1/2 pound (9X3 inch) pan which is more standard and got a shallow but well-risen loaf.   You might think you should bake it in an even smaller loaf pan when you see the amount of batter, but the additional surface area is a nice platform for all those berries!  As I stated above, count on increasing the baking time if using frozen berries, or just defrost slightly (a bit frozen is still OK) before proceeding to bring things more in line with the timing below.  I’ve also not generally needed quite as much hot milk as called for in the recipe.  

  • 3/4 c old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 1/4 c hot milk
  • 6 1/2T unsalted butter, softened
  • 5T sugar
  • 3T honey
  • 1t pure vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 1t baking powder
  • 1c all-purpose flour
  • 1 heaping cup blueberries
  • 1 heaping cup raspberries
  • powdered sugar for serving (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350F.  Line a 9X3 inch loaf pan with parchment paper.
Mix the oats and hot milk and set aside to allow the oats to absorb the milk, and to cool slightly.
Cream the butter and sugar together, then beat in the honey and vanilla extract, then the egg.  Sift the baking powder and flour together, then fold into the butter-sugar mixture.  Drain the milk from the oats (squeeze the milk out gently, but you needn’t try all that hard, and discard or use in another recipe).  Fold the oats into the batter, and scrape into the prepared pan.  Smooth the surface, then scatter the berries on top.
Bake 50-60 minutes (or logner for frozen berries) until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Let cool for 10-15 minute in the pan before removing.  This is a moist cake.  Dust with powdered sugar if desired before serving.

Blueberry Raspberry Oat Bake (3 of 6)

Blueberry Muscovado Coffee Cake

So, the title I’ve bestowed upon this cake is a bit of a mouthful.  (I’m also not going to try to turn that into a food pun, just in case you were worried.  You can keep reading without trepidation).

Mark, one of my good friends from law school, his wife Anna, and sons were up from New York over Labor Day weekend and we planned for them to come over that Monday morning.  We went to law school together and somehow kept ending up in all the same classes–from first year criminal law and civil procedure, to both landing summer internships in Sarajevo (yes, really!) to bankruptcy 3L year (the last few weeks of which saw Mark dashing out more than once at a text from Anna, who was due to go into labor with their first any day).   Nowadays, we even work at the same law firm, albeit in different offices.

Sometimes you just keep running into the same people, and in cases like this, it’s a good thing.

But we hadn’t seen each others’ respective broods for some time, if we’ve met the little ones at all.  Now that firstborn who attended our wedding as a crawler is in second grade, and Mark and Anna’s second boy is 2 1/2, just between my preschooler and toddler.

Of course, this immediately sent me planning out the morning table.  Brunch is one of my favorites–plenty of excuses to bake!  We fried up our CSA bacon (which I made in our new griddle, which turned out to be way to shallow for fatty heritage breed pork), brewed up coffee (four young boys between us all–need I say more?) and I made this:  I had a few things in mind when I went thinking about what to make.  I wanted a recipe using yogurt:  I always have plenty of glass jars in the fridge gleaming white with my most recent homemade batch, and yogurt results in a tender crumb.  I wanted something a bit unique, and so I got on my toes and pulled the muscovado sugar off the top shelf– that ultra dark, ultra flavorful, ultra special cousin of ordinary brown sugar — you may remember seeing it here on Valentine’s day.  And blueberries, because, well, aren’t blueberries just sort of required for breakfast baking?

One of the best things in the world is friends who, no matter how long its been, you can pick up with wherever you left off (especially as the intervening birthdays pile up).   Though hopefully, it won’t be too long until that next time we get together.

Brown Sugar Blueberry Yogurt Coffee Cake (recipe adapted from the Washington Post and 101 Cookbooks)

Cake

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • pinch nutmeg
  • 1 1/4 cups plain yogurt
  • 1/3 cup canola oil
  • 1/3 cup plus 1 teaspoon muscovado brown sugar or dark brown sugar
  • 1 large egg plus 2 large egg whites (I think you could also simply use two eggs).
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups blueberries (I used frozen blueberries)

Crumb topping

  • 3/4 c whole wheat or whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/2 c rolled oats
  • 1/2 c muscovado or dark brown sugar
  • scant 1/2 t salt
  • 1/3 c unsalted butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a springform pan.

For the crumble, stir together the flour, sugar, oats, and salt.  Stir in the melted butter.  Put in the refrigerator.

For the cake, combine the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg in a large bowl, whisking to mix well.

In a separate medium bowl, stir together the yogurt, canola oil, the brown sugar, eggs and vanilla extract.

Stir the yogurt mixture into the dry ingredients, only until just combined (lumps are OK).  With a spatula, gently fold in the blueberries.  Pour into the prepared springform pan and sprinkle the crumble on top to cover.

Because I used frozen blueberries (not defrosted and straight from the freezer!) my cake took about 50 minutes to bake, but if using fresh blueberries bank on 25-35 minutes.   Either way, a tester should come out clean when done, and the cake should be well risen (see the before and after shots below).  If the crumble topping starts to brown too quickly, cover with aluminum foil until the cake is done.

Serve warm, tastes best when accompanied by conversation with good friends.