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My Favorite Pie

September 7, 2010

This new onset of rain we’ve been having over here in the Northwest has got me all nostalgic for Ireland. The smell of wet pavement, the pop of umbrellas opening, the yearning for a hot cup of tea– all these make me miss my time abroad in Galway last year. I spent a lot of time baking over there and, of course, eating. You may think it’s a quaint, old fashioned idea to take afternoon tea, but the Irish are masters of this tradition. Around 3 o’clock each day, you can be sure to find them cozied up with good friends sharing a drink (perhaps not always tea…) and usually some sort of delicious pastry. Bakewell tarts, walnut cake, fruit scones, brown bread, anything custard-filled. Oh yes, I ate very well over there.

One of the very best things I ever ate in Ireland was actually on a previous visit with my friend Ali right after high school graduation. We were backpacking down in the gorgeous Dingle Peninsula (which also happens to be my favorite place on Earth) and we took a private day tour with a nice man who drove us around the peninsula in his tiny car. He stopped at a little cafe on the side of the road for a tea break. The lovely woman who owned the place made an array of freshly-baked pies every day. Who came in and ate them all, I’m not sure, seeing as this place was very remote and the town nearby very small. But perhaps the locals flock there often enough, knowing what a treat they are in for. Looking at the display of pies, I knew immediately which one I had to try: Apple Blackberry. Or, as the Irish and British often call it, Apple Bramble.

The pie was perfection. A flaky crust, the right proportion of apples and blackberries to let both their flavors  shine through, and a sugary, buttery crumb topping. Hands down, the best pie I’ve every had. I can’t tell you how much it saddens me that Ali does not even remember going to this place. I mark it as one of the most memorable food experiences of my life. Then again, I may have a slight obsession with food.

And so, this past week I made a trip to Medina hoping with all my might that the blackberries near my mom’s home would still be waiting on their prickly vines for me. I was worried, anxious, but there they were: juicy bundles of dark berries calling out to me. I filled a bucket. Then another. Then it was time to recreate that perfect pie.

Apple Blackberry Crumble Pie

© Copyright 2010 Carly Sullivan, Tart to Heart

The Crust:

I wanted to be traditional and rustic here since I was paying homage to Ireland. All butter. No shortening. I toyed with the idea of using all-purpose flour, since I admit that’s just as common in Ireland as it is here in the States, but decided to use my whole-wheat pastry flour instead, knowing it would give the pie a more earthy quality. If you’re having trouble finding whole-wheat pastry flour, Bob’s Red Mill makes it. Or just substitute with all-purpose or half A/P half regular whole-wheat flour. Or just pie a premade crust from the freezer section. I won’t tell…this time.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1/4 cup cold water

Directions:

  1. In a food processor or a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar and salt.
  2. Add the pieces of butter and pulse several times to combine (or cut in with a knife or pastry cutter).
  3. Add the water and pulse until the dough starts to clump. Don’t overwork the dough. Form it into a ball, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate at least 1 hour before rolling out.

The Apples:

Granny Smith always seems to be the go-to for pie baking, but I decided to try something new this time around. Using the oh-so-handy produce guide at my market, I went for the Jonagold apple, a cross between a Jonathan and a Golden Delicious. Crisp and slighty tart, these apples held up really well against the blackberries. I added the tiniest bit of cinnamon just for a hint of warmth. I didn’t want it to overwhelm the flavor, as it often can.

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups peeled, cored, chopped apples (about 2 large)
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp cornstarch
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp cinnamon

Directions:

  1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and toss well to coat the apples.
  2. Spread in a single layer in your unbaked pie shell.

The Blackberries:

Enough said, really. All I did was add sugar (not a ton, these juicy jewels were already pretty sweet) and some cornstarch to thicken all their delicious juices. Did I mention my hands are still ingrained with purple after picking these guys? Yes, even a week later.

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 heaping cups fresh blackberries, rinsed and picked through
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp cornstarch
  • pinch of salt

Directions:

  1. Combine all ingredients and carefully combine so as not to squish the berries. Use a folding motion as you would when gently adding whipped egg whites to a batter.
  2. Spread in an even layer over the layer of apples.

The Crumble:

This is the component that really sets this pie up a notch, and it’s best kept simple. No oats. No brown sugar. Just flour, sugar, butter. Again, I used whole-wheat pastry flour here, but you could substitute as with the crust.

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pieces
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 Tbsp raw sugar (optional), to sprinkle on top

Directions:

  1. Combine the flour, sugar, salt and cinnamon in a food processor or a bowl.
  2. Add the pieces of butter and pulse to combine. The mixture should resemble course meal. Empty into a bowl and use your fingers to press the mixture into larger clumps. Refrigerate until ready to use.
  3. Spread evenly over the pie filling and sprinkle with raw sugar.

Finishing the Pie:

  1. As you are assembling the pie in its shell, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place a baking sheet on the middle rack and let warm while the oven heats.
  2. Once the pie is assembled, place it on the preheated baking sheet in the oven (this helps the bottom of the crust to bake).
  3. Bake for about 1 hour, rotating the pan 180 degrees after 30 minutes and lowering the temperature to 350 degrees. If the crust and topping start to get too dark, tent with foil.
  4. Now here’s the hard part: let the pie cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing so he juices have time to set up. Otherwise you will have a big sloppy mess!
  5. Eat. And eat some more.

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