The mystery behind America's favorite foods has been unlocked in the latest book from the folks at Cook's Illustrated magazine. "American Classics" is the compilation of recipes for 300 of America's most favored meals, each tested to perfection.
One summer-time favorite found in the book is blueberry pie, which the magazine's editor and founder Chris Kimball demonstrates on The Early Show. With the right ingredients, mixing technique and rolling method, pie making is a cinch.
The following are his recipes:
Basic Pie Dough
For one double-crust 9-inch pie
2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
8 tbsp. all-vegetable shortening, chilled
12 tbsp. unsalted butter, chilled, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
6-8 tbsp. ice water
- Pulse the flour, salt and sugar in a food processor, fitted with the steel blade, until combined. Add the shortening and process until the mixture has the texture of coarse sand - about 10 seconds. Scatter the butter pieces over the flour mixture; cut the butter into the flour until the mixture is pale yellow and resembles coarse crumbs, with butter bits no larger than small peas, about 10 1-second pulses. Turn the mixture into a medium bowl.
- Sprinkle 6 tablespoons ice water over the mixture. With the blade of a rubber spatula, use a folding motion to mix. Press down on the dough on the broad side of spatula until the dough sticks together, adding up to 2 tablespoons more ice water if the dough will not come together. Divide the dough into two balls and flatten each into a 4-inch-wide disk. Wrap each in plastic and refrigerate at least 1 hour or up to 2 days, before rolling.
Variation (Pie Dough for Lattice-Top Pie)
- Follow the basic dough recipe, increasing the flour to 3 cups (15 ounces), reducing the shortening to 7 tablespoons, reducing the butter to 10 tablespoons, and increasing the ice water to 10 tablespoons.
- Divide the dough into two pieces, one slightly larger than the other. (If possible, weigh the pieces; they should register 16 ounces and 14 ounces.)
- Flatten the larger piece into a rough 5-inch square and the smaller piece into a 4-inch disk; wrap separately in plastic and chill as directed.
1 basic pie dough (see above)
3 pints (6 cups) blueberries, rinsed and picked over
3/4 - 1 cup (5 1/4 to 7 ounces) plus 1 tablespoon sugar
2 tsp. juice and 1 teaspoon grated zest from 1 lemon
1/4 tsp. allspice
3-4 tbsp. potato starch (see note)
2 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 egg white, lightly beaten
Potato Starch Note: Also called potato flour, a gluten-free flour made from cooked, dried and ground potatoes. It's used as a thickener and, because it produces a moist crumb, it is in some baked goods.
- Adjust an oven rack to the lowest position and heat a rimmed baking sheet and the oven to 500 degrees. Remove one piece of dough from the refrigerator (if refrigerated longer than 1 hour, let stand at room temperature until malleable.)
- Roll the dough on a light floured work surface or between two large sheets of plastic wrap to a 12-inch disk. Transfer the dough to a pie plate by rolling the dough around a rolling pin and unrollig over a 9-inch pie plate by folding the dough in quarters, then placing the dough point in the center of the pie plate and unfolding. Working around the circumference of the pie plate, ease the dough into the pan corners by gently lifting the dough edges with one hand while pressing around the pan bottom with the other hand. Leave the dough that over-hangs the lip of the pie plate in place. Refrigerate the dough-lined pie plate.
- Toss the berries, sugar, lemon juice and zest, spices and potato starch in a medium bowl; let stand for 15 minutes.
- Roll out the second piece of dough to a 12-inch disk. Spoon the berries into the pie shell and scatter the butter pieces over the filling. Place the second piece of dough over the filling. Trim the top and bottom edges to 1/2 inch beyond the pan lip. Tuck this rim of dough underneath itself so that the folded edge is flush with the pan lip. Flute the edging or press with fork tines to seal. Cut four slits on the dough top. If the pie dough is very soft, place in the freezer for 10 minutes. Brush the egg white onto the top of the crust and sprinkle evenly with the remaining 1 tablespoon sugar.
- Place the pie on the baking sheet and lower the oven temperature to 425 degrees. Bake until the top crust is golden, about 25 minutes. Rotate the pie and reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees; continue baking until the juices bubble and the crust is deep golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes longer.
- Transfer the pie to a wire rack; cool to room temperature, at least 4 hours.
Pie Crust: After experimenting with different ratios of flour to fat - the most essential parts of the crust - Kimball's team settled on 2 parts all-purpose flour to one part fat (vegetable shortening) as the ideal ratio. With this 2-to-1 combination, his team arrived at a crust that baked up lighter and fluffier than any others. The proportion of salt and sugar, the team says, should be a teaspoon salt to 2 teaspoons sugar ratio. And as for the liquid, ice water worked best for the perfect piecrust.
Dough: The dough can be made either by hand or in a food processor. Using a food processor is faster and does a better job of cutting the fat into the flour. Once fat and flour have been combined, the dough should be transferred to a bowl where the ice water is then mixed in.
Important Note: When mixing the water into the dough, it's best to use a rubber spatula because a rubber spatula allows for most if not all of the water used to be absorbed into the flour mixture and not into the spatula itself (as would be the case when using a wooden spatula or spoon). A rubber spatula also prevents the dough from being overworked.
Rolling the dough: There are two things to consider:
- The dough should be chilled before use, and be allowed to warm slightly before being rolled out.
- Add a minimum amount of flour to the work surface. This is important because flour, when in too large a quantity on the work surface can be absorbed into the dough during the rolling process and cause the dough to toughen.
Commercial pie crust: If you are going to go for the commercial pie crust, Cooks Illustrated tested Pillsbury Pie Crust (folded in the box); Oronoque Orchards (deep dish 3 pie crusts), Whole Foods Pie Shell and found Whole Foods Pie Shell to be the better one.
Pie plate: The Corning Pyrex Pie Pan cooked the pie to perfection. Kimball and his team compared this pie plate brand to the old-fashioned disposable foil pie pan, the Ekco Bakeware pie pan and the Baker's Secret Non-Stick pie pan.
Why blueberry pie?
There's no slicing, dicing or peeling of fruit involved. It is open-faced with just enough crust turned up over the edge, so rolled crust lying over the lip of a pie plate need not be perfect. Once the crust is turned up, it's given an egg-wash with sugar and goes straight into the oven.
Although fruit pies are filled with an abundance of fruit, Kimball suggests using thickeners to provide a firmer consistency to the filling. The most popular thickeners are flour and cornstarch. However, Kimball found both of these thickeners to be problematic for most of the pies tests (that is all pies, not just blueberry). The cornstarch yielded a dull fruit that was too sweet, and the flour made the fruit mixture too gummy to work with. Kimball found tapioca and potato starch did a much better job in thickening the fruit filling. Both kept appearance intact and did not alter the pie flavor.
Now on to the mixture itself, while blueberries and lemon juice traditionally combine well to provide a zesty flavor, Kimball also suggests adding a little allspice and nutmeg to the flavor mix.
To finish the pie, add the blueberry mixture to the piecrust in the pie plate; then, cover the top with an additional crust. Brush the top crust with egg whites, and sprinkle it with sugar just before putting the pie into the oven. Bake at 425-degrees for 25 minutes, then lover the oven temp to 375 and bake an additional 30 minutes. When done, let the pie rest for at least 4 hours, and then serve.
About Christopher Kimball:
Kimball is the founder, editor, and publisher of "Cook's Illustrated" magazine. It's a bimonthly publication for cooks interested in understanding the techniques and principles of good home cooking. The goal is to objectively dissect well-known cooking methods and ingredients while trying to develop the simplest, best-tasting and most foolproof techniques for preparing recipes. He is the author of "The Cook's Bible" and "The Yellow Farmhouse Cookbook." He is also a columnist for the New York Daily News and the Boston-based tabloid newspapers. He lives in Boston and Vermont with his wife and their three children.