Blueberry Pie

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(Note: I have updated this recipe to include Clear Jel, a thickener that solves the problem of runny fruit pies.)

Whether you’re great at making pies or not, there ought to be at least a few pie recipes in your book that you’re able to make with some confidence. I am no pro at pies and stick mainly to the non-fruit kind, since they’re not so messy — key lime, chocolate pecan, and buttermilk coconut pie are my favorites.

But fruit pies are pretty easy, too, and they’re classic. I make Rose Levy Beranbaum’s apple pie and this blueberry pie. The filling spills all over the place when I serve them, and I’m still working on that (suggestions are welcome), but I seem to be the only one who minds. Everyone always just digs right in.

It used to be so frustrating to spend time making a pie only to have the slices fall apart when I cut them. Was I missing some baking secret or special trick? A couple of online searches for “fix runny fruit pies” yielded a magic ingredient: Clear Jel. It’s a modified cornstarch that is added to the filling before baking and holds the filling together when slices are cut.

Clear Jel is available in big bags online. The smallest bag I found was one pound, and since only a few tablespoons are needed for each pie, I expect it to last a while. If you buy some, look for the instant kind.

Makes one 9-inch pie

3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose (plain) flour
3 Tbsp. instant Clear Jel
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
5 cups fresh blueberries
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. butter, melted
2 refrigerated pie crusts
1 tsp. granulated sugar for topping

Preheat oven to 400F (200C) degrees.

In a large bowl, combine the first nine ingredients, tossing gently with a rubber spatula. Fit one pie crust in a 9-inch pie plate according to package directions, carefully cutting off the overhanging crust. (Save the scraps.) Spoon blueberry mixture into pastry shell.

Use the scraps for the lattice on top of the pie. Gather them into a ball, then roll it out to 1/8-inch thickness. Cut into strips and arrange in a lattice design on top of the pie. If you need more strips, use the other pie crust. I cut my strips to fit inside the pie shell; if you have enough dough, you can lay the ends over the edges of the pie shell and press them in. Then crimp or pinch the edge of the pie in whatever design you like.

Sprinkle the teaspoon of sugar on top of the pie, then place in the oven. Bake 40-45 minutes until golden, shielding the edges with strips of aluminum foil halfway through to prevent excess browning.

(Credit for this recipe goes to a lady named Nan Ferguson of Sandy Springs, Georgia, who submitted it to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about 20 years ago.)

Buttermilk Coconut Pie

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There are many variations of this Southern classic. This recipe is my own version of a recipe featured in our local paper, from an Atlanta food writer who combined his mother’s recipe with one from a cookbook of Southern pies.

It uses buttermilk (a good way to use up any that might be sitting in the fridge) to make a dense coconut-filled base. It’s topped with enough sweetened whipped cream to make a top layer that fills the rest of the pie, keeping it light.

A garnish of toasted coconut covers any flaws and hints at what’s below.

Makes one 9-inch pie.

1/2 cup sugar (slightly more)
2 Tbsp. + 2 tsp. all-purpose plain flour
5 oz. buttermilk
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
1 egg, well beaten
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
2/3 cup shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetened), plus more for garnish
1 9-inch pie crust (I used a pre-made frozen one and used it straight from the freezer)
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 heaping tsp. sugar

Heat oven to 350F (175C) degrees.

In small bowl combine sugar and flour, using a fork to mix well. Add buttermilk, melted butter, beaten egg, and vanilla, and stir until mixed well and evenly. Stir in coconut.

Pour filling into pie crust. Place pie on baking sheet and bake approximately 30 minutes, until firm throughout and filling is slightly browned — but keep an eye on it toward the end.

As it bakes, put a handful of shredded coconut in a small pan and toast it on medium-low until browned, shaking the pan every couple of minutes to toast the flakes evenly. If you have a toaster oven, you can do this on a small sheet of foil and a regular setting, gently shaking the foil occasionally and removing the sheet as soon as the flakes are browned.

When pie is done, let cool on wire rack. Whip cream with sugar*, then spread with spatula over the cooled pie. Try to make it slightly higher than the edge of the crust. Sprinkle the toasted coconut on top. Tip: Sprinkle some at the edge to hide the gap between the whipped cream and pie crust.

*Start whipping the cream without the sugar. Once it is slightly thickened, that’s when you add the sugar. Then continue whipping until stiff.

Raspberry Pear Tart

This is a great recipe I found last year in the magazine “Taste of Home.” It turned out well and wasn’t complicated — and it was a hit at dinner with friends the other night.

Here’s the recipe, tweaked just a tiny bit.

CRUST:
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup cold butter
1/3 cup finely chopped macadamia nuts

FILLING:
3 medium pears (try Bosc), peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 cup sugar
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. grated lemon peel
2 cups fresh or frozen raspberries

TOPPING:
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp. grated lemon peel
1/4 cup cold butter
1/3 cup roughly chopped macadamia nuts

Preheat oven to 425F degrees.

In a large bowl, combine flour and sugar; cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in nuts. Press onto the bottom and up the sides of an ungreased 11-in. fluted tart pan with removable bottom.

In a large bowl, combine the pears, sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, and lemon peel. Add raspberries; toss gently. Pour into crust. Bake for 25 minutes.

For topping, in a small bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar and lemon peel; cut in butter until crumbly. Stir in nuts. Sprinkle over filling.

Bake 15-20 minutes longer or until filling is bubbly and topping is golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.

Lemon Meringue Pie

Another bake-off winner from 2007 is this lemon meringue pie. The meringue part always seemed so daunting before I tried this recipe, but it turned out to be relatively easy to make.

The ready-made pie crust may not appeal to purists, but I think they have a place in certain recipes, at least until the baker gets more adept at making them at home. I’ve made a few, but adept, I am not.

1 9-inch pie crust, pre-baked if frozen

Filling:
4 large egg yolks
3 large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup fresh lemon juice (about 5 lemons)
2 Tbsp. cornstarch/cornflour
1/2 cup/4 oz./1 stick chilled unsalted butter, cut into very small pieces

Meringue:
4 large egg whites
1/4 tsp. cornstarch/cornflour
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
1/2 cup confectioners’/icing sugar
1 tsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 350F/175C degrees. To prepare filling, in large heavy saucepan, whisk together egg yolks, eggs, sugar, lemon juice, and cornstarch. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Do not let mixture boil. Remove from heat and stir in butter until melted. Pour into crust.

To prepare meringue, beat egg whites at medium speed until foamy. Beat in cornstarch and cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in sugar and vanilla at high speed until stiff, but not dry, peaks form.

Working quickly, spoon meringue in large dollops over filling, then smooth with back of spoon, making sure it reaches the edge of the crust. Bake until meringue is golden, 12-15 minutes.