The best thing about baking pies in the Pacific Northwest is, of course, the berries.
"Where else can you get this rainbow variety of flavors?" asks Kate McDermott, whose instructive and personal "Art of the Pie" grew out of the hands-on workshops she's taught all over the country. People gathered at the holiday table can argue over which berries are "true" or "false," but since cranberries are grown in Oregon, let's declare them "honorary," certainly for seasonal pie-baking.
This early November afternoon, McDermott is in the demo kitchen at Bob's Red Mill Whole Grain Store in Milwaukie, preparing for a class by making apple-pear pies with regular crust and cranberry pies using one of the book's several gluten-free dough recipes.
The self-taught baker — down from her home in Port Angeles, Washington — reflects on the long path to this, her first book. She speaks of a dismissive high school teacher who gave her low grades but refused to offer guidance on how to improve her writing.
"A pie is a representation of anyone's individual life," says McDermott. "How that happens, I have no idea. Personally I think pie is magic – it brings people together."
The temptingly photographed book includes detailed instructions for an array of sweet and savory crusts and fillings, descriptions so detailed they might assuage the reticent home baker's doubts. Just refer to McDermott's rule No. 1: Keep everything chilled, especially yourself.
Makes one 9-inch shallow pie
Prep (excluding making dough and chilling pie before baking): 15-20 minutes | Bake: About 45 minutes | Average
"Try this cranberry pie in the fall or winter when you are craving the bright taste of a sour cherry pie. Add pecans to this filling if you'd like, as well as some orange zest or liqueur, and serve it with champagne. There is a lot of naturally occurring pectin in cranberries, so not much thickener is needed." — K.M.
- 1 quart, about 4 cups (396 grams), whole cranberries, fresh or unthawed frozen, divided
- 1-1/4 cups (250 grams) sugar
- 2-1/2 teaspoons (6 grams) cornstarch
- A pinch or small grating of freshly ground nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon (a pinch) salt
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh orange zest or 1 tablespoon (15 grams) orange liqueur
- 1/2 cup (60 grams) chopped walnuts (optional)
- 1 recipe double-crust pie dough (see below)
- 1 knob butter, the size of a small walnut, cut into small pieces for dotting the top of the filling
- 1 to 2 teaspoons (4 to 8 grams) sugar, for sprinkling on top of the pie
- Egg wash: 1 egg white plus 1 tablespoon (15 grams) water, fork beaten
- Place 3 cups of the cranberries in a food processor and pulse until they are slightly chopped. In a medium bowl, place the chopped and remaining whole cranberries, sugar, cornstarch, nutmeg, salt, zest or liqueur, and optional walnuts, and mix well.
- In a pie plate lined with an unbaked pie dough, pour in the cranberry filling and dot with butter.
- Roll out the remaining dough, lay it over the fruit, and cut 5 to 6 vents on top, or cut strips and make a lattice top. Trim excess dough from the edges and crimp.
- Chill the pie for a minimum of 1 hour before baking.
- Lightly brush some of the egg white wash over the entire pie, including the edges.
- In an oven preheated to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C), bake on the middle rack for about 40 minutes. When there are about 10 minutes of bake time left, open the oven, pull the pie out, and quickly and evenly sprinkle the top of the pie with sugar. Close the oven and bake until the crust is just golden, or until you see steady bubbling coming out between the vents.
- Remove the pie from the oven and cool completely before serving.
McDermott prefers pastry made with butter and rendered leaf lard: “I use it on a daily basis for sweet and savory pies, quiches, tarts, crostatas, hand pies and pie pops. Add a tablespoon or two of sugar to the dry ingredients if you wish to make it slightly sweet.” Vegetable shortening is more readily available than leaf lard; just note that this dough works best the day it is made. McDermott rolls out the bottom dough after preparing the filling and the top dough after the filling has been poured into the dough-lined pie plate.
Traditional “Art of the Pie” Butter and Shortening Dough
For one double-crust pie or two single-crust pies
Prep: 15-20 minutes | Chill: 1 to 2 hours
- 2-1/2 cups (363 grams) all-purpose flour, unbleached (use dip and sweep method)
- 1/2 teaspoon (3 grams) salt
- 8 tablespoons (112 grams) salted or unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-size pieces
- 8 tablespoons (112 grams) vegetable shortening
- 1/2 cup (118 grams) ice water plus 1 to 2 tablespoons (15 to 30 grams) more as needed
- Additional flour for rolling out dough
- Put all ingredients but the ice water in a large bowl.
- With clean hands, quickly smoosh the mixture together, or use a pastry blender with an up and down motion, until the ingredients look like cracker crumbs with lumps the size of peas and almonds.
- Sprinkle ice water over the mixture and stir lightly with a fork.
- Squeeze a handful of dough to see if it holds together. Mix in more water as needed.
- Divide the dough in half and make two chubby discs about 5 inches (12 centimeters) across.
- Wrap the discs separately in plastic wrap and chill for an hour.
Cranberry Pie and Traditional “Art of the Pie” Butter and Shortening Dough recipes excerpted from “Art of the Pie” by Kate McDermott, copyright 2016 by Kathleen L. McDermott; photos copyright 2015 by Andrew Scrivani. Republished with permission from Countryman Press. All rights reserved.