Thursday, April 24, 2014

Bake the Book: Strawberry Balsamic Pie from 4 and 20 Blackbirds

I like hosting holiday dinners. I get to control the menu, try some new recipes, revisit old favorites, and let's be honest, enjoy the leftovers for the rest of the week. This past weekend, J and I invited two friends over for a casual Easter dinner, and while the menu wasn't anything out of the ordinary (glazed ham, glazed carrots, mashed potatoes, and a cheesy broccoli casserole), I took the opportunity to bake a pie (something I hadn't had time to do in quite a while!)

I went straight to my newest cookbook - written by Emily Elsen and Melissa Elsen, the two sisters behind Brooklyn's famed pie shop Four and Twenty Blackbirds, The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book is filled with both beautiful pictures of every recipe and clear tips and instructions to help you make a successful pie. One of my favorite aspects of the book is that it's organized by seasons - right off the bat it's stated that there's no point in using ingredients that are not fresh or grown in your region. So when it came time to pick which pie I was going to bake, I turned directly to the "Spring" section and didn't even bother with the other three seasons. Since the pie shop is located about ten miles from my apartment, I can safely assume that their freshly available ingredients are also my freshly available ingredients - and as it turned out, the fresh strawberries I bought were some of the most beautiful I'd ever seen.

I followed the recipe to a near-perfect T, ultimately having to substitute regular cornstarch for ground arrowroot (both are thickening agents, and while arrowroot is more organic and better for mixing with citrus and fruit, I couldn't find it at my local grocery and didn't feel like trekking to Whole Foods). This was a blissfully uncomplicated pie to make - your basic fruit pie in a butter crust, but the addition of balsamic vinegar was a surprising twist that quite honestly made the whole thing taste like a giant strawberry Pop-Tart - which was awesome. Our two guests had second helpings, and the pie didn't last much longer in our refrigerator. The glazed carrots are still sitting in their Tupperware, but my pie dish has already been washed and waiting to house its next pie.

Strawberry Balsamic Pie - recipe taken directly from the Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book
For a Double-Crust Pie
- 2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 1/2 pound (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" pieces
- 1 cup cold water
- 1/4 cup cider vinegar
- 1 cup ice

Stir the flour, salt, and sugar together in a large bowl. Add the butter pieces and coat with the flour mixture using a bench scraper or spatula. With a pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour mixture, working quickly until mostly pea-size pieces of butter remain (taking care not to overblend).
Combine the water, cider vinegar, and ice in a small bowl. Sprinkle two tablespoons of the ice water mixture over the flour mixture and mix and cut it in until it is fully incorporated (a spatula or bench scraper is good for this, I personally use my hands). Add more of the ice water mixture, 1 to 2 tablespoons at a time, mixing until the dough is fully formed. Divide and shape the dough into two flat disc, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least one hour (overnight, if possible) to give the crust time to mellow.

Strawberry Balsamic Pie
- 1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 2 pounds fresh strawberries, rinsed and quartered (about 5 to 6 cups)
- 1 small baking apple (such as Northern Spy or Golden Delicious)
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 2 dashed Angostura bitters
- 3/4 cups packed light brown sugar
- 3 tablespoons ground arrowroot (*I substituted an equal amount of corn starch)
- 2 grinds fresh black pepper, fine setting
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- Egg wash (1 large egg whisked with 1 teaspoon of water and pinch of salt)
- Demerara sugar, for finishing

Have ready and refrigerated one pastry-lined 9" pine pan and pastry round or lattice to top.

Sprinkle 3 tablespoons of the granulated sugar over the strawberries. Stir gently to combine and allow the fruit to macerate at room temperature for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Peel the apple and shred on the large holes of a box grater. Drain the strawberries of excess liquid and combine with the shredded apple. Sprinkle on the balsamic vinegar and Angostura bitters.

In a separate bowl, mix together the remaining 1/4 cup granulated sugar, brown sugar, arrowroot, black pepper, and salt. Gently fold the sugar mixture into the strawberry mixture. Pour the filling into the refrigerated pie shell, arrange the lattice or pastry round on top, and crimp as desired.

Chill the pie in the refrigerator for 10 to 15 minutes to set the pastry.

Meanwhile, position the oven racks at the bottom and center positions, place a rimmed baking sheet on the bottom rack, and preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Brush the pastry with the egg wash; if your pie has a lattice top, be careful not to drag the filling onto the pastry (it will burn). Sprinkle with the desired amount of demerara sugar.

Place the pie on the rimmed baking sheet on the lowest rack of the oven. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the pastry is set and beginning to brown. Lower the oven temperature to 375 degrees, move the pie to the center rack, and continue to bake until the pastry is a deep golden brown and the juices are bubbling throughout, 35 to 40 minutes longer (*due to my "apartment-sized" oven, I didn't move the pie to a different rack, and it still turned out great).

Allow to cool completely on a wire rack, 2 to 3 hours. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature; The pie will keep refrigerated for 3 days (*if it lasts that long!) or at room temperature for 2 days).

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