Blueberry–Vanilla Bean Pie
Earlier this week I walked into the office and said to my colleague, "It's decided. I'm bringing in a blueberry pie tomorrow." She said, "Aw, that's nice of you." And instinctually (but under my breath, I think, because she seemed not to have heard me), out came, "Oh it's not for you; it's for me."
And then I thought about how rude that must've sounded. What I meant was, "Yes, of course, you my friend will partake in this pie, but your reaping of my labor has more to do with the pleasure in which I shall bake this confection than any altruistic act of sharing homemade food."
I've thought about this a lot actually. I think we're in a cultural time and space that allows for the type of selfish cooking that has less to do with need and obligation and more to do with the simple pleasure of making a fruit pie utterly from scratch. As Nigella says, "Food has to be more than just fuel." That's why I'm okay with admitting that when I cook for others, sure, the deepest, darkest part of me lights up when I get to feed someone (and even more, to see them enjoy it). At the end of the day, however, I could be just as content should another human never touch my food again.
Vodka Pie Crust:
2 sticks super-cold, unsalted butter
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup vodka
2–4 tablespoons ice-cold water
An 8-inch cake pan
4 pints blueberries, divided
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca
1 lemon, zested, plus 1/2 of its juice
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, grated, and strained of its liquid
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped, or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons butter, diced
For the pie crust, rub the cold butter into the flour, sugar, and salt using your hands, until you're left with smallish filaments of butter-flour. Slowly add the vodka, then the water (only if you need it), continuing to mix with your hands, until the dough JUST comes together. You should be able to form it into a thick disc (otherwise, add more water). At this point, cut the dough in halfish (make one half larger than the second), wrap each, and refrigerate for an hour at least (overnight is best).
For the blueberry filling, place 2 pints of the blueberries into a saucepan on medium heat and cook for a good 15–20 minutes, intermittently smashing down the berries with a fork until you're left with a jam that's reduced by half. (The idea here is to release the berries' natural pectin, and to evaporate some of the water that tends to make homemade blueberry pies depressingly runny.)
Meanwhile, as the jam sits to cool slightly, roll out the larger half of the pie dough onto a floured work surface into an 11-inch round. Carefully fit this into the cake pan, pressing into the edges with your fingers so you have a deep-dish pie crust with 90ish-degree edges. (You could use a less-angled tin, but this pie is all about the fruit, so I like to maximize on depth.)
Next, roll out the smaller pie dough into another round, about 1/4-inch thick. Using the cutest cookie cutters you have (I like my little barnyard animals, but stars, gingerbread men, and even just plain old circles are all great), cut out as many "cookies" as you can. Transfer these onto a sheet pan and freeze until ready to use.
To finish the filling, fold the rest of the blueberries, sugar, tapioca, lemon zest and juice, grated apple, vanilla, and salt into the blueberry jam. Mix well. Turn this berry-blue sludge into the prepared pie crust, dot with butter, and arrange the "cookies" on top. (Note: These "cookies" are your top crust, so the more you can fit, the more evenly you can "distribute the wealth" when ready to serve.)
Bake at 400 degrees F for 30 minutes, and then for another 40–50 minutes at 350 degrees F until the "cookies" are golden brown and bubbling. (It MUST be bubbling, or the tapioca won't activate and your blueberries won't reduce and set.)
Leave the pie to cool (on your windowsill, if you want a domestic cliché) for at least 4 hours. (What I'll usually do is leave it on my kitchen counter overnight and eat it the next morning—for breakfast, with coffee.)