Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Three different takes on Blueberry Pie

Blueberry Pie is one of the easiest pies to make - you don't even have to peel or cut the fruit! At its most basic, blueberry pie is just blueberries, sugar, and some kind of thickener. That is how my husband likes it - very simple, so the blueberries have nothing else to compete with their flavor. But I like to mix it up a little, so I tried some other flavor combinations to see how they compared to Basic Blue.

They all follow a pretty easy base recipe. I have specified certain amounts of sugar and certain thickeners in these recipes, but go ahead and experiment - vary the sugar to your own taste and try out different thickeners to see which you like best. (See note on thickeners at the bottom of this post.)

Basic Method for Baking Blueberry Pie:
1) Use 1 recipe Flaky pie crust, rolling out half for the top and half for the bottom crust.
2) Follow directions for one of the three pie fillings below.
3) Fill bottom crust with filling and top with the other crust, crimping edges together
4) Optional: Brush crust with milk and sprinkle with sugar.
5) Put Pie on a cookie sheet and Bake at 400 degrees for about 40 minutes.
6) Cool completely before cutting ("Hot out of the oven" makes for very messy slices!)

Basic Blue

5 Cups Fresh Blueberries (you can use frozen too, but fresh is better)
2/3 Cup Sugar
1/4 Cup Instant Tapioca

In a large bowl, mix the ingredients together, stirring roughly to break up some of the berries and create juice. (The berries will create juice as they cook, of course, but when using tapioca as a thickener you want to let the tapioca sit in some juice before the cooking process). Let this mixture sit and macerate for at least 20 minutes before filling the pie.

Hint of Citrus Blueberry Pie:
Okay, totally cheesy name. Maybe I'll come up with something better and rename it.

5 Cups Blueberries
2/3 Cup Sugar
1/4 Cup Instant Tapioca
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 Tablespoon sweet orange marmalade
- OR -
1 teaspoon fresh orange zest

In a large bowl, mix all ingredients together, stirring roughly to break up some of the berries to create some juice for the tapioca to absorb. Let this mixture macerate for 20+ minutes before filling your crust.

Blue Ribbon Blueberry
I call it "Blue Ribbon" not because I won the county fair pie contest or anything, but because this filling is the one that won the taste-test in my family, which is much more important! This is the same filling I use for my Blueberry Bars recipe.

5 Cups Blueberries
1 Cup Sugar
2 teaspoons Balsamic Vinegar
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom 
1/4 Cup instant Tapioca -OR- 2 Tablespoons + 1/2 teaspoon Cornstarch

Put 1 Cup of the berries in a small saucepan with the sugar. Over low heat, cook while smashing up the berries with a fork or potato masher. Cook 2-4 minutes, until the sugar is dissolved and mixture is syrupy. Remove from heat and stir in the balsamic vinegar and the cardamom. Let the mixture cool for 5-10 minutes. Add in the Tapioca (or cornstarch) and the remaining berries, stirring well. Fill pie crust and bake.

Note on Thickeners:
There are several different options for thickening your pies, and bakers have different preferences for what to use. You may decide to vary it depending on which fruit you are using. I like cornstarch for most pies, but I also like tapioca sometimes. Here are the most common thickeners:

Flour - A lot of the old recipes I look at use flour as the thickener. I don't really like flour because I always seem to end up with a runny pie when I use it. Not just "juicy" but downright runny. However, many bakers still like it and use it successfully.

Cornstarch - Has more thickening power than flour, and will not add any off flavors or textures to your filling.

Instant Tapioca - Because these beads absorb liquid and turn jelly-like, you will rarely have a runny pie. The upside is that tapioca gives you a "set" filling that won't run, giving you nice pretty slices. The downside is that the beady, jelly-like texture does not work well with some fruits. I think it works well for blueberry, becomming unnoticable. But I don't really like it for apple or peach. You have to be careful not to add too much tapioca to a filling, or it will become so gelatinous it is SOLID and not very appealing.

Other thickeners: ClearJel, Cassava (basically the same as tapioca, but not in bead-form), Arrowroot starch. I have not used these thickeners yet, so I cannot speak to how well they work.

The above is only based on my own experience making pies, so if you want a more comprehensive look at different thickeners, the Everything Pies website has a great page here: Everything Pies thickener page

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Blueberry Bars

These bars really let the fresh blueberry flavor come through. The secret ingredient is just a touch of balsamic vinegar. My husband thought I had gone crazy, but you would never guess it is in there if no one told you. Actually, balsamic vinegar is a pretty common thing to add to strawberries and blueberries. It enhances their tartness, which is particularly good if you are starting with very sweet berries. If you are using very tart blueberries, you can omit the balsamic vinegar and still get a good result.

The bottom crust mixture (which is similar to a shortbread) is used as the topping as well, making these blueberry bars fairly quick and easy. One caveat - unlike other bars, these are not really finger food. Serve them on a plate with a fork since they tend to crumble a bit.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

1/3 Cup Confectioner's Sugar
1 Cup Butter
1 1/2 Cups Flour

Mix in food processor or by hand with a pastry blender. Set aside 1/2 Cup of this mixture to use as the topping on the bars. Press the remaining crust mixture into the bottom of an 8x8" square pan. Prick the crust all over with a fork, then bake for 12-15 minutes, until it is starting to get golden brown. Remove the crust from the oven and let it cool to room temp.

2 Cups Fresh Blueberries (washed and stems removed)
1/4 Cup granulated sugar (more or less to taste)
1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
(just a pinch of cinnamon can be substituted here, but the taste will be a little different)
1 Tablespoon Cornstarch

Place about 1/2 cup of the berries with the sugar in a small saucepan. Heat on low, smashing up the berries with a fork or a potato masher. Continue cooking over low heat for a few minutes until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is syrupy. Remove from heat. Add the balsamic vinegar and the cardamom, stir well. Let the mixture cool a bit, then add the remaining blueberries and the cornstarch. Stir well. Spread the blueberry filling over the cooled crust. Sprinkle the remaining crust mixture over the top. (Alternately, you could substitute a standard streusel topping or crushed almonds if you prefer.)

Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, until golden and bubbling. The filling should look "set" and no longer liquidy. You must let these bars cool completely or they will not cut well.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Blueberry Cardamom Ice Cream

I know, this is a baking blog, but I just had to branch out and add an ice cream section to the recipe list. This quick and easy recipe is a little bit healthier than most ice creams. It combines cream with yogurt, fresh berries, and only a small amount of sugar. Blueberry and Cardamom is a more sophisticated flavor combination, so it definitely has a more adult appeal. (Translation: If your kids are anything like mine, they won't like it). But I really love it. And besides, if I wanted a super-sweet kid flavor, I could just go buy that in any store.

Blueberry Cardamom Ice Cream

2 Cups Fresh Blueberries
1/4 Cup Sugar
3/4 tsp Cardamom
1 Cup Heavy Cream
1 1/2 Cups good quality Vanilla Yogurt

Put the blueberries, sugar, and cardamom in a small saucepan over low heat. With a potato masher, smash the berries and cook on low for a couple of minutes, until the sugar dissolves and the mixture just starts to become syrupy. Take off the heat and cool for a few minutes.

In a mixing bowl, mix the cream and yogurt together. Add in the blueberry syrup and stir well. Refrigerate until very cold.

Pour the mixture into your ice cream maker and mix as directed for your machine (instructions will vary for electric vs. hand-cranked ice cream makers).

When the ice cream looks like a thick milk shake, spoon it into a tupperware container and freeze until it is more solid (several hours). FYI - This ice cream never gets super hard.

Garnish with fresh blueberries.  

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Tools I can't live without

Every baker has a list of tools that they just can't live without. Aside from the obvious - Good quality pans, measuring devices, sharp knives and a good sturdy rolling pin, my list is a pretty short. Each of them is a good multi-purpose tool. Like the wonderful Alton Brown, I do not employ many gadgets in my kitchen that only do one thing.

In fairness, I must admit that I am also a cake decorator, and when I put on my decorating hat, I need a lot more tools and gadgets to make my job easier. But for good old-fashioned baking, there are a just few tools I can't live without:

This simple cheap plastic scraper and multi-purpose tool is one of the things I use most often in my kitchen.  I use it as a spatula, a bowl scraper, a frosting knife, and it makes the best pie server ever. It has a very thin flexible "blade" to get in between the pie crust and the pie plate, for serving up beautiful slices that are not broken or dented. I actually bring it with me every time I bring a pie anywhere, because standard pie servers make for messy slices. It is also my go-to tool for loosening cake layers from their pans, and any time I need to get a thin edge under a baked item to lift it. To find this (seemingly nameless) plastic tool, you have to go to a cooking supply shop, or order it online.

Pastry Cutter/Blender - Yeah, that is how much of a baking geek I am. I actually prefer to mix my pie crust with this old-fahioned hand tool rather than the modern food processor methods. Food processors are perfectly capable of mixing dough, and most modern bakers have stepped up to the food processor method. But I still like to "feel" the dough, and why clean up the food processor when doing it by hand is not that hard?

Wire Whisk: I have several in different sizes. I use them to stir, to whip air into things like meringues and whipped cream, and I also use it to mix my dry ingredients together well (flour, salt, baking powder). It is the ideal tool for stirring things when you don't want to get clumps - gravies, puddings and pie fillings (see above, making pudding on the stove).

My KitchenAid Mixer - Okay, I am not so old-fashioned that I can't appreciate a good modern tool. I would cry if my trusty old KitchenAid broke. I have had it for more than twelve years and I use it nearly every single day. KitchenAid mixers may seem expensive, but they last and last. I may love retro recipes and techiniques, but this is one case where we are definitely better off than our Grandmothers were!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Banana Cream Pie

This pie is always a favorite - it is one of my most requested pies (after Apple, Lemon Meringue and Key Lime). The banana flavor comes from the filling and also a layer of fresh banana slices on that line the crust.

Cream Pies are great in the summer - not only do they taste cool and creamy, but they are cooked only briefly on the stovetop instead of a prolonged baking in the oven. So you aren't spending an hour heating your kitchen.

This Banana Cream Pie is adapted from something I found in my old copy of The Joy of Cooking. Once you get the basics of making a cream pie down, there are endless variations you can do. I have made up some pretty unusual flavors over the years, but cream pies are so popular that it's really worth learning the basic recipe for making them.

Cracker Crumb Crust made with Ritz crackers or Vanilla Wafers. After pressing into the pie pan, CHILL the crust instead of baking it.

2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 2/3 Cups milk
3 egg yolks
2 bananas
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract

In the top of a double boiler combine the sugar, flour, salt, and milk. Stir the mixture in the bowl while the water boils beneath it, cooking for about 10-12 minutes until the mixture thickens. *Thickening time depends on how cold your milk is to start with. It can take anywhere from 9-14 minutes to get it nice and thick like a pudding. In the first 5-7 minutes it doesn't thicken much at all, but when it starts it goes fast. So watch the filling carefully and when it starts to thicken, stir it constantly. Once it has thickened, remove it from the heat.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks. Take a small amount of the hot milk/flour mixture (about a tablespoon) and stir it into the eggs. Add another spoonful and stir it in (you are "tempering" the eggs so they don't cook and curdle). Now pour the egg mixture into the rest of the hot milk mix. Return it to the double boiler and cook until thickened some more (about 3-5 minutes) stirring constantly. Take it off the heat. Cut one of the bananas in half. Mash half of the banana in a small bowl. Add the mashed banana and vanilla extract to the filling mixture. Now place a layer of Saran wrap directly on top of the filling (to avoid getting a thickened skin on top). Put it in the fridge to cool. 

In the meantime, cut the remaining 1 1/2 bananas into thin slices and line the
cracker crust with the slices.

When the filling has cooled (it can be a lukewarm, but not HOT), pour it slowly into the
pie shell, being careful not to mess up the banana slices.

Top with fresh whipped cream (see below for recipe) and refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.  Try to eat it the same day because the sliced bananas turn brown.

Fresh Whipped Cream:
1 pint heavy cream
1/4 - 1/2 cup confectioner's sugar, depending on how sweet you want it

Make sure the cream is well-chilled, (I even chill the mixing bowl and beaters when I make whipped cream). Beat on high speed with mixer until it is thickened. Spread it over the chilled pie and then put the pie back in the fridge until serving.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Watermelon Daiquiri Pie

A cool, refreshing summer pie that requires no baking! Like a tropical drink in a pie, this is perfect for those hot summer evenings when you don't want a heavy dessert. If you want to read about how I came up with this recipe out of error and experimentation, read on. Or just skip to the end for the recipe itself.

This Watermelon Daiquiri Pie is a perfect example of how a mistake can end up leading you to something unexpectedly good. I started out ready to make the Watermelon Chiffon Pie recipe from Ken Haedrich's book Pie (a great book, by the way). But I found that two things made me tweak it: First, I had run out of eggs, and the recipe called for two beaten egg whites. I am someone who ALWAYS has eggs in the house, so I hadn't even thought to double-check, and here I was totally out. I could run to the store, but with two kids in tow there is just no such thing as a quick trip to the store. I had lots to do that day and couldn't take 40 minutes out to go to the store. I weighed my options - put off the pie for another day? No, I decided that although it would not be a true chiffon pie, it would probably still set up without the egg whites, just with a denser, creamier texture. And it was the perfect time to experiment, because this pie was not for any special event, but just for us. So I gambled. But then I came to another hurdle: when I cut up my watermelon, I found that it was not as ripe and flavorful as it should have been. Again, I could have gone to the store and bought another, but instead I decided to go with it and improvise. Here is what I did:

I simply omitted the egg whites. Knowing that some people do not like to eat raw egg whites, I wondered if this might lead to a good chiffon pie alternative (F.Y.I. - you can buy pasteurized egg whites that are safe to use raw if you want to). Then, to remedy the lack of flavor from my sadly underripe melon, I poked around my cabinets to see what I had. I came up with coconut extract and Rum. Taking an idea from a recipe I have for Margarita pie, I replaced 1/4 cup of the watermelon juice with rum. There was already lime juice in the original recipe, and I added a touch of zest with the juice. So with the lime and rum, it became a Daquiri pie! Adding a teaspoon of coconut extract gave it another layer of tropical flavor. Now you could call it a colada-daquiri pie, but that name would be pushing it too far.

I didn't expect to get the chunks and streaks of watermelon and cream, I thought it would be more of a smooth uniform color. Perhaps I had waited too long to fold the whipped cream into the watermelon gelatin mixture. But anyway, my husband said he liked to see the bits in the finished pie. Okay, but how would it taste after these changes? Surprisingly, we loved it! Although I am sure Ken Haedrich's Watermelon Chiffon Pie is excellent, I think I will stick with this flukey recipe instead - it was really good!

Watermelon Daquiri Pie

1 recipe Graham cracker crust
Note: Omit the sugar and just use the graham crackers, since this filling is sweet. Chill the crust to set it instead of  baking it - for this pie I like the slightly crumblier texture of the chilled crust.

1 Watermelon
3/4 - 1 Cup of sugar (to taste)
2 Envelopes unflavored gelatin
Juice of 1 whole lime
Zest of 1 whole lime
1/4 cup Rum (Malibu Coconut Rum is good, or any white rum)
1 Cup chilled heavy cream
Up to 1 Cup Confectioner's Sugar (to taste)
1 teaspoon coconut extract

Before you start, put the mixing bowl and whisk that you are going to use to whip the cream into the freezer.

Cut up the watermelon into small chunks. (I like to do the whole watermelon, even though for this recipe you only need 1/2 to 2/3 of it. But I like to make lots of juice and use it in smoothies or other drinks. If you would rather save some for eating, just use 6 cups of watermelon pieces together with only 1/3 cup sugar).

In a very large bowl, put all the chunks together with 3/4 - 1 Cup Sugar. Mash it all up with a potato masher and then let it sit for about 20 minutes. Give it another good mashing after that 20 minutes, and then strain the liquid into another bowl. Measure out 2 1/2 Cups of the liquid and set aside. Save the rest of the liquid in a tupperware in the fridge or freezer for other drinks. Throw out the leftover pulp and seeds.

Put 1/3 Cup of the watermelon juice in a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over it. Dissolve for about 5 minutes. In a small saucepan, heat 1/2 cup of the leftover juice until it is nearly boiling. Whisk this hot juice into the gelatin to dissolve it. Pour the remainder of the juice into a bowl and add the gelatin juice into it. Add the lime juice, zest, and rum. Chill this mixture, checking it every 6-8 minutes to see when it is starting to gel. You want to catch it when it is chilled and just starting to set up. While you are waiting for it to chill, put your heavy cream in the freezer for 5-10 minutes. Then take the bowl, whisk and cream out and whip the cream until it forms soft peaks. Add in the cofectioner's sugar (up to 1 cup, to taste) and the coconut extract. Continue whipping on medium speed until it forms stiff peaks.

When the gelatin mixture starts to gel, take it out and add one big dollop of the whipped cream into the gelatin and beat it good. Then gently fold in the rest of the whipped cream until well-incorporated. Spoon this mixture into the chilled pie shell and refrigerate the pie for 3-4 hours, up to overnight.

Cut with a sharp, non-serrated knife dipped in hot water for nice clean edges. Garnish with minature slices of watermelon.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Addictive Blog award

Thank you so much to Stephanie at Its not just about the recipe for nominating my site for the Addictive Blog Award! I am excited to know that she enjoys Baking Outside the Box and thinks it is "addictive" :)

The rules for the Addictive Blog Award are:

  • Thank the person who nominated you and link them back.
  • Share a little bit about why you started blogging.
  • Copy and paste the award onto your blog.
  • Nominate up to 10 other bloggers you think are addictive enough to deserve the award.

I started blogging a little over a year ago. My  husband and kids are eager taste-tasters, but they grew tired of me talking about baking techniques and recipes all the time. I had the urge to bake so often that everyone I knew started asking, "Are you trying to make me fat?!" I was running out of friends, family, neighbors and school bake sales to make goodies for. And nobody really wanted to discuss in detail whether it would have been better to add a touch more clove or try a lower oven temp next time. So I took my passion for scratch baking to the only place a self-taught baker like me can be heard - the blogosphere! I love sharing everything I do whether or not it gets read, but it is always nice to know that people do read and appreciate the posts.

Here are MY nominees for the Addictive Blog Award:

Thanks again to Stephanie at Its not just about the recipe!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy Independence Day!

It's the Fourth of July!

Here are some festive dessert ideas for your party:

"Hidden Flag" cake (I got this tutorial from

Decorated Sugar Cookies

Red Velvet cake with hand-painted fondant flag

Blueberry Pie with Star Crust

"I cannot tell a lie" Cherry Pie

"As American As" Traditional apple pie