August 31, 2010

Summer's end (nearly)

Pie is what you need to make right now. Pie with plums, blackberries, and a streusel topping. I've never tasted anything with such a deep, berry flavor as this pie. Pulling it from the oven, that was the first word that came to mind when accosted with its tantalizing aroma: deep.

The combination of plums and blackberries was intriguing, so I had been excited about trying this pie for some time. Fruit pies are the best, especially when you live in California and blackberry bushes grow wild all over the place and the markets and grocery stores are loaded with fresh produce all summer long. We may be getting another heat wave this week out here, but it could very well be the last one (at least the last extreme one, let's hope), so now's the time to bake a fruit pie like this, before the summer is really over.

August is typically sweltering, but this year it's been rather pleasant, with only a couple of relapses into triple digit temperatures instead of a steady blasting of oppressive heat. Last week, even San Francisco hit 90+ degrees. By the weekend, though, things had cooled off considerably.

In that first picture up there, you'll notice odd-looking little white flecks -- don't worry, they're supposed to be there. That's tapioca, which helps the fruit juices gel up so the filling won't spill out when cutting slices, if you allow the pie to cool properly, that is. If you cut into the pie while it's still warm, the fruit will spill out, which we discovered, being too eager to wait till the end of the cooling process. Waiting that long was unbearable. Homemade vanilla ice cream was in the freezer, dinner had been eaten, the pie was calling, and it was pretty much demolished.

If you want to keep your fruit pies from gushing, try stirring a few tablespoons of uncooked tapioca flakes into the fruit mixture before baking. The addition works as a better thickener than simply adding flour. Your pie won't taste of tapioca at all, so if you despise tapioca pudding like I do, you needn't have any qualms about strange flavors. The streusel brings a richness that sets off the sweet-tangy quality of the plums coupled with the deep note of the berries. It's just about a perfect balance of flavors and textures.

Plum-Blackberry Streusel Pie
Adapted from Gourmet, July 2009

1 3/4 lbs ripe plums, pitted, cut into eighths
3/4 lb blackberries (2 cups)
1 1/2 cups sugar, divided
3 Tbsp quick-cooking tapioca
2 Tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp grated lemon zest
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
3/4 tsp salt, divided
all-butter pastry dough
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into bits

Put a foil-lined large baking sheet in lower third of oven and preheat oven to 375° F.

Toss plums and blackberries with 1 cup sugar, tapioca, cornstarch, lemon zest and juice, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a large bowl.

Roll out dough into a 13-inch round on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin. Fit into a 9 1/2-inch deep-dish pie plate. Trim excess dough, leaving a 1/2-inch overhang. Fold overhang under and press against rim of pie plate, then crimp decoratively. Chill while making streusel.

Stir together oats, flour, and remaining 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Blend in butter with a pastry cutter until mixture forms small clumps.

Mound filling in shell. Crumble streusel evenly over filling.

Bake pie until streusel is golden and filling is bubbling, 70 - 75 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack, 3 - 4 hours.

All-Butter Pastry Dough
Adapted from Gourmet, July 2009

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp sugar
rounded 1/4 tsp salt
1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-in. cubes
3 Tbsp ice water, plus extra

Whisk together flour, sugar, and salt in a bowl (or pulse in a food processor). Blend in butter with a pastry blender (or pulse) just until mixture resembles a coarse meal with some roughly pea-size butter lumps. Drizzle 3 tablespoons ice water over mixture and gently stir with a fork (or pulse) until incorporated.

Squeeze a small handful of dough: if it doesn't hold together, add more ice water 1/2 teaspoon at a time, stirring (or pulsing) until just incorporated, then test again. Do not overwork dough, or pastry will be tough.

Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface. With heel of your hand, smear once or twice in a forward motion to help distribute fat. Gather dough together and press into a ball, then flatten into a disk. Wrap the disk in plastic wrap and chill until firm, at least 1 hour. Dough can be chilled up to 1 day. Let stand at room temperature 20 minutes before rolling out.

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