Lemon-flecked Blueberry Pie

Is there a more fitting dessert on the Fourth of July than a blueberry pie?  If you find something, please tell because I can’t seem to find another thing I would rather bake when the holiday comes around.  Blueberries are just coming into season at the beginning of July, so the anticipation of the first blueberry pie of the season is high.  And so, on a 90+ degree day, I found myself cranking up the oven to 400 degrees, all in the name of blueberry pie. A little pie-obsessed? It’s hard to tell.

With the fan on high and the windows wide open with hopes of a cool breeze, I set forth on making the perfect blueberry pie.  I started with my trusty go-to pie crust recipe, with a sprinkling of lemon zest and ground ginger in between flakes of near-frozen butter.  The recipe for the blueberry filling came from Martha Stewart; however, I can’t seem to make anything without a few additions.  A little more lemon zest and a swirl of maple syrup seemed to be appropriate partners for the freshly picked berries.  20 minutes later, the pie was assembled and ready for the oven.

As the scent of the pie began to waft throughout the house, I knew the dessert was going to be a winner.  The challenge, as it turned out, was leaving the pie undisturbed (and uneaten) until the dinner party later that night.

The pie was a hit and, I must say, a perfect fit for the day.  However, I don’t know if I can (or should) wait until next year to crank up the oven for this pie one more time, and I don’t think you should wait either.

Lemon-Flecked Blueberry Pie
(Filling adapted from The Martha Stewart Baking Handbook)
Pie Crust:
1 1/2 sticks cold, unsalted butter, diced
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
zest of 1/2 lemon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/3 cup ice water
Pie Filling:
8 cups fresh blueberries, washed and dried
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup granulated sugar
zest of 1/2 lemon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 egg yolk
dash of water
For the pie crust:  Put the butter on a small plate and place in the freezer for 15 minutes.  In the meantime, combine the flour, salt, sugar, and lemon zest in a large bowl.  Mix well.  Cut in the semi-frozen butter until the butter chunks are about the size of peas (I flatten any big chunks of butter with my fingers).  Pour 1/4 cup of ice water over the mixture and mix, adding additional water if necessary.*  Form the dough into two disks, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour
For the pie filling: Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl, making sure to mash up some of the berries in the process.  Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Remove one disk of dough from the refrigerator.  Sprinkle flour on the countertop and the rolling pin.  Roll dough into an 11 inch circle, picking the dough up and rotating it 45 degrees after each stroke to prevent sticking.  Place the circle of dough into a pie pan and trim the overhang to meet the sides of the pan.  Pile the filling into the lined pie pan.  Roll out the remaining disk of dough.  Using a 1-inch round cookie cutter, cut out circles of pie dough to use as a decorative border and upper crust (roll out the scraps if necessary).  Make an eggwash with the yolk and the water and brush on top of the pie crust.  Sprinkle the pie with sugar and place in the oven.
Bake for 25 minutes, or until golden brown.  Turn down the oven to 350 degrees and bake until the filling is bubbling, approximately 35-45 minutes more.  Let the pie cool before slicing.
*Hint: The pie dough has enough water when, after squeezing some dough in your hand, the ball of dough stays together.    If it does not, add more water by the tablespoon until it holds together.

The Best Lemon Bars

When signs of spring begin to pop up around town, I always make lemon bars.  Lemon has the power to wake you up from the cloudy fog of winter with one, slightly tart bite.  Quite the powerful fruit!

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that these lemon bars will be the best you’ll find.  I’ve adapted the recipe from the creator of my favorite brownies, Alice Medrich.  The bars are slightly more tart than a traditional lemon bar, but I think that’s the key to their success.

I always add a dash of ginger to any lemon sweet that I am making, convinced that the spice lets the lemon sing.  One day, I’ll experiment with earl gray or jasmine tea in the crust as well. For now though, get yourself ready for spring by whipping up a batch of these easy, and utterly delicious lemon bars.  Let me know what you think!

The Best (or at least my favorite) Lemon Bars
(adapted from Alice Medrich’s Very Tangy Lemon Bar recipe)
Makes 16 large or 24 small lemon bars.  The recipe can easily be doubled and prepared in a 9 x 13 inch pan.
For the crust:
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground ginger
For the filling:
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 large eggs
2 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1/2 cup strained fresh lemon juice
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8 x 8 baking pan with foil. Set aside.
To make the crust: in a medium-sized bowl, combine the melted butter, sugar, vanilla, and salt. Add the flour and ground ginger and mix until combined.*  Press the dough over the bottom of the pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the crust is completely baked and golden brown.
To make the filling: While the crust is baking, stir together the sugar and flour in a large mixing bowl until well combined.  Whisk in the eggs. Add the lemon zest and juice and stir.
When the crust is fully baked, turn down the oven to 300 degrees. Pour the filling onto the hot crust and slide back into the oven. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the topping doesn’t jiggle when the pan is moved. Cool completely before cutting.**
*Note: the crust will seem too greasy, but it will come together in the oven. Don’t add more flour.
**Note 2: Store leftovers (if there are any) in the refrigerator.

Ginger Cookies with Lemon Frosting

As the cookie baking season is well underway, I thought it would be appropriate to write about one of my favorites: the ginger cookie.  Although I typically favor crunchy ginger cookies–the kind you can soften in a tall glass of milk–these are soft little cookie pillows, with a crunchy coating of turbinado sugar.  Add in a refreshingly lemon-filled frosting, and you have a cookie that is more than worthy for the holiday cookie tray.

Ginger Cookies with Lemon Frosting
(Cookies adapted from Eat Make Read)
I prefer to make these cookies bite-sized, especially if they are on the holiday cookie tray. However, the dough can also be dropped by the tablespoon, in which case you will get approximately 12 sandwiches.  Otherwise, the recipe makes about 30 bite-sized sandwiches
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup cold butter, cut into 1/4 inch cubes
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup molasses
1/3 cup turbinado sugar (optional)
1 stick (4 oz) butter, room temperature
2 cups confectioner’s sugar
zest of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 tablespoons milk
To Make the Cookies:  Whisk the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger and salt together in a large bowl.  Cut in the butter.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the sugar, egg and molasses.  Add the sugar mixture to the dry ingredients and mix until combined.  Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
In the meantime, make the frosting.  In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar.  Add the lemon zest, vanilla extract and milk.  If the frosting seems to stiff, add more milk, 1/2 teaspoon at a time.  Beat the frosting on medium speed for 5 minutes.  Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Put the turbinado sugar in a small bowl, if using.  Roll the cookie dough into teaspoon sized balls, roll in the sugar, and place on the baking sheet.  Once the baking sheet is full, slightly flatten the balls with your fingers.  Bake for 7-8 minutes.  Allow the cookies to cool completely before sandwiching two cookies together with the lemon frosting.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.