My husband and I just returned from our great adventure: one fabulous week biking along the Canal Nantes à Brest. What was once inhospitable territory had become navigable, a route from Nantes through Brittany's interior and reaching out towards Brest, a swathe cut through the mountains and the brush. The idea of creating a waterway joining the Duchy of Brittany to the French realm blossomed in the XVI century yet wasn't completed until Napolean saw the need for a strategic route to send provisions, arms and munitions to his troops fighting the English. Yet Napolean's effort went for little as the construction of the railways on the tail of the inauguration of the Canal made more sense for carrying freight and the eventual construction of a hydroelectric dam cutting the canal in two brought the usefulness of this waterway to a veritable end. Yet....yet... how beautiful, how simple this luxurious trail, inviting us to see the inner, hidden corners of France, the tiny towns and quaint villages otherwise untraveled, too far off the beaten track and the autoroute to draw tourists. Parts of the canal still attract pleasure boats loaded with laughing, eating, fishing tourists, the picturesque beauty beguiling visitors who wend their way up and down the path along the water's edge on foot or bike. As we passed the barrage and the route became just a little bit more untamed and abandoned, we found ourselves alone, able to roll side by side with only the rare worry of dodging an oncoming bike or swerving around an elderly couple walking their dog as we neared each village or campsite. The trail, peaceful and picture-postcard beautiful, is a rather unknown attraction, yet worth the effort of discovering. For an afternoon, a day or a week, this is the perfect spot for a weekend, a vacation or a stroll.
It had been raining for weeks on end, cold, gray and damp it was before we headed west. Summer fruits, late in arriving, had not even made their first tentative appearance on the market in the days before our trip. But one week later we find, upon our return, the stalls a tumble of sweet, fragrant peaches and nectarines, bright local strawberries and the first garnet-hued plums and plump, ruby cherries. This is my favorite fruit season and I gorge on these summer stone fruits happily all day. I have only recently begun really baking with fruits - they rarely lasted long enough to make it into a pie, cake or crumble - but I have discovered so many delightful, flavorful and, most importantly, easy recipes that it is a shame to make a simple chocolate cake for dessert when there is such a selection of fruit.
Using your favorite mix of either fresh or frozen berries, this is the perfect pie for any time of the year, sweet and tart, light and refreshing, bursting with flavor. I use my all-time favorite Sweet Pastry Pie Crust - and if you have always imagined homemade piecrust difficult to make, well, think again. This is stunningly simple to make and so much more delicious than store bought! The pie is absolutely gorgeous, its deep, rich, jewel-like color of fruit filling oozing out between the flaky, pale golden lattice crust. The filling sets perfectly, no sticky, cloying texture and all of the fruit, whether frozen or fresh, cooks wonderfully, each tender and juicy, without any being either too hard and undercooked or overcooked and mushy. This may be the best fruit tart to come out of my kitchen yet!
Truly a super easy dessert even for beginners: the piecrust easier to make than so many think, the filling just your favorite summer berries tossed with sugar, cinnamon, lemon zest and a bit of flour and tossed into the shell. Try the trellis and impress your friends and family or simply roll out a second round of dough and place it on top of the fruit filling: pinch the bottom and top crusts together, trim, crimp and then cut holes or slashes in the crust to allow steam to escape.
MIXED BERRY PIE WITH SWEET PASTRY LATTICE CRUST
For any time of the year!
One Double-Crust Sweet Pastry Pie Crust (my recipe follows)
5 cups (I filled glass measuring cups) mixed berries, fresh or frozen *
½ cup (100 g) granulated sugar
1/3 cup (40 g) flour
¼ to ½ tsp ground cinnamon
Grated zest of 1 lemon (optional)
* Blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, currents or strawberries, for example. I have used both.
Toss the sugar, flour, cinnamon and zest together in a small bowl and stir to combine. Place all of the fruit in a large bowl and, using your hands, toss with the flour/sugar mixture until all of the fruit is coated with the dry ingredients. Set aside to macerate while you make the crust.
Prepare the Sweet Pastry Pie Crust:
2 ½ cups (315 g) cake flour
½ cup (or slightly less) (100 g) granulated sugar
14 Tbs (200 g) unsalted butter slightly softened and cubed **
2 large eggs, beaten
** most pie crust recipes call for the butter to be chilled. I have found that butter at room temperature is easier and quicker to work into the flour and the dough seems to be fluffier.
Combine flour and sugar in a mixing bowl or on a work surface. Using only your thumbs and fingertips, rub the butter into the flour until the consistency of sand and there are no more large chunks of butter.
With a fork, vigorously stir in the lightly beaten eggs until all the dry ingredients are moistened and a dough starts to pull together and form a ball.
Gather the dough together into a ball and place on a lightly floured surface. Using the heel of one hand, smear the dough little by little away from you in quick, hard strokes in order to make sure that all of the butter is blended in well.
Scrape up the dough together, re-flour the surface lightly and work very briefly and quickly until you have a smooth, homogenous dough. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 to 30 minutes. As you are working, if the buttery dough becomes a bit too soft or sticky for you, refrigerate it for an additional 10 or 15 minutes until it can be easily rolled out without sticking to your rolling pin.
Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C).
Lightly butter the bottom and sides of a 10-inch (25-cm) pie plate or dish (I use pyrex). Cut the dough in two pieces, one half slightly larger than the other (this larger part will be the bottom crust). On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough for the bottom crust until you have a circle about an inch (2 cm) wider all around than the bottom of the pie plate. Carefully and lightly roll up the dough around the rolling pin and lift and transfer to your pie dish, unrolling into the dish. Gently lift up the dough all around, sliding and pressing the dough down into the dish so as avoid stretching or breaking the dough. If the dough splits, no worry, it can simply be stuck and pressed together again. Using a knife or your rolling pin lying flat on top of the pie dish, cut off all excess dough hanging over the edges. Repress the sides of the dough back into the (crimped) sides of the pie dish.
Pour the prepared fruit filling into the pie dish and push the fruit around until evenly distributed and filling any gaps.
On your floured work surface, roll out the remaining dough into a circle the size of your pie plate or slightly larger. Cut into even strips of any width. Form a lattice over the fruit filling:
Using every other strip from the cut circle of dough, space them evenly across the top of the pie, leaving the edges hanging loosely over the edge of the pie.
Start the latticework in the center, working your way out. Pull back every other strip and, using the longest of the remaining cut strips (the center one) lay it across the center of the pie.
Lower the upturned strips over the perpendicular (cross) strip. Lift up the alternating strips that are now underneath the cross strip. Lay a second cross strip parallel to the first center cross strip and continue lifting alternating vertical strips and laying new horizontal cross strips and so on and so forth. When finished laying the lattice from the center down towards you, rotate the pie dish and complete the second half of the pie.
Trim the edges of the dough strips and press (flour your fingers if they stick to the dough) the edges into the dough of the bottom crust. If you like, use any leftover dough to make decorative shapes for the top (I made strawberries and raspberries). "Glue" these shapes of dough onto the crust with a bit of milk. Gently and lightly brush the crust lattice with milk.
Bake the Mixed Berry Pie in your preheated 375°F (190°C) oven for 40 - 50 minutes, until the crust is golden and cooked. The fruit will be bubbling. If any part of the crust begins to brown too fast - the edges of mine began browning well before the center - simply cover with strips of aluminum foil.
Carefully remove from the oven and allow to cool on a cooling rack. The filling will firm up perfectly when cooled to room temperature. Serve plain, with unsweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
Jamie Schler lives, eats and writes in France. To read more of her work visit Life's a Feast.