In Season – Pie

The first law of pies: no pastry, no pie

Summer in Alberta means berries and the best way to eat berries (besides warmed by the sun and eaten out of hand) is in a pie.

But pie, unless you grew up in one of those households where pie for breakfast was a normal everyday thing, pie can be advanced class. My confession: I did not grow up in a pie-making household. Tarts, and yes, the occasional galette, which I am thankful for, but pie I had to learn the hard way, by myself, experimenting with ratios of butter to shortening.

Café de Ville’s exec chef Tracy Zizek did grow up in a pie-making household — she actually learned to make pie from a grandmother. And that, in my books, makes Tracy the source of all pie-making wisdom. It’s like having an Italian grandmother teach you how to make pasta. She also started her culinary career as a pastry chef.

“The most important thing is quality ingredients — butter, flour.

The butter we have here has a bit too much moisture, so I cut in vegetable shortening. Otherwise, the crust is not as flaky and can be heavy.”

Tracy is referring to the fact that other pastry-making cultures, like France let’s say, has butter with more butterfat that our measly 82 per cent.

“My grandma made pie with lard, there was nothing else, now you can’t get it — real lard, that is, not the processed stuff in the supermarket.

“You must start with cold ingredients, even stick the flour in the fridge for a half hour.

“The fat has to be cut in, not blended. Take your time. I prefer to do by hand with a plain old-fashioned pasty cutter, not a food processor

“Never make more than a couple pies at a time. When you are working in larger quantities, you are not going to get all the butter cut in properly. If you have to make a lot of pies, make a couple a day, then freeze them.

“Make the dough a day ahead, it helps the gluten to rest.

“I like to use all purpose flour. Baker’s flour has too much gluten and your crust can be tough, and pastry flour is too dainty.

“For rhubarb pie, I like to cook the rhubarb filling in the oven, not on the stove top, then fold in — stays chunkier that way.

“For fruit pies, bake the crust blind. Use beans, not weights, then bake the pie on a sheet pan.

“Day old pie? When does anybody ever refuse pie, no matter how old it is?”

Tracy’s pie dough
  • 2¾ c all purpose flour
  • 1¼ t salt
  • 2 t sugar
  • 1 c unsalted butter
  • ¼ c vegetable shortening
  • ½ c ice cold water

Place flour, salt and sugar into a large bowl. Cube butter and shortening into ¼ inch cubes and place in bowl. Using a pastry blender, cut in until the fat is the size of peas. Sprinkle water over top. Gently work the water in the flour just until the dough holds together. Flatten into two disks, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.

Strawberry pie
  • 1 recipe Tracy’s pie dough

Preheat oven to 425°F. In a bowl, toss together salt, berries, ½ cup sugar, cornstarch, juice, zest and vanilla; set filling aside. Unwrap dough; roll both into 11-inch wide and 1/8-inch thick circles. Transfer one circle to a 9-inch deep-dish pie pan; mound filling inside. Place the other circle on top. Trim and crimp edges. Brush dough with cream and sprinkle with remaining sugar. Bake until golden and bubbling, about 1 hour (if crust begins to brown before pie is finished baking, cover with foil until pie is done). Let cool.

Rhubarb lattice pie with cardomom and orange

There are those who think perfection is a strawberry rhubarb pie. I would agree. However, it’s our job to push the envelope somewhat and introduce our readers to other flavours and ideas about rhubarb. Adapted from Bon Appetit

  • 2 c flour
  • 2 T sugar
  • ¾ t salt
  • ¾ c unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes, frozen 15 minutes
  • 7 T (about) ice water

Blend flour, sugar and salt in a food processor for 5 seconds. Add butter. Pulse until a coarse meal forms. Add 5 T ice water. Using on/off turns, blend until moist clumps form, adding more ice water by ½ tablespoonfuls if dough is dry. Gather dough into ball. Divide into 2 pieces, one slightly larger than the other. Flatten into disks. Wrap and chill at for least 1 hour and up to 1 day.


  • 10 c 1-inch pieces rhubarb
  • 2/3 c plus 2 t sugar
  • ¼ c fresh-squeezed orange juice
  • 2½ t grated orange peel
  • ½ t ground cardamom
  • ¼ c strawberry jam
  • 1 T whipping cream

Combine rhubarb, 2/3 cup sugar, orange juice, orange peel and cardamom in large deep skillet. Toss over medium-high heat until liquid starts to bubble. Reduce heat to medium. Cover and simmer until rhubarb is almost tender, stirring only occasionally to keep rhubarb intact, about 8 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer rhubarb to a colander set over a bowl. Drain well. Add this syrup from bowl to skillet. Boil until juices are thick and reduced to 2/3 cup, adding any additional drained syrup from bowl, about 7 minutes. Mix in the jam, and cool mixture in skillet 15 minutes. Fold in the rhubarb pieces gently to prevent breakage.

Preheat oven to 375°F. Roll out larger dough disk on lightly floured surface to 12-inch round. Transfer to 9-inch glass pie dish. Roll out smaller dough disk to 11-inch round; cut into ½-inch-wide strips.

Spoon filling into pie dish. Arrange 6 dough strips atop filling, spacing evenly apart. Arrange 5 dough strips atop filling in opposite direction, forming lattice. Seal strip ends to crust edge. Stir cream and 2 t sugar in small bowl to blend. Brush over lattice, but not crust edge.

Bake pie until filling bubbles and crust is golden. Cover edges with foil if browning too quickly, about 55 minutes. Cool completely. Cut into wedges and serve with ice cream.

Hazelnut pavlova with strawberries

A pavlova is pie-shaped and gluten free. Make this with just-picked strawberries, bright red and juicy.

  • 10 egg whites
  • 2¾ c superfine sugar
  • 1¼ c hazelnuts, toasted, peeled, and ground
  • 1¼ c heavy cream
  • ½ kg strawberries, hulled and sliced into large chunks

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

Beat egg whites in a large bowl to stiff peaks. Add half the sugar and beat again to stiff peaks. Gently fold in nuts and remaining sugar. Pour meringue onto center of prepared baking sheet. Carefully spread meringue out into an 8-inch wide circle. It will look like a tall cake.

Bake for 20 minutes, reduce heat to 275°F, and bake another 40 minutes or so until it is browning on the edges, dry on outside and slightly gooey inside. Remove from oven and set aside to let cool. A few cracks are to be expected.

In a large bowl, beat heavy cream to stiff peaks. Carefully run a spatula or knife under bottom of meringue to loosen it and transfer to a platter.

Spread the whipped cream over, and heap strawberries attractively on top. Serves 4-6

Berry cobbler
  • ½ c sugar
  • 1½ T cornstarch
  • 7 c (mixed fresh berries — use no more than 1½ c strawberries; halved, if large) strawberries, saskatoons and raspberries make a delish combo.
  • 1½ c flour plus more for surface
  • ¼ c sugar plus more for sprinkling
  • 1½ t baking powder
  • ½ t salt
  • 5 T chilled unsalted butter, cut into ½ inch cubes
  • ½ c chilled whole milk plus more for brushing
  • vanilla ice cream

Preheat to 400°F. Whisk sugar and cornstarch in a large bowl. Add berries to bowl and toss to coat. Transfer berry mixture to a 2-quart baking dish about 2 inches deep. Set aside to macerate while making dough.

Whisk 1¼ c flour, ¼ c sugar, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Add butter; using fingertips, rub in butter until coarse meal forms. Add a bit more flour if necessary. Add ½ cup milk and stir just until dough forms. Gather dough into a ball and transfer to a lightly floured surface. Gently knead 5 or 6 times, then pat dough into a 9×6 inch rectangle. Cut dough to form 8 rectangles, or cut out circles — whatever you like. Arrange biscuits on the fruit, brush lightly with milk and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake until fruit is bubbling and biscuits are just cooked through and golden all over, about 35 minutes. Serve with vanilla ice cream.