Over Easy is a weekly food column by a 20-something woman who can barely cook an egg and just wants to learn how to throw together an elegant three-course meal for her friends.
Until recently, the sum total of my pie-making knowledge was that one scene in Snow White where a gaggle of woodland creatures help a 14-year-old make a gooseberry pie for one of the seven codependent adult miners she lives with, all the while singing about a prince coming to rescue her from her job as an underage maid.
That was plenty of information for me. I’ve never been a big fan of pies — I find something about warm fruit to be unsettling. But last week, I received the link to @lokokitchen, the Instagram account of Lauren Ko, who shares pictures of her colorful, geometric pies and tarts with cheerful, punny captions. Ko is not a professional baker; until this year, she was the executive assistant to the chancellor of Seattle Colleges. And even though she’s only shared 78 posts since she started the account in August 2017, she’s already amassed over 188,000 followers. It’s easy to see why: Scrolling through the orderly, aesthetic delight of her pies is like visual therapy, a Swedish massage for your eyeballs, their hypnotic, complex perfection a brief, welcome respite from the utter chaos of existence. I had to make one.
I decided on this “Best Blueberry Pie” recipe from Bon Appetit (Ko doesn’t develop recipes herself) because I love blueberries, and the word “best” is right there in the title, so you know it’s good. As for choosing one of Ko’s elaborate lattice designs, I wanted one that looked impressive, but that I could still realistically execute. So I chose one of her most common designs — the spoke pie.
But as excited as I was about my new venture, my friends and family urged caution.
“I make maybe four [pies] a year, and they’re always edible, but pie crust is so hard to make,” one friend told me.
“I hate making pies,” my mother said bluntly. “I am afraid for you.”
The first thing to know when making a pie, I learned, is that if you’re making the crust yourself, it will probably take you two days — you have to let the dough chill overnight. This seemed high-maintenance, and I hated it. Plus, the crust can make or break a pie, so you really don’t want to screw it up.
Day 1: For the dough, you whisk together flour, granulated sugar, and salt, and then add in three sticks of chilled, unsalted butter. You toss the butter with the dry ingredients (“quickly and aggressively,” the recipe says, but when I got too aggressive, flour flew all over my kitchen and my dog, so I shifted down to “slowly and meekly” instead) until it’s completely incorporated, and there are bits of dough roughly the size of peas. Next, you pour in a mixture of lemon juice, ice water, and vodka (to make the crust flakier) and mix until “shaggy pieces form.” Take a moment to meditate on whatever that means to you.
The recipe has strict, specific instructions on how to mix the dough together which, unfortunately, is not “knead the crap out of it until you’ve exorcised all your internal demons.” What you actually do is much less emotionally satisfying and a bit complicated. I invite you to check the recipe for specific instructions.
Day 2: By the second day, I was pretty over my pie. I got home from work tired and sweaty and cloaked in a heavy fog of my fellow commuters’ farts, and all I wanted to do was sit slack-jawed and watch tanned, vapid Brits get day-drunk and try to bone each other (Love Island on Hulu! Watch it!). But nevertheless, I soldiered on.
I tossed four pints of blueberries, cornstarch, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt, and sugar in a large bowl (really, you need a very large bowl for this), and let it sit for 30 minutes for the berries to soften and the juice to begin to extract. Next was the real challenge: the dough.
Making pies, it turns out, requires having a lot of space in which to roll out and store dough. In my cramped Brooklyn apartment, this no small feat. After taking them out the fridge and letting your two pieces of dough rest for five minutes, the recipe instructs you to roll them out into disks about ⅛” thick, or 16 inches in diameter. But as I soon realized, there is not a single flat surface in my kitchen that is 16” inches in diameter. When I’d finally rolled out the first disk to about 13 inches in diameter, I then had to figure out a way to store it on a sheet pan it in my fridge, which I share with three other people who like cold beer, tall takeout containers, and on this particular day, half a watermelon. After some creative re-stacking, I was able to balance the dough precariously at a 45 degree angle on top of a few LaCroixs and a container of some old pad thai.
To begin fashioning the second disk of dough into a lattice, I rolled it out and then, using a ruler, cut it into 24 half-inch strips. After chilling these, I placed the first disk of dough into a deep pie dish, scooped in the filling, and started on the lattice
Making the spirograph pattern isn’t as hard as you might think (watch a video of Ko making one here). You put a small, round container in the middle — I used a ¼ cup measuring cup — and lightly curve each strip around it, about a ¼” apart, again and again and again. The whole thing only took me about 15 minutes, and made me feel like a brilliant math artist. I immediately posted a picture of my creation to Instagram.
Next I brushed the lattice with an egg wash, some sugar, and, after more space negotiation, chilled it for ten minutes while I preheated the oven to 425. The pie only cooks at this temperature for five minutes, and then you lower the heat to 375, and cook it for between 75 and 90 minutes.
By now, I felt like I had been making this pie for the better part of my adult life. When it was finally done, the blueberries bubbling and bursting under the browned crust, I was too tired to be proud or happy. I put it on the counter to chill, and went to bed.
Day 3: The 72 years I spent making this pie were, it seems, worthwhile. The next day, the spoke pattern had held together much better than I expected, and when I tasted it, the crust was firm and flaky, the filling sweet without being too sweet. (Though, if someone forced me to make another pie, I would add more lemon juice.)
But don’t take my word it for it, pie-ignoramus that I am. When I brought it into work the next day, multiple people looked at it and said “Wow!” in a good way, and then they ate it and said “Wow!” in a good way again.
“You’re gonna be like the next Martha Stewart,” the Cut’s Stella Bugbee said as she ate a piece, the highest possible praise one human can give another on this Earth.
All in all, the pie took entirely too long for me to want to make one on any sort of regular basis, but there was something relaxing about each slow, precise step. And I live for compliments above all else, so at the end of the day, the external validation made it all worth it.
My report card
Preparation: B (negative points for calling the dough a “needy bitch”)
Compliments: Martha Stewart!
My Overall Performance: A