Sometimes a few simple ingredients can inspire a great dish. Other times, it may actually be the dish itself that inspires the great—wait…that sounds a bit like an Odyssey-type riddle (maybe Monty Python?) In any case, I’ve been on my own quest of sorts—a quest to find beautiful and unusual tabletop objects and kitchen equipment. I’m really not one to fetish-ize stuff or even collect things really, but lately, I’m finding it hard to resist yard sales, junk shops and the occasional antique shop.
The more food writing, styling and shooting I do on my own, the greater need for interesting props I have. On a recent trip upstate, I hit every joint on the way up and came away with a few lovely things. One was a vintage square muffin tin made by Echo from the ‘40’s. It was filled with hazelnut coffee beans and scented tea candles—the shop owner’s shabby-chic “Great holiday decorating tip”—which immediately gave me a headache. (She refunded me $2.50 for the beans and candles that I left behind.) Down the road, I found a few original Danish modern serving spoons, a vintage pastry blender, wooden board and an amazing Bennington bowl all for $6. Of course they’re no Golden Forest Dinnerware collection by Dibbern, but I like them, they’re interesting, purposeful and took some effort to find.
It’s finally sunk in that beautiful objects can function as “muses” as well as decoration. When I hold something in my hands, I know exactly what I will do with it. The muffin tin would be perfect for these little blueberry pies—it just needed a good soak and scrub to get rid of the hazelnut coffee /vanilla scented candle smell before baking.
ACTIVE: 30 MINUTES; TOTAL: 2 HRS
FLAKY ALL-BUTTER PASTRY
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes, chilled
1/2 cup ice water
2 cups blueberries
1/2 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ cup light brown sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 egg yolk mixed with 1 tablespoon water
Granulated sugar for sprinkling
- Make the pastry: In a large bowl, using a pastry blender or 2 butter knives, combine the flour and salt. Add the butter and cut it in, until the largest pieces are the size of small peas. Add the ice water and using a wooden spoon, gently stir until a raggy dough forms. Turn the crumbs onto a work surface and knead 2 or 3 times. Form into a disc, wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Alternatively, use the food processor: pulse the flour and salt. Add the cubed butter and pulse in 1 second bursts 5 times. The butter should be the size of small peas. Lift the lid, pour in the water and pulse 5 or 6 times, just until the dough is moistened, but doesn’t form a ball. Knead briefly, wrap and chill.
- Preheat the oven to 375° and position a rack nearest the bottom. Spray a 6-muffin muffin pan with vegetable spray. On a floured surface, roll the dough ¼-inch thick. Cut the dough into six 7-inch rounds. Gather the scraps and gently press together to make more rounds. Transfer the rounds to a baking sheet and refrigerate for 5 minutes. Ease the pastry into the muffin cups, carefully pressing it into the corners. Patch any tears if necessary.
- Make the filling: In a bowl combine the berries, ginger, lemon zest and juice, the brown sugar and cornstarch. Spoon the filling into the pastry, mounding it slightly above the surface. Bring the edges of the pastry together and pinch to seal. Brush the tops with the egg yolk mixture and sprinkle with sugar. Bake the pies on the bottom rack until the filling is bubbling and the pastry is deeply golden, about 1 hour. Cover the tops with foil if they brown too quickly. Let cool, then carefully transfer the pies to a platter. Serve warm.