January 1, 2015


This week I learned two things: pastry made by hand is really better and second, elderberries are special. I approached this post with abandon. Fresh elderberries just don't exist commercially. Living deep in an urban centre, I'm not inclined to go elderberry hunting, so what is left are dehydrated Frontier elderberries. I understood that the berry flavour could be concentrated, but it seemed like the only solution. What I didn't expect was the juice that came from the hydrating solution was intensely, intensely dark purple, and so, so sour, I found it was almost unpalatable. Still, I'm intrigued. My final, and lasting impression of elderberries are the seeds--always present and persistently crunchy, to one degree or another. Like pomegranate, I love the juice, but not the seeds. Same with elderberry. And so, I now appreciate their unique character, especially their flower's contribution to cocktails, and the versatility of the sour juice, but I'm not likely to revisit the elderberry fruit. The seeds were simply a deal breaker.

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  • I've been realizing, since the acquisition of my bread bowl, that my hands are good little machines, so I set out to make the pastry by hand. There's always ennui about keeping the butter cold, working fast, and not over smearing the dough. So I took a precaution or two and froze the mixing bowl and put all the mis-en-place in the fridge. Then I started.

First I rubbed the cream cheese and into the flour mixture with my fingers.
First I rubbed the cream cheese and into the flour mixture with my fingers.

  • Then I pulled out my pastry cutter and cut the butter into cream cheese and flour.

My pastry cutter in action.
My pastry cutter in action.

  • I can appreciate the plastic bag method keeps the dough in one place and probably keeps the butter colder because the plastic buffers the heat of your hand, but the method drives me crazy. So I recalled Thomas Keller tutorial on the fraiser technique and the way Julia child spoke about smearing the dough with the heal of your hand until it's manageable. This is what I attempted.

Initial stages of the pastry
Initial stages of the pastry

  • Gathering up the dough

Beginning to knead the dough.
Beginning to knead the dough.

  • Leaning into it. Doing the smear.

Kneading the pastry together.
Kneading the pastry together.

  • Smearing some more, and gathering it up for another round...

Shaggy pastry.
Shaggy pastry.

  • Trying not to let the butter get warm

The pastry is shaggy.
The pastry is shaggy.

  • The pastry looks flakey already...

The pastry coming together.
The pastry coming together.

  • Looking back, I probably could have continued a little longer, but at the time I thought I should stop and let the dough rest.


  • Admittedly, the dough was a little bit elastic. It didn't roll easily. I wasn't sure if it was on account of the hand method, or because it was too cold. My guess is that it needed more resting due to the handling.


  • This was straightforward. I much prefer cooking the filling before it goes into the pie shell. I just feel more confident that the filling won't be soup and that the bottom crust will be crisp.

The blueberries on the left and the elderberries still soaking, obviously
The blueberries on the left and the elderberries still soaking, obviouslyThe elderberries draining. At this point, they appear plump and soft.
The elderberries draining. At this point, they appear plump and soft.The filling before I put it to the heat.
The filling before I put it to the heat.The top crust is rolled and ready.
The top crust is rolled and ready.The finished pie ready for the oven
The finished pie ready for the ovenElderblueberry Pie, The Finer Cookie
Elderblueberry Pie, The Finer Cookie

  • Here is where I really got interested. I threw the daisy cut out onto the hot stone to see how it baked up. When I saw all the layers, I was amazed at the difference of this hand made pastry versus the one that I make with my food processor. At first glance, it looks like puff pastry. I felt excited and encouraged.

Elderblueberry Pie, The Finer Cookie.
Elderblueberry Pie, The Finer Cookie.


  • I thought this pastry was better than any I had made in a very long time. From now on, all my pastries will be made by hand. I feel more satisfied with this, than any other so far. In terms of the berry filling, the soury berry flavour was wonderful, but the crunchy texture of the seed put me off. The next day, the seeds were a wee bit softer, but still not enough to change my mind. I think it's just the nature of the elderberry. WHAT ARE THE ALPHA BAKERS? : Here's how it works: once a week, for the next two years, 25 Alpha Bakers commit to baking their way through every recipe of Rose Levy Beranbaum's newly published The Baking Bible. Each week we post our experiences on our blog sites: our successes, our failures, our like and dislikes . The recipes are scheduled in advance so that everyone is baking the same recipe at the same time. No recipes can be shared in my Alpha Bakers The Baking Bible posts due to publishing restrictions enforced by the publisher, but if you love to bake, this is a must-have book. You can see other tutorials for the same recipe at the following link The Baking Bible Alpha Bakers at http://rosesalphabakers.blogspot.ca/.
TAGS:  BAKING BIBLE       LABELS: Alpha Bakers 



Rose Levy Beranbaum   2017-01-07

i love the cutter you used--unbaked and baked it looks spectacular as does your pastry. it tempts me to go back to making it by hand!

Kimberlie 2017-01-07

Thanks Rose. Coming from you, it's really nice. I'm going to keep going with my hands and forego the machines where I can. We'll see what happens.

Michele   2017-01-07

Kim: I made the best crust ever, and it's thanks to YOU! I was so inspired by your tutorial that I made my pastry by hand (partly) and it is perfect!! Do look at my blog because I give you full credit!!

Kimberlie 2017-01-07

I went to see. Your crust was beautiful. Isn't it satisfying to make things with your hands (except for the manicure).

Joan   2017-01-07

Wow! I love all that you said! Smear? That is what I was try not to do. I think your experience will serve to help me to better learn to make dough. I think the freeze-dried elderberries I have left will translate better into medicinal teas. Your pie looks so pretty in your top picture.

Michele   2017-01-07

Hi Kim: What a lovely pie! Thanks for the great tutorial. I have used Rose's plastic bag method but you have inspired me to try to hand method. I like the cream cheese pastry but really prefer her butter pie crusts. Sometimes I have trouble getting the dough to hold together, as though it needs more liquid. I may do it the "smearing" way and see if it makes a difference. One thing has always dissauded me is my long fingernails--I hate the feeling of flour and butter under them! I am baking my pie today. I will probably get out the food mill and strain the seeds. If I don't I'm afraid my husband won't like the pie at all!

Milagritos   2017-01-07

Kimberlie, what a gorgeous pie! I'm so glad you made the pastry by hand. I also mix in a bowl and then smear the dough on the bench and this technique produces a far superior pastry than any machine could. I completely relate to your elderberry seed woes. Aren't they distracting? I won't be making this pie. Elderberries are uncommon here, even the dried ones. Yours is a beauty! And thanks for the wonderful pastry tutorial!

Vicki   2017-01-07

Beautiful pie! I love that technique of smearing the butter. My husband asked "Aren't you going to strain out the seeds?" which might not be a bad idea. Good to know the flavor is nice with dried as they are available all year round in the health food store

Jeniffer   2017-01-07

Goodness the elderberries are soooo, so tiny! Engaging post reading your experiences. Flower cut out on top of pie is nice :) I make pastry either way, does depend if food processor is out

Tony Bridges   2017-01-07

Great tutorial Kim! I guess I'm personally sold on the plastic bag method as it works so well for me but to see all of your steps so beautifully executed was a joy to see and read. I can't find Elderberries in my area but the pictures you gave us resemble purple currents. As always, I enjoyed your work; HAPPY BAKING!

faithy   2017-01-07

I always make the pastry by hand because I am too lazy to bring out the food processor. lol! I'm glad to see how dried elderberries look like from your photos! I think using the dried berries does make the pie looks drier isn't it? I like how you cut a flower in the centre. So simple and sweet.

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