During the busy holiday season, time is of the essence. Cue the grated crust pie. This clever no-roll technique cuts down on prep work and cleanup and creates the base for a beautiful wintry pie that’s still worthy of company.
Grated crusts are very popular in Russia and many other post-Soviet countries, where “grandmother cooking” is common. In my experience growing up in Moscow, cooking with a box grater is a very common practice—perhaps because of the scarcity of kitchen equipment and other tools during the era of the USSR. We use the grater not only for pie crusts, but also shuba, a beet and herring salad, as well as spicy koreyskaya (carrot salad) and “Mimosa” salad with layers of grated carrot, grated eggs, and tuna.
Cranberries are a natural fit for this Russian-influenced pie, as they grow wild in the forests of the north—and of course are a native fruit of America as well. Most of today’s American cranberries are farm-raised and are bigger and less sour than their Eastern relatives. They’re harvested in the fall when they reach their distinctive deep red color. Fresh cranberries can be found in grocery stores such as Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods throughout fall and early winter. When not in season, frozen cranberries can be substituted (defrost before use).
But back to the dough: Once you’ve made and frozen the simple one-bowl buttery dough, you prepare the crust by simply grating the dough ball over your pie tin. Add your cranberries, some sugar, and then sprinkle with more dough shavings to top. If this seems too plain, you can add a handful or two of chopped nuts, such as walnuts or pecans, or rolled oats for extra crunchiness.
After baking, it’s best to immediately cut and transfer the pie out of the pan. If allowed to cool down in the pie pan, the juice from the cranberries will mix with the sugar and stick to the bottom of the pan, making it nearly impossible to get a piece without it crumbling. You can eat this pie hot or cold, but it’s best served with black tea or strong coffee.
GRATED DOUGH CRANBERRY PIE
INGREDIENTS FOR THE CRUST
⅓ cup sugar
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold (place in the freezer for 5 minutes before using)
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
INGREDIENTS FOR THE FILLING
12 ounces fresh cranberries (see note below for other options)
½-⅔ cup sugar (to taste)
1. In a medium bowl, beat together the egg and sugar. Then, using a box grater, shred the butter into the mix. Stir to combine.
2. Add the flour, baking powder, and salt to the mixture. Knead it with your hands to make a stiff elastic dough. Wrap it in plastic and place in the freezer for 20 minutes.
3. Preheat oven to 365ºF.
4. Grease a round 9-inch pie pan with butter. Get the dough out of the freezer and grate it, using the large holes of a box grater, directly into the pan, making sure the shavings create an even layer. Leave a small piece of ungrated dough for the top crust.
5. Add cranberries on top of the crust and sprinkle with the sugar. Grate the remaining dough over the berries.
6. Bake in the center of the oven for 45-50 minutes. Note: If your oven heats from below, place an extra empty baking sheet on a shelf underneath the pie to make sure it doesn’t burn at the bottom. If you have an electric oven with a convection setting, use it to help blow hot oven air over and around the pie to bake it evenly.
7. Remove the finished pie from the oven, and immediately cut it in pieces and transfer to a serving plate or cake stand to cool.
A note on fillings: If you do not like cranberries, you can substitute pitted cherries, sliced plums, black or red currants, or gooseberries. You will need to adjust the amount of sugar depending on the tartness of the fruit you’re using.