Sunday, January 10, 2016

Getting Crusty

Easy as pie.  I'd like to know who came up with that saying.  In my mind, there is nothing easy about making a good pie crust.  As a matter of fact, I have spent 25 years working on my pie crust and I only recently feel somewhat comfortable with it.

My long relationship with pie crust has been a rocky one.  Part of the reason for this is that I grew up in the shadow of a woman who was famous for her pies.  The family would swoon over my mother's Pumpkin and Lemon Meringue at Thanksgiving and they would oooh and aaah as she trotted out the Chocolate Cream and Apple pies at Christmas.  These delicious pies hinged on one thing - the crust.

My mom had a perfect touch with pie crust.  Every pie was golden and flaky, with the perfect balance of salt .  It was the ideal, unsweet foil to the luscious, sticky fillings inside.

When I started baking, I tried to replicate my mom's all Crisco pie crust with absolutely no success at all.  I then made it my job to find a pie crust recipe that I could execute successfully and that tasted good enough to use as my go-to pie crust recipe.  I wanted to be the pie maker they ooohed and aaahed over.  Let's just say it took many years of "meh" to get to any form of adulation.

What I found on this journey is that there are truisms and key techniques that are critical to the success of a pie crust.  I also learned my likes and dislikes along the way. Here are some of the things that I learned in the process.

Use cold fat (butter, lard, shortening, whatever, just make it cold)
Cold water (or any other liquid in play)
Mix so that you can see chunks of fat in the dough- they = flaky
Let the completed dough have a little rest in the fridge (as little as 20 min to overnight)

Over mix once the liquid goes in
Roll or handle more than necessary
Add too much or too little liquid, should be enough to pull it together in a ball that is not overly wet, overly sticky or crumbly to the point of being powdery dry.

A mix of fats for flavor, browning, flakiness reasons
A decent pinch of salt or else you just taste flour
Hand mixing with a pastry blender (only because the food processor is heavy and a lot to clean and laziness wins)
Occasionally adding a tablespoon of sugar, depending on the filling being used
Glazing a top crust with an egg wash for shine and browning

Tough pie dough (comes from the aforementioned nevers)
Tasteless pie dough. The mix of fats and appropriate salt level helps prevent this.
When the recipe is scant and does not generously cover the pie tin when rolled out

Now, for a little visual, pie crust interlude;  here are some pies that I made throughout the years, after I learned a few do's and don'ts. The failures were never captured on film, but rather made a hasty exit by way of the kitchen garbage can. No shame in that. Failure=learning. #DareToCook



 (I know, that's two apples, but apple is my all time personal favorite)

There are a million pie crust recipes out there and they are all pretty similar.  This is what I have been doing lately and it provides the mix of flaky and tasty that I am looking for.

Recipe for a Single Pie Crust (double recipe for 2 crusts - Sorry, this is me wearing my Captain Obvious hat)
1 and 1/2 Cups All Purpose Flour
1 generous pinch of salt
4 Tablespoons cold butter
4 Tablespoons cold Crisco shortening
3 - 6 Tablespoons of Ice Water

Stir flour and salt together in a deep mixing bowl.  Add cold, cubed butter and shortening and mix together with a pastry blender (or pulse in a food processor if you prefer), until the mixture is crumbly and the bits are roughly the size of peas.

Slowly add water, a tablespoon at a time and with a fork, gently fluff the ingredients until they start to come together. The amount of water needed to do this will vary by temperature and weather, so this amount is not consistent.  When the mix holds together in a loose ball, it is ready to go for a rest in the fridge.  Flatten into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap or parchment and allow to relax for as little as 20 minutes up to as long as 1 day.

Take it out and let it sit for 5 min at room temperature before rolling.  Roll dough using a very light dusting of flour to facilitate the process. I like to roll out my dough on parchment paper as this helps ease the transfer process into the pie plate.

Transfer to pie plate and fill or blind bake as per the type of pie being made.

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