Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Year of Pies: Start with Best Crust Ever!

A Year of Pies

Pie Ingredients
I have been baking pies ever since I was in Bolivia working with the Mennonite Central Committee in 1983. It all started with banana cream pies with fresh home grown bananas growing in my back yard. (a fuller story about that will come in another post). I figure I have baked somewhere between 1,000 – 2,000 pies since that first one. Whose keeping count? I didn’t want to get into pie counting but this past August my dad, Bud, thought that I should be keeping track of all the pies I bake. So I compromised. I am keeping track of all the pies I bake in one year and plan to share the recipe of each different pie that I bake. So my pie year started August 1st near my b-day which is August 6th.

My first recipe will be a basic apple pie. We had a bumper crop from our 6 apple trees this year so I froze about 33 gallons of pie filling to last for the year! But before I share the recipe I have to start with the crust.

Is perfect pie crust possible?

Statistics are to baseball what a flaky crust is to Mom’s apple pie. —Harry Reasoner taken from Humble Pie, Musings on what lies beneath the crust by Annie Dimock
There have been a number of times at a church pot-luck or some other gathering when I hear a group of women talking about pie baking and someone will say, “Oh I just don’t do pies, crusts are just so hard to get right!” I just smile not saying a word but it is too bad because pie crusts are not that difficult!

Like any craft/skill/artistry it just takes practice and a few helpful hints, so here are mine.

Ingredients for one crusted pie (for two just double recipe)

1 cup regular flour
1/3 cup buttered flavored Crisco
¼ cup ice water
½ t salt
1 t powdered sugar

1. Mix salt, sugar and flour together well in a medium sized bowl.
 2. Cut in shortening with a pastry cutter (it has a handle with 4-5 thin wires coming out of it) It should be mixed well enough for the shortening to be in pea sizes or less.
3. Add ice water and mix well with a spoon until you can comfortably mold it into a oval ball.
4. Cover and put in fridge for at least one hour if you have time (I like to make my dough the night before so it is good and cold.

When you are ready to put the pie together roll out dough on pastry cloth or waxed paper. (I love my pastry cloth) You may want to add a little flour to the cloth and rolling pie so they don’t stick together.

Again if you have the time put the pie in the fridge again and let it rest for 30 minutes.

Ok here is a trick I just learned a couple of months ago thanks to the Nov. issue of Saveur magazine. Here is how the author Lesley Porcelli described the process from her article, “Miss American Pie” The conventional wisdom is not to overwork pie dough which is somewhat true as it tends to cause pie dough to be stiffer: “The key, was to develop enough glutens to allow the dough to hold together while keeping some lumps of butter intact. These would melt while baking, leaving behind air pockets—essential for a crust with layers of flakiness. The customary rest in the fridge that all pie recipes call for would be enough to relax the glutens that did form, preventing toughness.”

The salt and the sugar in the recipe helps draw some of the moisture out of the pie adding to the flakiness of the pie crust.

One can see a number of different recipes for pie crusts for lard, shortening, butter and different ratios between the shortening and flour. Anne DiMock believes and I confirm that the 1/3 ratio seems to work the best and is the simplest too.

Butter vs. shortening: I have tried it all and pure butter crusts and even half and half always seem to come out a bit stiffer than my Crisco (transfat free of course)

I also prefer to use ceramic pie plates. They seem to distribute the heat better than glass or aluminum. If you can it is worth investing in a ceramic oven proof plate that will handle going from cold to a hot oven better. Many ceramic pie plates should not be put in a hot oven as they could crack with use over time.

These last several months have shown me that the above suggestions do make a difference. My pie crusts have been the very best ever! So it is never too late to start no matter what age in life you find yourself. Don’t hesitate. To get from your first pie to number 1,768 you have to begin with pie number 1! Coming soon is the post for traditional apple pie.

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