I've had a bit of an obsession going lately. In an attempt to eat more fruit and generally live a little healthier, I've put sugar in the "sometimes" category rather than the "3 times or more a day" designation. This has mostly been a good thing, and my fears of midnight root beer float and brownie cravings have gone mercifully unrealized. However, there has been a manifestation of sorts... pie is haunting me. It is EVERYWHERE.
This is no joke! Pie on every magazine cover (except The New Yorker) for the last 3 months. A new (unfortunately terrible) pie shop that opened in my town square recently. Pie all over the Wednesday food section. It also seems as though every time I turn on a tv show people are either reviewing fantastic local bakeries that make spicy apple-green chili pie or little fried hand pies (pies that fit in your hand, not pies made out of hands. What kind of shows do you think I'm watching?), or they're eating and groaning while they shove some triple-chocolate banana caramel pie monstrosity in their pie hole (okay, that one was just Guy Fieri, who eats like a 600-pound pig. Although I'm sure he's a perfectly nice person, I do watch his show sometimes rather than take any kind of appetite suppressant). I'm sure it would help if I changed my channel from Cooking TV (182 in the Bay Area), but there's always a slight chance that Tyler Florence might appear on my screen, so it's staying on 182.
There are two major things working against me now, in light of the pie-centric media barrage:
One: I am a dedicated pie fiend, and used to spend 8-plus hours making beautiful pies for my friend Lisa's restaurant in Maine on my days off. I already had a 60-hour-a-week job as a sous chef someplace else, and chose to stand and make pies all summer rather than take a day off once in a while. I am in love with pie. I am also crazy. Obviously.
Two: There is a child in my house who is showing signs that she may begin following a similar pattern. She begs me, daily, to make a pie with her if it's been a week (sometimes less) since the last one. And I am a pushover. When you emerge from your morning shower, drying your hair, and the child greets you in the kitchen like this:
I've taught a few pie classes, and the one thing people seem to be really nervous about when it comes to making pie at home is the crust. Hence the popularity of mass-marketed, pre-made pie crusts, frozen or refrigerated. Most newbies don't even know where to start with the crust. I have to say that my Mom, who (to put it kindly) is "culinarily challenged", can actually make a kick-ass pie crust. The fillings have always been my responsibility since her notorious pumpkin-marshmallow pie fiasco of 1988, but you get the idea. You have to believe me when I say that if my mother, whose catch phrase is "the burnt part is good for you!" can make a pie crust, then so can you, my friend.
There are a few things you need to know if you want to make a good pie crust.
1) It's just flour, butter (or shortening, or lard... some sort of fat), a bit of salt, a bit of sugar, and cold water. I've seen recipes that throw in baking powder, eggs, flavorings, vodka, and all sorts of whatnot. You don't need all of this. Keep it simple. Later on you can get creative and throw in some cinnamon or grated sharp cheddar, but let's start with the basics and NOT turn into the mad scientist. Please.
2) The less you mess with it, the better your crust will be. Sometimes this also means that the least-photogenic crusts at the beginning are also the most beautiful when all is said and done. You can find a metaphor in here if you like, but it's just a crust.
3) You don't need to be afraid of the pastry. It actually works out well if you whack it around a little, roll it out quickly and don't fuss over it. Show that dough who's boss.
4) A pie made from scratch in your kitchen, with your hands, with real butter and real ingredients will always taste better than anything you can buy in a supermarket. Those sad excuses for pies won't even come close.
I'm going to show you a few tricks for a good crust and then set you loose. Below you will find recipes for both a (great) pie crust and the apple-raspberry pie with hazelnut crumble topping that the obsessed child coerced me into making yesterday. I'm not sorry. That pie was delicious. I just wonder what I'll be baking for her (with her) the day after tomorrow...
When you roll out your crust, always start at the middle and roll out to the edges. Don't worry about making it perfectly round. Make sure you can always move your dough around on your board or rolling surface, and if it starts to stick, pick the dough up a little and toss a little more flour under there. Leave a little bump in the middle of the dough (like an "outie" bellybutton), run your hand lightly over the surface to make sure it's smooth and even, then roll over the bellybutton. This will keep you from over-working the dough.
This is your crust close up. See the light streaks of butter in the dough? That's good. Streaks = flaky crust. You are now going to flip one edge of the dough on to your rolling pin and just roll the dough up with it. Go ahead, do it!
Here's the rolled-up crust next to your pie plate. Sprinkle a little flour into the plate (or tin, or whatever you're using); This will help the crust release easier after it's baked. Now just pick up your rolling pin and unroll the crust right over the pie plate. Try to center it.
Gently ease the crust into the dish, then get a pair of kitchen shears (or clean scissors) and cut off the excess dough, leaving between 1"-2" around the edge.
Go all the way around the pie plate, folding and tucking the dough under, then pinch a fluted pattern into it. I use my knuckles, but you can use your fingertips, or a fork, or even cut decorative shapes from the extra dough and stick them all around with a little water or egg wash. Now stick the dish into the freezer or refrigerator to chill for 10-15 minutes before you fill and bake it.
This time we filled it with sliced pink lady and jonagold apples, fresh raspberries, lemon, cinnamon, a little sugar and a little flour. Then we topped it with a streusel of hazelnuts, flour, brown sugar and butter. That's right.
Now bake it (45 minutes)... cool (for 30 minutes)...
... and get a big fork! Guilt? Guilt is for suckers. Enjoy your pie.
Flaky, Buttery Pie Crust
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½ -inch pieces
Fill a one cup liquid measuring cup with water, drop in a few ice cubes and set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar and salt.
Sprinkle the cold butter cubes over the flour and begin working them in with a pastry blender or your fingers, using it to scoop and redistribute the mixture as needed so all parts are worked evenly. Stop when all of the butter pieces are approximately the size of peas.
Start by drizzling ¼ -½ cup of the ice-cold water over the butter and flour mixture. Using a fork or rubber spatula, gather the dough together. You’ll probably need an additional tablespoon or two of cold water to bring it together, but add it just a tablespoon at a time. Dough will have a shaggy appearance, but should not seem wet.
Bring the dough together into one mound on a large piece of plastic wrap, patting it together. Use the sides to pull in the dough and shape it into a disk. Let the dough chill in the fridge for at least ½ hour before rolling it out.
Makes enough dough for 1, 9”-10” pie
Apple Raspberry Pie with Hazelnut Streusel
3 pounds apples, peeled, cored and sliced ¼ -inch thick (combination of golden delicious, jonagold, pink lady, pippin, granny smith and/or rome beauties)
1 cup fresh raspberries
1 T fresh lemon juice
½ cup raw or granulated sugar
1/3-½ cup flour (depending on how juicy your apples are; more juice, more flour)
1 cup chopped hazelnuts
1 cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup brown sugar
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
½ cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cubed
1 unbaked 9"-10" pie crust
Preheat oven to 375F degrees.
In a large bowl, combine apples, raspberries, lemon juice, sugar and cinnamon and toss to mix. Allow apples to macerate for 30 minutes while you make the streusel.
For streusel, combine all dry ingredients in a food processor and pulse 4 or 5 times to combine. Add butter and pulse 10 to 15 times, until butter is fully incorporated and mixture is crumbly. Transfer to a bowl and set aside in refrigerator.
Add flour to fruit mixture and fold in until evenly dispersed. Transfer mixture to the pie shell and top with the streusel, spreading it evenly to the edges. Place in oven and bake for 45 minutes, until crust and streusel are deep golden and juices are bubbly. Remove to a rack to cool for 20 to 30 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.