Sep 19, 2011

Easy as Pie (Crust)

I have finally found the perfect recipe + technique for making pie crust!!! I've scoured the internet, watched videos, read tutorials and I now understand why pie crust is one of the more technical recipes. I'll try not to jabber on too much, but I think it's important to understand why you need to do certain things, so you aren't tempted to take shortcuts.

A perfect pie crust involves flour, salt, sometimes sugar, some form of fat, and just enough water to bring everything together. On paper, it sounds pretty easy. The amounts of each ingredient can very, and most recipes can turn out wonderfully, but you must know the technique. 

I won't go into detail regarding which fats taste better/flake better/look better. Just use butter. It's the best overall choice for many reasons. And it's easy to come by.

Now that you know what goes into a crust, you need to know what makes it flaky. If you can incorporate the butter into the flour correctly(more on that below), you will end up with pockets of butter enveloped by flour, which when baked in the oven will melt and create air pockets... and give you a nice, light, flaky crust that melts in your mouth. If you just throw everything into your mixer and mix it thoroughly you'll end up with a dry, leathery crust that will hold your filling in just fine, but will not melt in your mouth. It will crumble and turn into a dry paste in your mouth. Yuck.

Now that you know the why, I'll go on with the recipe. My recipe uses a food processor. If you do not own one, you can make this by hand, using a pastry cutter, a fork, or two knives - it'll just take a little longer and possibly cause carpal tunnel. Can't say I didn't warn ya! Good luck!

INGREDIENTS (for a nine inch, two crust pie):
2 ½ cups flour - separated
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar (for a fruit pie. Omit sugar for a savory pie.)
1 cup (2 sticks) cold butter, cut into chunks
¼ cup cold water (approx)

Combine 1 1/2 c of the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse twice to incorporate. Spread butter chunks evenly over surface. Pulse until no dry flour remains and dough just begins to collect in clumps, about 25 short pulses. *DO NOT over mix!* Use a rubber spatula to spread the dough evenly around the bowl of the food processor. Sprinkle with remaining flour and pulse until dough is just barely broken up, about 5 short pulses. Again, do not over mix. The flour should just coat the clumps. Transfer dough to a large bowl.

Sprinkle the water over the dough and with hands, rubber spatula, or a wooden spoon fold and press dough until it comes together into a ball. Separate into two discs.

At this point you can wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate or freeze for later use. If you are going to roll it out immediately, be aware that the dough will be a bit more sticky and you run the risk of adding too much flour as you roll it out. It's an okay method to use - and I usually don't refrigerate it because I'm too impatient - you just have to be careful.

To roll the dough out, place a large piece of parchment paper (or wax paper) on your countertop or table. Sprinkle very lightly with flour. Lay one dough ball on paper, flatten slightly with your hand and again sprinkle very lightly with flour. Place a second piece of parchment paper over the top. Starting in the center of the dough, roll out to the edges on each side, lifting the paper off the dough, flipping it over and repeating until you have a large round circle about 2 inches wider than the top of your pie pan. Remove the top sheet and flip the bottom sheet upside-down over your pie pan. Carefully fit the dough into your pan with the ends of the dough hanging over the edge.

Place pie filling inside and copy the above technique with your second crust. Place over pie, pinch to seal both top and bottom crusts together, and roll both crust edges under and inside pie pan, pinching and sealing into your desired design.

Cut 3 large slits and 3 small in the top of the pie to allow steam to escape. Brush an egg wash over the pie (one egg mixed with 1 tablespoon heavy cream) and sprinkle with coarse sugar (or cinnamon sugar if baking a spicier pie). Place on a baking sheet and bake in a hot oven, 425 degrees, until the pie starts to brown, about 30 minutes. Cover the pie with foil to prevent over-browning, turn the oven down to 375 and continue baking until the juices in the pie begin bubbling. Depending on the fruit used this could take twenty to forty minutes more. Be patient. As long as the pie crust is covered to prevent over-browning, the pie can continue to bake.

Remove and allow to cool. This is the hardest part! But unless you want pie soup, you must allow the pie to cool for at least 1 hour, but preferably 2-3 hours.

I hope this has made some sense! I looked at a lot of websites, but these were the most helpful:

Pam's Pie Tutorial

One more tip:

Today I have a whole bucketful of berries in my fridge. I made a blackberry cobbler last night, we purchased a lemon cake roll at a dessert auction on Friday night (along with oreo truffles that are taunting me from the freezer), my dear friend brought me orange rolls this morning, and my husband made pumpkin cookies and muffins yesterday morning. Needless to say, desserts are not in short supply in this house right now. So I'll be making and freezing as many pies as I have filling for. I'll line my pie pans with plastic wrap before laying the bottom pie crust dough inside. After the pie is assembled, I'll cover the top with plastic wrap and freeze. Once the pie is frozen, I'll remove it from the pan, stick it in a Food Saver bag, suck out the air and freeze for the wintertime, when blackberries are not so abundant! To bake, I take the frozen pie from the bag, lay it back in my pie pan, and bake it as is - no defrosting. It usually takes 20-40 minutes longer but has the added bonus of cooking the crust before the filling, so you are less likely to have filling permeate your crust and make for a soggy bottom pie.

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