Sunday, July 19, 2015


I’m baaaack! I’ll skip the boring excuses because I have a huge backlog of recipes to record—starting with pie! I don’t usually post photos of myself here, but this picture is the best way to sum up how excited I was last month when I finally overcame my lifelong fear of making pie crust. It was an irrational fear, I’ll admit, born mostly of the difficulties my mother had with pie-baking when I was a child. Luckily, her mother was a pie master, so whenever she came to visit, Grandma would spend a day mass-producing dough for us to stockpile in the freezer. This was always hotly anticipated by me, because she’d make cinnamon-sugar-sprinkled cookies out of the dough scraps and I’d get to scarf them down straight out of the oven. (To this day, those cookies remain one of my most vivid and nostalgic food memories.) But from all this rigmarole, I got the idea that piecrust was tricky, even though dozens of people have since sworn to me that it’s not so hard.

Guess what? It’s easy. Granted, I may have overprepared, studying dozens of recipes and tutorials before following one solid authority (the always-reliable Smitten Kitchen) with military precision; I was so ready for frustrating disaster that surpassing my low expectations was probably inevitable. There are a host of pie-crust tips and tricks out there—use oil or shortening, freeze and grate your butter, add vodka or vinegar, mix in a food processor—but I’m pleased with this simple and sensible route. The recipe itself is just flour, sugar, salt, butter and water; the technique basically hinges on keeping everything cold, cold, cold. Stay calm and believe it will all work out. (Perhaps pie dough can smell fear?) I’ve rolled out three pie crusts now with no tearing or cracking, so I’m tempted to dub this method foolproof.

And of course I made pie crust cookies, and they tasted just like I remembered. My mother later told me Grandma always used lard in her dough, so it’s not an exact replica, but still enough to inspire a Proustian reverie.

Pictured is a blueberry pie; I’ll post the filling recipe separately, because this list of instructions is long enough. The level of detail will make you doubt my claims of simplicity, but it was helpful to me as a pie newbie. The one place where I fell down was sealing the two crusts together, and you can see there was some leakage as a result. The Smitten Kitchen instructions were sadly silent on how to add the top crust, and I foolishly tried to punt. Google would have set me straight, but instead I tried to fold the bottom crust over the top instead of vice versa, and didn’t think to use water to adhere them. I’ve clarified these fine points below to save you (and future me) from my mistakes. Fortunately, a leaky pie is still a plenty delicious one.

2½ cups (315 grams) flour, plus extra as needed
1 tablespoon (15 grams) sugar
1 teaspoon (5 grams) table salt
2 sticks (8 ounces or 225 grams) unsalted butter, very cold
  1. Fill a 1-cup liquid measuring cup with cold water and add a few ice cubes, or place in the freezer for 15-30 minutes.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar and salt. If your kitchen is warm, place the bowl of dry ingredients in the refrigerator for 15-30 minutes.
  3. Dice the butter into ½-inch pieces. If your kitchen is warm, rechill the butter cubes in the fridge or freezer.
  4. Sprinkle the cold butter cubes over the flour and begin working them in with a pastry blender, using it to scoop and redistribute the mixture as needed. When all of the butter pieces are the size of tiny peas, stop. (This won’t take long, and it’s OK if the mixture looks uneven.)
  5. Remove any ice cubes from the water and drizzle ½ cup over the butter and flour mixture. Using a rubber or silicon spatula, gather the dough together. Add more cold water a tablespoon at a time (you’ll probably need an additional ¼ cup or so) until the mixture comes together. Once you’re pulling large clumps with the spatula, use your hands to gather the clumps into one mound, kneading them gently together without overworking the dough.
  6. Divide the dough in half and wrap each piece in plastic wrap. Refrigerate the dough for at least two hours, preferably overnight, before rolling it out. (Dough will keep in the fridge for about a week, and in the freezer longer, well wrapped in additional plastic wrap or a freezer bag. To defrost dough, move it to the fridge for one day before using it.)
  7. When ready to roll out the dough, generously flour your work surface. Unwrap the chilled dough (if you’re making a double-crust pie, only take half the dough out of the fridge at a time). Put it in the middle of your work area and flour the top of it too.
  8. Start rolling out the dough by pressing down lightly with the rolling pin and moving it from the center out. (You’re not going to get it all flat in one roll, so be patient.) Roll it a few times in one direction, lift it up and rotate it a quarter-turn. Keep repeating this process, re-flouring the counter and the top of the dough as needed—you should be leaving no bits of dough on the counter or your pin. If the dough sticks to the work surface, run a bench scraper underneath the stuck part, peel it back, and flour that area before continuing.
  9. For a standard-size pie pan, trim your dough into a 12-inch circle with the tip of a knife.
  10. Transfer your crust to the pie pan. This should be no problem if you’ve worked briskly and your dough is still cool, but if you need help, you can roll it around your rolling pin and unroll it in the pan, or fold it very loosely into quarters and unfold it into the pan. Press the dough gently into the pan, making sure it is centered.
  11. For a single-crust pie: You should have a half-inch overhang; fold it under so that the dough becomes the size of the pan. Crimp the edge by forming a “V” with the tips of the thumb and index finger of one hand and pressing the dough into it with the index finger of your other hand, continuing around the edge of the whole pie. Return the pan to the fridge while you prepare your filling.
  12. For a double-crust pie: Place the pan with the bottom crust in the fridge while you repeat the rolling-out process with the other half of your dough. Before transferring the top crust to the pan, brush a little water around the edge of the bottom crust to help the two pieces seal. Gently tuck the top crust edge under the bottom crust edge, then crimp the two pieces together. Brush the top crust with an egg wash (1 egg beaten with a tablespoon or two of water), sprinkle with sugar if desired, and cut a few vents in it.
  13. Make pie-crust cookies with the excess dough: Gather the scraps into a ball, roll it out, cut it into circles using the top of a glass (or cookie cutters, if you’re fancy), continuing the gather the scraps, re-roll and cut it until you’ve used as much as you can. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, and bake at 350 degrees until crisp and lightly golden brown around the edges, about 8-12 minutes.
Makes enough dough for one double- or two single-crust pies.

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