Saturday, April 5, 2008

Pie Crust Tips

I've just made an apple pie. Tomorrow is Aries' birthday, and he'd much rather have pie than a cake. The only apples left in the cellar are Arkansas Blacks - really good keepers, but they'd turn to mush in a pie. Last summer was a bad one for the fruit trees - a drought winter followed by late intermittent freezes pretty much knocked out all the blossoms - so I've used up all my quarts of apple pie filling from the year before. I could use dried apples - I've still got some of them, but I'd rather snack on them. So I got some Pippin apples at the store. I've never tasted them, but the sign said they were good for pies so I'm trying them. I got six - peeled and sliced, they were enough to fill a two-quart bowl. I mixed them with ¾ cup of sugar, a couple tablespoons flour, a teaspoon of cinnamon and a dash of nutmeg.

Making pie crust seems to scare a lot of people. It can be a bit tricky, so I've got a few tips to make things easier. First, put on your apron - things can get a bit messy. A really nice kitchen apron will have a flour side and a tomato sauce side, but even a dish towel tied around your waist with a necktie will work. Tip #1: using pastry flour, made from soft wheat, makes a better crust than ordinary flour. Pastry flour is really low in gluten - the stuff that lets bread dough rise makes pie crust tough. My local grocery has whole wheat pastry flour in the bulk bins, so I get that for my muffins and pies.

For a two-crust pie I use 2 cups flour with a teaspoon of salt. Cut in 2/3 cup of cold shortening. I don't like the saturated fat in butter, nor the trans fats in most margarines and shortenings, so I use the Smart Balance buttery spread for all my baking (and no, I'm not paid to say that - just watching our cholesterol). To cut in shortening, I use two table knives, one in each hand, in a pulling, sliding flat across each other, X-type motion (hope that makes sense - although I've also been known to just dive in with my hands, rubbing and mooshing things together 'til the bits of shortening are all coated with flour) until the mixture is crumbly-looking. Sprinkle with a couple tablespoons cold water, stir with a fork, a couple more water, mix some more. Use a total of 5 - 7 tablespoons water - you want it to start kinda clumping together but not really sticky.

Dump the crumbly clumps out onto your counter, and clump it together into a ball. Divide in half and you're ready to start rolling out the bottom crust. A pastry cloth can be really handy, but you have to soak it in cold water and then wash it regularly or the oils on it can start to smell rancid (if this does happen to you, soaking it in a water/baking soda solution can fix that). But I have a really nice big cutting board on my counter that works well. It looks like a maple butcher block, but it really used to be part of a bowling alley lane (hard to come by, I know, but really nice if you can find one).

Patty-cake the clump of pie dough into a flat disc and start to roll it out on a well-floured board (or cloth). It can help to pick it up, sprinkle more flour and turn it over before it gets too spread out. Tip #2: roll your crust from the center out, not back and forth. Tip #3: a pastry scraper can be a really useful kitchen tool - use it (or an upside-down metal pancake turner) to lift and loosen the crust if necessary, and get it into the pie pan. Trim the crust even with the edge of the pan. Tip #4: if you have any holes, or spaces on the edge, use a bit of water to glue a patch over it. Dump in your apples, and dot with bits of 2 tablespoons butter or shortening.

Roll out the top crust, and if you're gonna get fancy with a cookie or biscuit cutter, do it before moving the crust to the pie. Tip #5: dab water all around the edge of the bottom crust, add the top, trim it about counter level, and then tuck the top under the bottom, and crimp them together. I want to have a lip standing up on the edge to catch any drips, so I pinch the top against one finger underneath all the way around. Tip #6: clean up by scraping up the greasy flour left on the board and dumping it in the trash or chicken bucket - it can make a gluey mess if washed down a drain.

Tip #7: This is the most important tip of all. This can even make a frozen store-bought pie say "home-made". Sprinkle a sugar/cinnamon mix (I keep a jar ready-mixed for cinnamon toast) over the top crust, especially around the edge. Then bake at 400ยบ 50 minutes - covering the edges with foil if they start to get too brown. I've got a drip-catcher tray I set my pies on, just in case they bubble over, so it doesn't make a mess in my oven. Very useful item, but then so is a husband that cleans the oven. I definitely recommend marrying one of them if you can!

One last tip - if you find one of those wicker picnic plate holders in a thrift store, they are the perfect size as a pie pan holder. They'll even keep a pie from sliding on a car floorboard or trunk during transport (good thing to remember if you volunteer to bring a pumpkin pie to Thanksgiving dinner). Don't worry if it's not perfect. Homemade pie is about the effort, not perfection. I promise you, no one will mind (and it makes a kitchen smell so good)!


Anonymous said...

Beautiful pie Sadge! You almost inspired me to make one... I said almost. I've been attempting pie crust for as long as I've been married (29 years) and have yet to turn out anything good. I'm a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to baking so I guess I'm going to stick to apple crisp. When pies are needed at Thanksgiving my daughter enjoys making them. Unfortunately, she's inherited my bad genes for piemaking. Of course we don't tell her that. We just smile and say "yum, yum."

Carolyn in AZ

Sadge said...

See, my point exactly. It's the effort, not the result, when it comes to pie. But I have to admit, I like apple crisp when I want something quick without messing up the kitchen so much. Thanks.

molly said...

Hi Sadge

Great site, I will be visiting often. Loved the apple pie recipe and will be making it again!

blessings :)

Sharon said...

Great work Sadge-love the blog and all your beautiful photos. I am glad Rhonda gave the link to all of us and shall stop in every day or so. Sharon (I do the swaps on Rhonda's blog)

Patty said...

my mother and grandmother used to use the cinnamon sugar trick on pie crusts. I really enjoy pie making, often using cookie cutters to cut shapes for the top crust. Lots of leaves in fall, apples for the apple pies etc.