Thursday, November 6, 2008

Pie Crust: A Turkey Day Primer

As the holidays approach, my thoughts tend to linger around the kitchen, planning for all the cooking and baking to be done. And, as you can tell, I get really preoccupied with pies. Lately I have been tinkering with the filling, but in the past it has been the crust that has been the focus of my experimentation.

I know there is a faction that believes that pie is all about the filling. But I cringe at the generic, insipid store-bought crust. A good crust can really enhance a tasty pie, providing texture, flavor and some heft.

After testing several variations of crusts - some with crisco, others with part crisco/part butter - I found that I got the best results from an all butter crust. Specifically, the all butter crust recipe in Phineas' White Dog Cafe Cookbook. One bonus is that this recipe comes out just fine in a food processor, which is the way to go for me since I hate cutting in the butter by hand.

The basic recipe is: 2 sticks of unsalted butter, 3 cups of flour, 2 tbsp sugar and a pinch of salt, plus ice water. I assume you know the basic procedure. Here are my tips:
  • First and foremost: do not overwork the dough at any stage of the process.
  • Cut the butter into little chunks and then stick it in the freezer for about 30 min or so to get it really cold
  • The larger the lumps of butter in the dough, the flakier the crust (ie pea-sized pieces)
  • After making, refrigerate your dough for at least 30 min. I usually make my dough days or weeks in advance and freeze it. Thaw overnight in the fridge.
  • When you are ready to roll out the dough, make sure to roll from the middle so that you are working the thickness from the center to the edges. Rotate the dough frequently.
  • After rolling out the dough and moving it to your pie plate, put it back in the fridge for 30 minutes. This is when I make the filling.
  • A final brush with egg wash or milk and a sprinkle of sugar will make for a nice brown, crackly sweet crust.
  • Finally, cover the pie crust with a pie crust guard or tin foil. To do otherwise is to invite a burnt crust with underdone filling.
People have told me that pie crust is too much effort - too hard to roll out, too hard to cut in the butter, not worth the effort... This crust is easy to make (thank you, Cuisinart), easy to roll, and comes out looking beautiful and tasting even better - no comparison with a prefab crust. Give it a try.

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