on pies

Over the last few years I’ve baked pies from scratch.  Like quilting, it is easy to understand why preparing dough by hand could easily become a lost art for the amateur baker.  If a holiday pie is on the menu, instead of store bought, consider wowing the crowd by bringing a homemade pie. 

After creating several decent-but-mediocre pies, I’ve learned a few tricks that have dramatically improved my results.  A self-proclaimed baking neophyte, I humbly offer you the following advice based on personal trial and error.  Going against popular modern instruction (including Martha), I declare the food processor the foe of flaky crust.  Cut the fat into the dry ingredients with a pastry cutter and a little effort.  Most beginner pie makers overwork the dough which results in a shortbread-like crust consistency.  Since switching to the cutter from the processor, the previously illusive flaky texture is now literally within my grasp.  The recipe for pie crust only requires 3-5 simple ingredients:  3 cups flour +  1 cup butter and/or shortening (I use 1/2 cup of each) + as little ice cold water as possible (1/8-1/4 of a cup) , a pinch of salt and a skosh of sugar (about 2 tbsps). Cut abut half the water into the dough with the pastry cutter and reserve the other half to dribble on as needed once the crumbly dough is transferred to the location where you plan to roll it.  Add water conservatively, keeping in mind the fat should hold it together.  It took me quite awhile to get comfortable with the relative dryness of the dough.   Immediately after forming the dough into a mound, use a greased fondant roller to roll an 1/8 inch thin round.  Form into a shape that generously exceeds the diameter of your intended pie pan.  Not sure?  Turn the pan upside down and use a knife to cut around it, leaving yourself at least a 3 inches all the way around the circumference.  For the lattice, cut strips from the remaining dough.  Some strips should exceed the diameter of the pie pan.  Refrigerate the crust after it’s rolled and formed rather than chilling the dough and then trying to roll it.   If you choose apple filling, I learned you really don’t have to pre-cook the apples as is generally recommended.  As for type of apple, the cheap and ubiquitous organic Granny Smith works great.  Peel and thinly slice the apples.  In a large bowl, bathe the sliced apples in sugar, cinnamon, and lemon juice.  Let the mixtures stand for a half hour and then use a slotted spoon to transfer the filling into the pie. 

Weave a lattice with strips of dough you cut while rolling out the pie.  Dot the top with butter.  Use a foil lined catch pan in the likely event the pie juice simmers over.  Try the lowest rack of the oven for a crispier bottom crust.