Monday, November 10, 2008

Easy as pie...crust

This is one of my favorite times of year. The fresh fruits and vegetables of summer are gone, and the comfort foods of fall and winter start to appear on tables and counter tops. I’m convinced that there is no better therapy for Seasonal Affective Disorder than a warm (or cold, however you prefer) slice of pumpkin pie, topped with a blob of whipped cream, and served up with a side of herbal tea. Maybe you like apple or pecan, but regardless, pie is the good stuff.

It took me well into adulthood to appreciate a pie. I could always handle graham cracker crust pies like cheesecake or key lime, but never really longed for the doughy goodness of the hand-rolled variety. That is until I started making my own. Of course, my pie making skills came by the assistance of Pillsbury. You know what I’m talking about, the pre-made, pre-folded kind you get near the milk and cheese in the grocery store. Or even the pre-panned frozen variety that you just fill and bake. Don’t get me wrong, those are yummy, and it’s next to near effortless. But there is something far more satisfying and wholesome about making your own pie crust. And good news—it’s really NOT that hard. Considering all it takes are 4 ingredients, a few minutes spent in the fridge, and a little counter space, you’re pretty much set if you want to make your own.

That being said, let’s walk through it. I promise by the end, I will have convinced you you can do it...or even better, wanting to do it. For me, the time and money that it takes to get to the grocery store forces me to invest far more in a pie crust than necessary.

Flaky Pie Crust
1 1/8 cups (5 oz) all purpose flour, plus some for dusting work surface
½ tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 stick (8 tbsp) cold, unsalted butter, cut into 8 or more pieces
About 3 tbsp ice water, plus more if necessary

I am not a food processor kind of gal. All my pies are made by hand, elbow grease and all. A few good tools to have on hand for this are a big bowl, a pastry blender (see below) or a couple of forks, a wooden spoon or spatula, and plastic wrap—simple so far!

Combine the flour, salt, and sugar in a large bowl and mix together until blended. Drop in the butter chunks, and using your pastry blender (or two forks), press/mix the mixture until it looks crumbly, similar to cornmeal. Sprinkle 3 tablespoons of the ice water over the mixture, and using the wooden spoon or spatula gather the mixture into a ball. If it seems dry, add more water ½ tbsp at a time. Once the mixture is in a ball, wrap it loosely in plastic wrap and flatten it into a disk, about 1 ½ inches flat. Place it in the fridge for at least 30 mins—this makes it a lot easier to roll out.

Depending on how I feel, sometimes I just heavily flour the counter, or sometimes I flour two pieces of wax paper, and roll the dough out between them. Either way, make sure and dust the dough well to prevent it from sticking. Roll the dough out, checking it every now and then on both sides for sticking (add flour if sticky), and turn the dough over a few times as you roll. If it’s too hard to roll, let it set for 5 mins and try again. Roll out the dough until it is about 11” wide, and about a ¼ inch thick. Gently lay your pie plate over top of it to check the width.

Carefully lift the dough and place it over the pie plate, pressing it firmly onto the bottom and into the sides. Trim it to about ½ inch all around and decorate the edges with a fork or by finger pressing. Prick the bottom with a fork and put it back into the fridge until you’re ready to use it. Voila! Your very own homemade pie crust!

Left: This is the same crust filled with pear custard filling, just to give you an idea of how an unbaked pie might look. Right: This was the finished product! A pear custard pie, sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar, yielding a deep golden brown, crunchy crust on top. Yum!


Keri said...

What did that pie look like cooked and most importantly how did it taste?

Dana said...

It was so good!! The finished photos weren't spectacular, but I'll post one anyway. :)