Pie and prejudice*

Another food of which I have an irrational fear is piecrust. This is really too bad, as good pie (and especially good piecrust) is irrestistible. I am not a fan of cake and always request birthday pie–blackberry preferred. However, we’ve all had too many examples of very bad piecrust: undercooked, soggy-bottomed pies being the worst. Overbaked, rock-hard crust being the second worst. Ugh. Then there’s the dough that refuses to hold together and simply crumbles under the rolling pin. Or sticks to the rolling pin, pastry board, everything.

With so many pitfalls, it’s a wonder anyone except a professional baker makes pies. At least, that’s what I thought.

Last spring, I was motivated by my father’s 80th birthday to make traditional French-Canadian tourtiere (pork pies). My grandmother, who gave me her recipe, had taught me to make piecrust (unsuccessfully). My mother had given me her foolproof recipe (unsuccessful). I knew that the secret to piecrust is not so much in the ingredients, but in the technique–but still I was unsuccessful. Searching for a magic bullet, I found a simple recipe made in the food processor in Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. The fat used in the recipe is all butter, which makes the crust delectable, but slightly trickier to work with. Using the food processor, however, cuts the prep time to almost nothing, and allows for minimal handling–which is what makes the crust tender. Piecrust Rule No. 1, from Grandma Rose: Never mash your pie dough!

Here’s the crust recipe:

Flaky piecrust
Makes enough dough for one-crust 9-inch pie. If, as I was, you are making a double-crust pie, make each recipe individually rather than doubling the recipe.

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (you’ll need more later for rolling)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
3 tablespoons ice water, plus more if necessary

Combine the flour, salt, and sugar in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade tool. Pulse once or twice just to mix. Add the butter and process until the butter and flour are blended and the mixture looks like cornmeal, about 10 seconds.

Put the flour and butter mixture into a bowl and add the ice water. Mix gently with your fingers until you can form the dough into a ball, adding a little more ice water if necessary. Form the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to a couple of days.

Sprinkle a clean tabletop or pastry board with flour, put the dough on it, sprinkle the top with flour. Use a rolling pin to roll the dough (always working from the center out). Roll and turn the dough to form a circular shape, adding flour as needed to keep the dough from sticking to the table or rolling pin.

When the diameter of the dough is about two inches larger than the diameter of the pie plate, transfer the dough to the plate, either by draping it over the rolling pin or folding it in quarters and unfloding in the plate. Press the dough firmly into the plate. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the pie filling. Mine was blueberry/peach. Here’s the filling in the pie shell:

4 cups fresh blueberries, rinsed, picked over, and dried on paper towels
2 cups fresh peaches, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
About 7/8 cup sugar (adjust to taste)
2 tablespoons cornstarch
Pinch of salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into bits
A couple of tablespoons of milk

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. In a bowl, gently toss the blueberries and peaches with the sugar, cornstarch, salt, and spices. Add the lemon juice and toss to coat. Pour the mixture evenly into the prepared pie shell, mounding it slightly in the middle. Dot the top with the butter. Cover with the top crust. Crimp the edges with your fingers or a fork. Brush the top with a little milk (this helps it brown) and sprinkle with a little sugar, if desired. I used about a teaspoon of cinnamon sugar. With a sharp knife, cut several slits in the top of the crust to allow steam to escape. Here’s the pre-baked pie:

Put the pie on a cookie sheet and bake in the middle of the oven for 10 minutes. Turn heat down to 350 degrees and bake for another 40 to 50 minutes, until the top of the pie is golden brown and the juices are bubbling through the slits on top. Cool on a rack.

Share with family and friends.

*Post title courtesy Jane Austen and Gabe B.


2 thoughts on “Pie and prejudice*

  1. As you may remember, my mom had the best piecrust in town. Her secret (not so secret really) was Crisco. When I saw the movie, The Help, I was gratified to see that Minny used Crisco for everythin.

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