Pie crust, Plush toys, and The Perfect Boyfriend – it’s been a busy day, but it’s a good kind of tired

Let’s start with the pie, and how to nail the perfect crust on the first try:


*places hand over heart* I swear… I have never made a pie or piecrust before in my life. And trust me, looking at it ain’t nothing like eating it!

For a long while I’ve been thinking about pie crusts. Learning about it, reading about it, different recipes, methods, techniques, tricks, tips, so much that I’ve even been dreaming of making the perfect pie. When I mentioned some of this thinking to The Boyfriend, I suggested that I would probably need to just practice with something simple like an apple pie, and somehow this led to him volunteering to do the filling if I did the crust.
Let me just interject, here, that trying to work together in a kitchen and make room for varying opinions on recipe and taste is not an easy task that just any two people can do. That said, there is no one I’d rather have in the kitchen with me.

Since the dough for the crust had to chill before it could be used, that’s what I started on first.

For ages, now, I’ve collected and saved crust recipes from the pros, or that claim to be best, only to realize that the recipe differs very little from the last one I saved, which differs even less from the one before it. And they were all so basic – flour, fat, small amount of sugar, small amount of water… chill, roll, bake… why would some turn out so much better than others?
I’ve seen the Alton Brown pie crust episode, and read about flakiness in CookWise, and I’ve heard all about the importance of chilled butter, but things really started to make sense just recently when I was reading about the ‘pie making weekend’ hosted by The Pioneer Woman and taught by Clayvessel.
First, I read The Pioneer Woman’s taste-test of crusts made with the different types of fat. The winner, of course, was straight-up butter, so my hopes of some fancy combination or alternative being ‘the key’ were dashed. (I should note here that butter is great on its own but there are times when other fats might be called for, like if you plan to chill your dough a long time, using a little shortening or lard in with the butter will keep it more roll-able and soft).
Then I started looking around to see if Clayvessel had posted her recipe, and that’s when I found it. Pie Crust 101 – absolutely read this before attempting any crust. As she says, it’s less about the recipe and more about the technique. That’s what I was missing. All the recipes are similar, as long as they have the right ratio of flour to fat (2.5 parts flour to 1 part fat) it should all turn out okay, but if you take your properly proportioned dough and then roll it out on a floured surface, and dust it with flour so it doesn’t stick, all of a sudden you have the wrong amount of flour to fat.
Her solution? Rolling between to sheets of parchment paper – not only saving your dough, but making for easier cleanup and handy transportation of the dough to the pie pan without tearing. Absolute genius.
I didn’t stop reading there, though. I clicked on to her post Pie Revolution, which outlines one of her biggest pie-making issues (over-incorporation of fat into the flour when using a food processor instead of a pastry cutter) and links to a method which seems to solve those issues (while still using the fast, efficient food processor).

Where she pointed, I followed (seriouseats.com). There I found a fairly basic pie recipe, but which instructed to add only 2/3rds of the flour to the food processor with the cold cubed butter, then add the rest of the flour more towards the end of processing to avoid over-incorporation, and recommends incorporating the cold water in by hand with a rubber spatula, folding and pressing the dough until it comes together. This reminded me of CookWise’s description of flattening the pieces of butter so that when the butter melts, creating air pockets, they will leave behind larger flakes as opposed to crumbs.

I should note here, that if you have a pastry cutter and are only making a pie or two, use that and don’t worry about the food processor.

Alright, enough discussing this, let’s get down to business!

12.5 oz (by weight) all-purpose flour
2 TBSP sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
2 ½ sticks unsalted butter, cut into ¼ inch pats (or smaller, mine were all over the place because I wasn’t using ‘sticks’ per se, and had to convert 20 TBSP into oz. and measure it)
6 TBSP cold water


I began by measuring and cutting the butter into chunks, then putting them into the freezer (because I was just about to use them, otherwise I’d have put them in the fridge) since they’d had a chance to warm up.
Then I measured all my other ingredients, including the water which I put in the fridge to stay cool. Then I proceeded:

In the food processor, combine 2/3rds of flour, the sugar and the salt with a quick pulse or two of the blades. Spread (try to break them up with your fingers a little) the chunks of butter evenly over the surface, and pulse until the flour has lots of little ‘pebbles’ of butter. Some of it may look a little sandy, but still some small lumps. Maybe 30 quick pulses. Pour in the other 1/3rd of your flour and pulse it just 5-6 times. It still looked mostly like flour to me, more than dough, so don’t worry.
Transfer the ‘dough’ to a big bowl and drizzle the 6TBSP cold water over the top. With a rubber spatula, fold and press the dough over onto itself until it starts to come together. Again, I’ve never made crust before, and I kept worrying it was too dry and like it would never hold together. But I kept folding and pressing and folding and pressing and sure enough, it began to hold together. Already I could see the potential for flakiness.
Divide the dough in half, squeeze each portion into a ball-like shape, and then wrap snuggly in plastic wrap. Then press down some with the palm of your hand to flatten out the ball into a disk – this will make it chill through faster and more evenly, and also make it easier to get started rolling later.
Refrigerate at least 2 hours (and I presume up to 3-4 days) before rolling and baking.

To be continued…


During the two hours wait, a lot of things happened.

First, I made calabacitas for the first time. I’d never heard of it, never seen it, never tasted it, but I made it and it was fantastic, and will post the recipe and all its gloriousness tomorrow – I can’t believe I managed to fit so much into one day, I’m not even going to try to fit it all into one blog post.

Important enough to mention, however, is this:

Yes, that is a beanie baby/plush hybrid, encephalomegaly afflicted, monkey. No I am not a stuffed animal fanatic, but yes, I love it. I blame it on the fever.

My plan was to quietly place him around the house, moving him every couple of days, to see how long it would take The Boyfriend to notice. Unfortunately I never had a chance to do any location swapping, and he stayed perched atop the fridge like a gargoyle for awhile before anything came of it.

The Boyfriend thinks it’s creepy. I think that’s a very healthy reaction, but tried to dissuade him of it anyway by showing how soft and squeezable the monkey is.
I can’t disagree, though – sometimes the big eyes and that smile are just a little too much, like it could be a cold-blooded psychopath hidden beneath the soft plush exterior.


And its eyes have this way of always seeming to be looking at you…


But that’s all part of the little guy’s charm!


Maybe it’s a little like sweet and salty – sometimes cute and creepy are better together?

Alright, back to the pie. As I finished cleaning up from the calabacitas it had been almost long enough for the dough, and plenty of time to now get started on the filling.

I’ll say again that I’ve never made a pie before, and certainly never an apple pie, but I’ve seen so many recipes I am already filled with preconceived notions about whether the apples should be cooked first, whether or not to use a splash of lemon juice, how to go about adding flour or cornstarch, etc. – I tried to offer on occasional word of advice based on the things I thought I might know, but for the most part let The Boyfriend do his thing. While I had been so precise and careful with my crust, he, in contrast, took a more flowing approach of putting things together as it felt right. He’s good at cooking intuitively, and it wasn’t hard to trust him.

I peeled, cored, and roughly chopped about 5 apples (though 6 would have fit the crust a bit better). He’d chosen a mix of Braeborn, Pink Lady, and Gala.
They went in a pot on the stove, with a healthy dose of cozy-warm spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, plus a couple tsp of vanilla extract.
For the sugar, he eyeballed about 1 cup of light brown sugar, and maybe 2 TBSP of liquid barley malt – I didn’t see that one coming, but what a great idea!

Then he added a drizzle of good balsamic vinegar, a pinch of salt, and some flour for thickening, stirring it all to combine and letting it cook over low heat for maybe 20 minutes.

Smelled SO good! I never had grandmothers making me pies when I was little, but somehow the smell of apples cooking just is nostalgic, whether you actually have memories of it or not.

While he was cooking his filling, I rolled out my dough.

I unwrapped one of the disks and placed it between two sheets of parchment paper on the counter. At first it was pretty tough to roll, but as the disk got wider things got easier.
Roll from the middle out, rotating the entire parchment/dough sandwich as necessary.
When the dough has been rolled for a bit it gets to a point where it’s gripping the parchment so much it can’t really get bigger. Just peel the top parchment back, then lay it down on top of the dough again. Flip the whole thing over so the bottom parchment is now on top, and peel that back and lay it down again. Continue rolling. I had to loosen the parchment a few times to get my dough rolled thin enough.

The dough had seemed so dry when I’d put it in the fridge, but as the flour absorbed more of water during its chill, and as the butter softened slightly while I rolled, it became much more wet and sticky. With a dough this wet, flouring a surface for rolling probably wouldn’t have messed up the flour/fat ratio too badly, but when it came to transferring the dough into the pie pan I was so glad I’d used the parchment paper method. And when it came to cleaning up later – no flour all over everything.
I laid the bottom sheet, then moved on to rolling the top.


Oooooh, they meet at last – the prim and proper crust and the rebel-with-soul filling.
When I finished the top crust, I used a paring knife to cut a few openings in the top of the pie. You could make leaf shapes or teardrop shapes, or just slits to let out some of the steam.
I brushed the top with an eggwash (one egg, whisked up with about 1 TBSP water) and we put it in a 425f. oven on the middle rack.

Clayvessel’s recipe from her Pie Crust 101, which also happens to be an apple recipe, called for baking for 45 minutes before covering with aluminum foil and baking a further 15 until the filling was all bubbly, but I decided to keep a close eye on things, since her recipe called for uncooked apples.
After a half hour I rotated the pie to make sure it was cooking evenly, but then only let it go for another ten minutes. This finished the crust, and was enough for the apples due to their time spent in the pot.


Now the hardest part of pie making: waiting for it to cool.
It was still up in the air if it would be any good, and I kept telling myself it was okay if it was only so-so, I could live with so-so.
The moment of truth (can I get a drumroll, please?)….


Why… I do declare…


Can I get an Amen!?
The crust was flaky, sweet with butter, and tender around the edge but still sturdy enough on the bottom. I’m the first to say when something I’ve made doesn’t turn out how I wanted, but the only complaint I have here is – I should’ve been a tad more thorough with the egg wash. Ha! That’s my only complaint.
And the filling! Okay, so The Boyfriend can see a few things he would change next time – but the apples were cooked just right, and it was the right amount of sweetness. Adding cinnamon and nutmeg to an apple pie is nothing new, but the combination with the barley malt and vanilla all added up to something so warm and inviting. I don’t think I’ve ever, in my life, enjoyed a slice of pie more than this. Maybe I’m a little biased, but I don’t care, I’m sticking to my story.
We finished the evening with a slice of pie and ice cream, and one of our favorite board games to wrap up a truly wonderful day.

*Is content*

What a team we make.

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8 Responses to Pie crust, Plush toys, and The Perfect Boyfriend – it’s been a busy day, but it’s a good kind of tired

  1. Clayvessel August 30, 2011 at 2:44 am #

    SPECtacular!! What a gorgeous pie and it sounds delicious! Congratulations! Thank you for telling me about it. I so love to hear these success stories from first time pie bakers!
    Pie Talk:*I’m impressed that you had such good success with the SE recipe since when I made it I was concerned that beginners would have a hard time with the sticky dough. It’s a good recipe but don’t be afraid to try more from your collection. You may find one you like better. Stick to the method of holding back part of the flour because it really works.
    *Making a cooked pie filling is great too but I’m wondering if you used it warm or cold? If still warm it can pretty quickly melt the dough and cause problems with the finishing. Looks like you didn’t have problems though.
    *An all butter dough will get really firm in the frig like butter does, so often when I make an all butter dough I go straight to the rolling and forget the chilling. The dough is easier to handle.
    *I hope you make many more great pies! And baking with someone you love is the best method of all!

  2. Willow August 30, 2011 at 12:12 pm #

    Thanks for the tips!
    We did use the filling while it was warm, but it didn’t cause any problems. Good to know for the future, though, because I can see where it may have.

    Having the ability to make pies like that is a dangerous thing… between the two of us it was gone in record time!

  3. Anonymous August 31, 2011 at 12:33 am #

    Great post! Great pics! And I’ll just bet the pie was delicious….of course I have to take your word for it. (get the subtle hint?) Love you much, I’m so proud.
    The Mother

    PS I do not understand the “profile categories”

  4. Willow August 31, 2011 at 1:28 pm #

    Thanks, Mum! And yes, I got the hint – you want pie. It’ll happen, don’t worry.

    When you make a comment you can just select ‘name/URL’ and don’t enter a URL – just ignore the other profiles.

  5. Ali October 13, 2011 at 7:12 pm #

    The pie looks so delicious, your photo really made me crave for it…. salivating!!!

    The monkey is so cute and adorable you just have to love it. Love the photos, nice post.

  6. Willow October 13, 2011 at 8:19 pm #

    Wow, thanks! Glad you liked!

  7. Kayla December 3, 2011 at 6:22 pm #

    OMG!! I have that same monkey! 8D I got him for Christmas last year. He lives happily on my bed and I admit that sometimes at night his expression creeps me out a bit XD I named him Gizmo, which you understand if you’ve seen the movie “Gremlins” :D

  8. Willow December 4, 2011 at 1:35 am #

    Sweet! I actually considered the name Gizmo for him, but he came with the name ‘Coconut’, so I’ve been alternating between Cocoa and Nut. Mostly he ends up going by Monkey Boy, though. :)

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