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