Monday, July 4, 2011

Freedom from Fear of Pie Crusts

For a long time, I thought the world was split between bread people and pie people. Not bread and pie eaters, but bread and pie makers. Either you weren't scared of yeast and made bread or you weren't scared of the crust and made pie. I was a bread person, no question. I'd been baking bread since I was a teenager and laughed in the face of yeast fear.

Pie, on the other hand, scared me. It was the crust, of course. That delicate balance between flour and fat. How would I know when the butter was mixed in correctly? What if I put too much water in? What about the endless sticking and the attempts to put the sticky sad crust into a pie plate. By the time the crust was done, I was too stressed out to enjoy it.

So, I just didn't make pie. Occasionally I'd buy a supermarket crust for a quiche. But more often, I found alternatives for quiche and stuck with cookie crusts for pie.

I have Melissa Clark to thank for my conversion. Or maybe conversion isn't the right word. But I think I can safely say that I am no longer afraid of pie crusts, and I give Melissa Clark my gratitude. It was her perfect pie crust recipe in In the Kitchen with A Good Appetite that helped me face my fear and overcome it. Melissa's recipe was the start, but there were several other simple things that made this possible.

First, the chopper.

If you mix the flour and butter in a mini-chopper or food processor, you don't really have to think about pastry blenders or wonder about when the ingredients are mixed enough. A few whirls, and it's done. And when you add the cold water, a tablespoon at a time, it becomes clearly apparent when the dough is sticking together.

The second crucial piece is the plastic wrap.

I use this method when I bake biscotti--you spoon the wet and too soft batter onto a length of plastic wrap, which allows you to mold it into a shape that you can freeze until it's hard enough to work with. So it is with pie crust. You dump the messy, sticky mass of flour/butter/water onto the plastic wrap, and in moments, you have a nice round disk all ready to chill.

The last crucial item is the Silpat.

I used to try to roll out pie crusts on a cutting board, and it was frustration incarnate. But from the start of my getting-over-my-fear-of-pie-crust attempts, I realized I needed to change that. I put my Silpat on the dining room table, so there was room to work, with some flour handy nearby.

The marble rolling pin was a gift from my friend Derick 20 years ago. Why Derick decided he should send me a marble rolling pin in the mail from Boston to Eugene, Oregon, I have no idea, but 20 years have now passed, and while the rolling pin has lost its handles, it still works beautifully.

Because the dough is chilled, you can roll it out before it gets sticky. I put a bit of flour down on the Silpat, added a bit more as I was working and turned the dough over a few times. Rolling a pie crust out on a floured Silpat is not stressful, it turns out. Just when you wonder whether the dough is warming up, it's big enough for your pie. Voila.

This is maybe the fourth or fifth crust I've made since I discovered Melissa's recipe and the method documented here, and I've made 2 in the past 2 weeks! Unthinkable even a year ago.

Not that losing my fear of pie crusts is going to make me scared of yeast. I'm just going to have to widen my view of the world just a little bit, now that I am a person who can not only make bread, but also pie.

All-Butter Perfect Pie Crust
from Melissa Clark's In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite

Time: 15 minutes plus one hour's chilling

1 1/4cups all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

8-10 tablespoons unsalted butter, preferably a high-fat, European-style butter like Plugra, chilled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (Clark's recipe calls for 10 tablespoons; my crusts have been plenty buttery with 8.)

2 to 5 tablespoons ice water (I seem to always need 5.)

1. In a food processor, briefly pulse together the flour and salt. Add butter and pulse until mixture forms chickpea-size pieces (3 to 5 one-second pulses). Add ice water 1 tablespoon at a time, and pulse until mixture is just moist enough to hold together.

2. Form dough into a ball, wrap with plastic and flatten into a disk. Refrigerate at least 1 hour before rolling out and baking.

Yield: One 9-inch single pie crust. Recipe can be doubled for a double crust; divide dough into two balls and form two disks before chilling.


Lisa Carter said...

Sue -- I just had to laugh and laugh at this post... Not *at* you by any means! I suffered from pie crust phobia for many years, only conquering the fear last year. It's a great feeling, isn't it?! I wrote about my experience on my personal food blog if you're interested in comparing experiences:
Happy pie making with all the berries of summer!

Anjuli said...

wow this is great!! I'm definitely bookmarking this page for the next time I conquer my fear of pie crust making!!

kerry dexter said...

have you tried making pie crust with oil instead of butter? I used to be able to do that well, but tried one the other day and it did not work out as I have liked. time for more pie experimentation.

Lisa Peet said...

Yay! Welcome to the pie crust club -- it's a good skill to master. I'm a butter/shortening/2 tbsp. sour cream girl myself... once you find a recipe you can live with, you never ever mess with it.

Sue Dickman said...

Lisa, I read your post--so glad that both of us overcame our fear! It's funny--I'm a reasonably confident cook otherwise, but the pie crust fear had been going on so long that it was hard to conquer.

Anjuli, you're next!

Kerry, I made an olive oil yeasted crust for a tart a few years ago--it was supposed to be easier, but it got just as sticky. (It did taste good, at least, once we finally got it rolled out.) I haven't tried regular (non-yeast) crust with oil, though. How's the flakiness factor?

Lisa, I know you're a pie maven! I may just stick with the all-butter crust. I'm not crazy about shortening in general, though I think I have a tub of Crisco around somewhere. The sour cream sounds good, though . . . I have to admit, that I'm glad the being (mostly) vegetarian thing takes the lard options off the table, even if it's supposed to make good crusts.

kerry dexter said...

when I got it right using oil in a non yeasted crust, the flakiness factor was fine, and it tasted great. my recent try not so much, came out too heavy, but I think I need to look up the exact measurements again for my next try. being one who like to eyeball measurements when possible -- and sometimes when not.

TheUrbanMum said...

I am a bread person - hands down. BUT I feel encouraged by your efforts and this recipe. I will venture forth this weekend. Wish me luck - procrasti-piebaking here I come. x

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