Sometimes having concrete evidence of success catapults us into taking on a fearful challenge. I am talking pie crust here…..which can be as difficult to work with if you don’t understand the ingredients…..kind of like hoping for a good marriage when you’ve only known him for two weeks. The perils translate into bland taste, tough crust, and possibly the horrid soggy bottom. So believe what you see because contrary to the way I think and talk I admit to being a mediocre baker. I can sometimes bring in all the wow factors. But often I forget a step, or an ingredient or commit an act of baking treason I would fire a student over. (pretend fire of course)
For a two crust pie with a small ball of dough left over for galettes or pie crust cinnamon crisps start with:
2 1/4 cups AP flour
pinch of salt and sugar
1/2 lb. or 2 sticks of unsalted butter, the best you can buy
ice cold water, we don’t know how much yet so have 1/2 cup ready
Mix the flour, salt and sugar with your hands. Cut the butter into 1/2 inch pieces, throw in the bowl and toss with flour. Now, rub pieces of butter between your fingers, kind of sliding them into flat little strips or shards. Keep at this until all the butter pieces have been reduced in size and flattened out, meanwhile being coated with flour. Continue this motion with both hands for a minute, you begin to see the flour change color and become slightly mealy, yet there is still plenty of larger unblended butter pieces.
You can chill the dough for ten minutes now if you have time, and think for a couple of minutes about what you have done: enrobed most of the flour in fat which will protect it from mixing straight with the water you will add next. The flour contains gluten which for pastry purposes we do not want to activate. This is another reason why, for the next steps, we will manipulate the dough as minimally as possible.
So now, use a 1/4 cup measure, get your ice water, and begin sprinkling a tablespoon of water at a time over the flour mixture, fluffing it with a fork. You can imagine fluffing right? Pull the fork up from under the mixture quickly, barely coaxing the water and butter to dance together. Continue adding bits of water and fluffing until the dough begins to come together. It should barely come together. Stop! you’re adding too much. I can see it starting to look wet. Usually 4-6 tablespoons is enough.
Now, carefully scoop up a large hand full, maybe slightly smaller than a soft ball. Gently press together into a ball. If it is falling apart, ok, add 1 more splash of ice water, fluff, and try again. flatten the ball into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap. This is the bottom crust for a 9 inch pie pan. Scoop up another ball, slightly smaller, wrap in plastic wrap, this is the top crust. You should have a small ball, a tennis ball? size left over for playing with later.
The dough before forming into disks over there on the right.
Next, chill these for at least 30 minutes. We want the butter cold so it will continue to protect the flour and there is no chance of the little bits of butter melting out into space.
Use plenty of flour when rolling out, roll out from the center in all directions, not too heavy handed. You learn to feel the dough under the roller moving out evenly. Don’t worry about tears, we can fix them. Once you roll the dough out place the pie tin on top. The crust should come out about an inch past the edges of the tin. The crust is big enough. Fold the dough in half, slip your hands underneath and gently place on one half of the tin. Unfold the dough to cover the entire tin. Adjust for even edges. The colder the dough stays the easier it is to handle. Trim the edges to just the edge of the pan, use scraps to gently press into any tears.
Add your filling! In this case I used the dew berries or blackberries, rubus ursinus, we picked last night, 4 1/2 cups with 3/4 cup sugar and 4 T. of dry tapioca. This is a very tart pie. You must be ready to accept the scoop of super vanilla ice cream needed to foil the puckery goodness.
Roll out the top crust the same as the bottom, so it looks slightly larger than the pie tin. Fold in half, gently drape over the filling, unfold and it looks like
the left. Trim the edges a bit, and gently fold the top crust under the bottom all the way around. Flute the edges to press them together.
Now, you don’t have to do anything else to the pie but make 4 cuts half inch long equidistant from each other and slide it into a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes, center shelf. This first step causes the butter to melt into the crust without thinking. It has no chance to worry about it’s magical job, it just performs. It is in the zone! After 15 minutes turn the oven down to 350 degrees and bake for 20 minutes. Now the filling is starting to become gelatinous and the crust is turning. Continue to bake until the juices begin to bubble out the top a bit, and the colour is golden. I just like to spell it that way. I prefer grey to gray also.
However, if you like a little wow factor, brush the top of the crust with milk or half and half, sprinkle BIG sugar crystals over the top and then bake as above. One of my favorite stores in the Pike Place Market is Market Spice for their vast array of herbs and spices and blends, plus, every color of rainbow big sugar crystals. It is important to let the pie cool to warmish, so the tapioca can pull together all the juices nicely and there is no wet puddle on the plate.
This pie really does need an ice cream or whipped cream foil. It is very tart and…..earthy. As I prepared the berries I needed to pick out a bunch of fir needles (another clue to where they like to live) which probably added some resiny notes.
So! Cut into the crust. It is flaky yes? You barely need to pierce it with the knife and it shatters along a fault line of crispyness. And the bottom looks golden, not like a belly that’s never seen the sun. Congratulations! It took a bit of focus, some whys and wherefores, but it is perfect. Now, there is only the consideration of who to share it with….. those who have an inkling for what you have just accomplished and can share your joy I hope.
Let me know how your crust turns out.
postscript….there are always thoughts that get lost in the mystery of baking, when the hands take over and all we have are our senses. Further notes on pie crust:
You can always use a pastry blender, one of those “D” shaped utensils with half dozen scooped cutter blades held together by the flat handle, to break up the butter into the flour. I just love to use my hands and try to keep them cold. I can tell what is going on with my hands.
as you become more facile with the dough you can cut back on the fat, the butter, if you feel that is important. This ratio just increases the chances of a really flaky yet tender crust. Whole wheat pastry flour can be subbed for the AP flour. I often use it with apples as they seem to go together nicely. Fairhaven Mills in Bellingham makes an excellent pastry flour.