For our family's annual Thanksgiving get-together, I have been placed in charge of pies. I could not be happier! The pie is the quintessential American holiday food - beyond the turkey, that is. Without a pie, Thanksgiving would just be....well, savory. OK, so it wouldn't be THAT bad, and after all the bird and trimmings, who really has room for pie, anyway? I fully believe the institution of the pie at the Thanksgiving table is the sole reason our grandmothers insisted that the meal begin AT NOON, and stretch until the wee hours of darkness. You need that much time just to pass the dinner from your stomach to your intestines, to make room for pie!
What I've learned through the years, and especially when my lucrative pie-making hobby funded my entire Christmas shopping one year, is that the vast majority of people are TERRIFIED of making a pie. There is the chance of a soggy crust, a dry crust, a tough crust, a burnt crust.
Is the PIE really the issue? Or just the crust?
It is NOT the pie itself that strikes fear into the hearts of potential turkey hosts everywhere, but merely the CRUST! And this is no surprise to me at all. Generations of pastry chefs have tinkered to find the perfect balance of sweet, savory, flaky, flavor, tenderness, thickness...if it's so hard for them to get it right, can you IMAGINE the difficulty for a pie novice? The crust is indeed intimidating (re: see the episode of Top Chef: Just Desserts two weeks ago, when Heather was voted off nearly entirely for her too-thick sable crust on tarts), but by no means is it unachievable.
Now, I do not profess to be a professional baker, but I do have some pie crust skills up my sleeve. I happen to prefer a rolled crust on my pies, but have also entertained great success with a pressed-in-the-pan crust. I am giving you both here. I am also including my favorite apple pie recipe - PLEASE treat it with care, it is my baby!
If you, like me, are in charge of this years' desserts, I hope these will give you the confidence to present a pie to be proud of. Don't be afraid, take a deep breath, and make sure the butter is COLD...you'll do great, I know it!
Basic Fruit-filled pie crust - makes enough for 2 (9 inch) pie shells, or 1 double crust (9 inch) pie
2 3/4 c. flour
1 tbsp. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
2 1/4 sticks UNSALTED butter, cut into cubes and chilled (best done briefly in freezer)
1/4 c. VERY COLD orange juice
3 tbsp. ice water
In the bowl of a food processor, pulse together flour, sugar, salt, and spices to just combine. Add in butter cubes, and pulse 10 times, 1 second each time; dough should resemble coarse crumbs, the largest being pea-size. Drizzle OJ over the dough, turn machine on, and drizzle ice water in through chute while running. Process until it just begins to clump together, it will NOT be a ball - don't worry, just don't over process! It should only run about 10 seconds more. Lay out a sheet of plastic wrap. Gather dough into a ball, divide in half. Wrap one half in plastic tightly, pressing into a thick disk. Repeat with other half. Refrigerate 1 hour (can also be done day before, or frozen up to 2 weeks and thawed overnight in fridge).
When ready to assemble pie (i.e., fillings are made and waiting, oven preheated), remove dough from fridge and let sit 5 minutes on counter. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough out to 3/16 inch thickness (about as thin as a hardcover book's cover); don't worry if it's not perfectly round. You should notice large flecks of butter in the dough - this is perfect, it's what causes the flakiness in the finished pie. For greatest success, turn the dough 1 quarter turn after each pass of the rolling pin to prevent sticking, flip once or twice in the process, and make sure your board and pin are always floured. You should always be able to move the dough without it sticking! When dough is about 14 inches round, start at the far end of your dough, and roll up (carefully!) onto the pin towards you, like a paper towel roll. Stop at the end. Place your pan underneath the dough, and slowly unroll into the pan. Use your fingers to gently ease the dough into the corners, and patch any cracks or gaps with trims of excess dough from the edges.
Now, there are two options:
1) you need to make an apple-type pie, with an unbaked crust. At this point, chill this pan in the fridge for 5 minutes; then fill and bake immediately. If you are doing a top crust as well, chill the pie filling in the shell while rolling the top; place the top on, crimp the edges with your fingers, and bake immediately. Remember: cold dough, hot oven. Those are the pie maker's rules! If in doubt, put it in the fridge for another 5-10 minutes.
2) you are making a pumpkin-type pie, with a custardy filling. In this case you need to "blind bake" your shell - that is, bake it before you assemble the pie. Line the chilled shell with parchment paper or foil and fill with either pie weights or dry beans (please note: if you use the beans, you can never use them to cook and eat after this. Keep them aside just for pies.) Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Bake 20 minutes, remove parchment and weights, and prick bottom of shell all over with a fork. Bake an additional 5-10 minutes, until bottom is browned. STOP. For unbaked fillings, this is fine. If you are putting in a filling that needs to be baked further (like pumpkin), brush inside with beaten egg yolk, return to the oven and bake an additional 1 minute to set the egg glaze; this keeps the filling from seeping into the crust and terminating your pie efforts! Follow recipe directions for baking the finished pie.
As an aside, the traditional pie dough can be altered in many ways. If you wanted to make, say, a savory quiche shell, you'd omit all but 1 tsp. sugar, use all water and no orange juice, omit the "sweet" spices, and perhaps replace them with 1 tsp. dried thyme. You could omit spices all together. The basic recipe- flour, salt, sugar, butter, liquid - will remain the same. Use your imagination, and see what you can make!
This next crust is a tasty, easy alternative to traditional pie shells. It cannot be used for filled fruit pies, but can be used for meringue pies and custard pies; if to be baked again, please follow the egg-glazing instructions above as for regular pie crust. Also good filled with ice cream as a frozen pie!
Pat in the Pan Nut Crust - fills 1 (9 inch) pie shell or spring mold pan
1 c. walnuts
1 c. pecans
4 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
3 tbsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine all ingredients in the food processor until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Pour into the pie pan. Using the back of a measuring cup or glass bottom, press the crust firmly onto the pan, going all the way up the sides. Bake 10-15 minutes, until the crust is golden brown but not burnt!. If the crust seems to be sagging down the sides halfway through cooking, you can ease them back up with the back of a spoon. Cool before filling (unless egg-glazing: see above).
As a *BONUS* to all my loyal followers, here is my traditional apple pie recipe.
Christine's Classic Apple Pie
6 large Golden Delicious apples
1 large Granny Smith apple
3/4 c. sugar
3 tbsp. flour
1 generous tsp. cinnamon
1/8 ground clove
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp. kosher salt
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
turbinado sugar and additional cinnamon, for top
Peel, core, and slice all apples into 1/2 inch thick pieces. Place in a large bowl with sugar, flour, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, and salt. Stir to combine well. Let sit for 15 minutes to soften apples, stirring to redistribute juices often.
Meanwhile prepare traditional pie crust, above.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Fill lower shell with apple mix; dot top with knobs of the butter. Moisten the crust edges with water; roll and place top crust, pinching to seal, then pinching between index and middle fingers with thumb to make a decorative crimp.Cut 5 small vents in the top with a paring knife to allow steam to pass out. Sprinkle the top with turbinado sugar and cinnamon. Bake for 30 minutes, then reduce oven to 350 degrees, and bake another 30-45 minutes, until fruit is tender when pierced, and juices are thick and bubbling through. Remove to a rack to cool completely before slicing - if you can wait that long, but I highly recommend it!