Pie. Simple, straightforward, comforting, family, picnics, swimming, bee stings, water fights, 4th of July, Blue Ribbons, County Fair, stains, flaky crust, Grandma's recipe, a la mode, treat.
What resides between bottom and top crusts? Berries, peaches, apples, cherries, pumpkin, rhubarb, mincemeat, custard, pecans, and Blackbirds.
Strangely the night before I left for the East Coast I made pies. Nectarine, Santa Rosa plum and boysenberry with a dash of rose geranium leaves and flowers. A normal person wouldn't have so much fruit in their house before they are about to leave on a trip. A reasonable person would leave the day to clean the house, pack and eat up what's left in the fridge.
Suffice to say this pastry chef is neither sane nor reasonable when it comes to summer. The Saturday before I left I made it to two farmer's markets. I HAD to buy the Santa Rosa's. And the nectarines lept into my hands with their bespeckled selves. After forcing someone to buy a flat of boysenberries, he unloaded a few baskets on my guilty self.
The recipe you ask? I use my favorite pie crust recipe from the Baker's Dozen Cookbook. Unlike most all recipes, this dough does not need to rest, so you can use it right away! No one enjoys rolling out cold, brittle dough, so go ahead and bring this recipe into your home, add it to your repertoire.
My Kitchen-Aid can handle a batch that makes 4 circles of dough and it could probably handle making 5 but I rarely make a topless pie. I love dough, so I figure the more the better. I don't believe in shortening. I've never trusted it. Even when it was considered safe like cigarettes, the IUD and DDT. No matter how flaky it supposedly makes biscuits and pie crusts, I loathe the roof of my mouth being coated with the thin layer of plasticky substance that never seems to melt or digest.
Here are some hints for taking the scare out of pie dough making:
Your kitchen should be cool or room temperature but not hot. In summer try to make your dough in the early morning or at night. Use good butter. The less expensive your butter, the less butterfat and the more water it will have. Even if you do everything right, if you are not using quality ingredients, your dough will say this. Clear the kitchen of clutter. Your work and rolling surface should be clean, dry and spacious. I use a very large, free-standing, heavy butcher-block cutting board. It's so thick it will not move once I set it down.
Freeze your pie plates before you start. If, after you cube your butter, it begins to melt or soften, lay it out on a plate and freeze it until it is completely frozen. Start your ice water at least 10 minutes before you need it. This will insure that it is actually ice water, not just cold water with ice melting in it. Take your watch and rings off, pull your hair back if you have it. Have a clean, completely dry pastry brush nearby.
As you are streaming your ice water into your flour and butter mixture, pay very close attention. Watch its every move. Do not answer the phone or daydream. You do not want the dough to "come together into a ball" in the mixer! No. You want it to barely bind. When it is barely bound, stop the mixer immediately and turn it our onto your completely dry, very lightly floured work surface.
Flour your hands generously. Tilt the rolling pin and sprinkle it with flour as you rotate the pin. With your hands, take this scraggly looking mass of barely held together dough, and just push it together. You want something that looks like a circle because you are going to be cutting it into two or four pieces, depending on how much you made. But do not spend more than a couple of minutes with your hands on the dough.
Using a big knife or a bench scraper, cut this circle of dough to create as equally sized pieces as you can. Pull out one piece at a time and, without handling it too much, shape into a circle. Do not worry if they do not look cohesive. You are going to wrap your disks in plastic wrap. Give the disks a little breathing room in the plastic, because you are now going to use the heel of your hand to press the dough together, and flatten it a bit.
If you are a person who runs hot you may want to chill these disks for a spell in the fridge. Because I was rolling out four circles of crust I kept all but the one I was working with chilling.
Unwrap your package and lightly flour the rolling surface. Flour the top of the disk and pat down with your floured hands.
With as little flour as you can manage, roll the dough into the crust size that you need. Constantly pick up the dough and move it. If you feel it sticking, gently lift up one side and throw some flour underneath. Quickly! **If you are rolling dough and it is not moving, you may end up with a tough crust.** What you want to see in the finished product is visible smears and pieces of butter.
Try to control the rolling pin and move from the center out. Try to stay away from using the rolling pin to go back and forth. Your rhythm should go something like this:
roll North, pick up the pin, roll Northeast, pick up dough and move counter-clockwise, repeat.
Pull your frozen pie dish out and lay your dough into it. If you see that it is coated with flour, use your dry pastry brush to clear it of excess flour. Crimp or fold or leave the edges raw. If you need to trim, use the sharpest scissors in the house as using a knife tends to stretch the dough.
If you are making two pies, roll out and lay in the bottoms first, freezing after each.
Now you can put your filling together and pre-heat the oven. The less time the fruit stays in the bowl with the sugar, the less it will macerate and the more likely you will have chunks of individual fruit personality to meet when you can finally eat it.
If you are making two pies, start with a hotter oven than you need, let's say at least 25F.
I like to sometimes brush a little cream on the dough, and or sprinkle a generous amount of raw/turbinado sugar on top. Raw sugar is not quite as sweet as white sugar and it won't melt in the oven, so it creates a nice extra texture that lays on top of the buttery-flakiness of the all butter dough.
Using a glass baking dish is helpful especially in the baking. Make sure your top and bottom crusts are getting some good color. I bake my pies on a cookie pan with parchment on top so that when the pie insides bubble up and out, my dish-washing will be that much easier later on.
Although pie is hard to resist when it comes out of the oven, pie is best when it has had time to settle, cool down and come together.
My strongest suggestions concerning the filling are about the amount of sugar and thickener you use. Attempt to assemble the pies with fruits of varying textures, sweetnesses, and tart-acidic characteristics. This way you won't need as much sweetener. Remember that no matter how much cornstarch or tapioca or flour you add, the pie will not stand upright on the plate the way Diner pies do. Those fillings are far from the fruit they mimic, many of them do not even need to be refrigerated!
Pies, like summer and preserve making, is a celebration of fruit at its prime, bursting with elbow-lickingly sticky juices. Ripe fruit, an overabundance of it, and company coming for the weekend. Test the limits of people mouths, not the strength of starch activation.
I don't refrigerate my pies unless there's still some left after the third day. But they do reheat nicely in a toaster oven. If I'm in an English mood I'll have warm pie with cold whipping cream poured over top. But nothing beats real vanilla ice cream.
Conquer the pie crust this summer! Don't be afraid! Use these instructions and ask questions in the comment section for further details.
Mmmmmmmmm pie. Pie makes me happy.