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Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Joy of Pie


I've always been a fan of pie, but I haven't always been a (successful) baker of pies.  This all changed when I learned how to make a great pie crust.  It was at the same time that I learned how to make a great biscuit.  The secret to both of these pastries is the same - less is much more.  Like so many things in life, I tend to go just a bit further than necessary.  The thing to know is when to stop.  With pie pastry and biscuits, you want to stop the mixing and handling well before you've mixed your dough so thoroughly that there are no little bits of shortening or butter left.  You see, it's those bits that create the tender, flaky result that you are trying to achieve.  You also want to avoid adding too much water.  If you add too little moisture, it's easy enough to fix...  You just add a bit more!  If you add too much, well, then you have to start all over again...  Really, there's no secret, no special technique...  Just stop while you're ahead.  You want your dough to just come together, to hold its shape cohesively.

There are a couple of other keys to great pie crust...  Cold ingredients are important, but one ingredient really MUST be cold...  I keep shortening sticks in the freezer and they are always ready when I want to make a pie.  I also find that an old-fashioned pastry blender works as well as anything for blending your flour, salt and shortening together, the second choice being fingers that can pinch the ingredients lightly, just until those clumps start to appear - bits of fat covered in flour.

What is the cardinal sin of "pie-crusting"?  There's only one...  Never, and I do mean NEVER, use a premade or packaged pie pastry.  I may sound like one of those awful food snobs - the ones who say things like, "Unsalted butter only!" (a vicious lie if ever there was one)...  but no premade, pre-packaged, just add water pie crust was ever made that could replace even a mediocre homemade version.

Pie is, to me, a super-food.  I'm not talking about super-foods like spinach, kale and (the highly debatable) quinoa...  I'm talking about something that can serve as dessert AND breakfast, not to mention a mid-day or midnight snack!  Believe me when I say that I enjoy pie from start to finish...  I have my own little eccentricities when it comes to pie, as well...  First, no one loves raw pie dough more than I do.  When I was a kid, we were allowed to make jam tarts out of the leftover pastry.  That was such fun!  Except for the fact that I'd far prefer simply eating the raw trimmings!  I'm afraid that this oddity has not gone away...  I also tend to eat the finished product in my own, unique way.  Don't worry, in polite company I am able to restrain myself and I consume my slice in the normal fashion.  In private, however, it's a different story.

To properly eat pie in my own "Dapper and Dreamy" way, I first remove the top crust, setting it aside.  I then consume the filling, careful to leave just a bit on both the top and bottom crusts.  Then, it's time to focus on the top and bottom crusts with the piece de resistance - the thick, flaky, fluted edge - saved for last.  While I love the filling, it's the crust that REALLY interests me!  Surely I'm not alone?

So why this focus on pie?  It all started on Facebook when one of my online buddies shared a picture of a heavenly cherry pie.  For two days I thought of nothing beyond cherry pie...  Making the crust, making the filling, baking, snacking on pastry scraps...  Finally, last night, I could stand it no more and I made the pie.  The crust was perfect - flaky but sturdy - and the filling was the perfect balance of tart and sweet, with just a hint of almond to make the cherries sing.



In closing - good pie is heavenly...  bad pie is...  bad.  So, take a little time to experiment and practice so that you, too, can make really good pie.  You, and your family, will thank you and, now, so will my stomach...  Who's hungry for pie?!

In case you're wondering...  here's the recipe!

Dapper and Dreamy Cherry Pie

Crust

2 c. flour
1 tsp. salt
¾ c. shortening
6-8 Tbls. iced water

Combine flour and salt with a fork. Cut in shortening with a pastry blender, fingers or two knives. Sprinkle iced water over mixture a tablespoon at a time, stirring with fork until pastry starts to come together. Divide into two balls, one slightly larger that the other. Roll out on a floured board to fit your 8 or 9 inch pie plate. Line bottom of tin with pastry. Fill with...

Filling

2 cans sour red cherries packed in water, drained (reserve ½ c. juice)
1 ¼ c. sugar
¼ tsp. Almond extract
1 Tbls. lemon juice
3 Tbls. Cornstarch or 6 Tbls. Flour
1 Tbls. butter

Combine all ingredients (including ½ c. cherry juice) and set aside for 20 minutes. Fill pastry with this mixture. Dot top of cherry mixture with butter and top with second pastry round.


Fold edges under and flute. Bake at 425 degrees for 30 minutes. Lower temperature to 350 degrees, slip cookie sheet under pie and bake for additional 25 to 30 minutes. Pie is done when crust is a rich golden brown and juices are visibly bubbling.


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