Tag Archives: tips and tricks

King Arthur vs. Queen of Food Blogs vs. Pie Princess: One Big Dough Experiment

20 Oct

“You’re taking something that’s perfect and trying to make it more perfect” said my friend Kelly.  I was trying to convince her that the mini pies she took home a couple of weeks ago were some of my worst – a chocolate pudding pie experiment gone wrong.

And she got me thinking – is there such thing as perfect pie?  Pie elicits such an emotional response in people.  It takes them back to memories of a slice of time when the world was right.  The feelings captured in that memory infuse the taste of the pie they remember, making it nothing short of perfect.  For me, it’s sitting at my Grandmother’s kitchen table eating strawberry rhubarb pie.  In my memory, the pie was amazing and something I would never be able to replicate.  Then I made it and you know what – the crust was awful.  It was a strange recipe that made a soft, cake like crust that was bland and tasteless.  And there were no actual strawberries!  Just rhubarb with strawberry Jell-O.  That was surely not the pie I so fondly remembered, was it?  It was.

What made that pie perfect was our whole family crammed into my Grandparents’ tiny efficiency apartment.  Nowhere to sit but the kitchen table where a spread of pie, kiflis (Key-Fleas), muffins and cookies helped you pass the time until Grandpa took you down the hall to play pool or outside to play shuffleboard.  What made that pie perfect was my Grandmother who in her Hungarian tradition, fed us until we loaded back into our car for the two hour ride home, settling in against our pillows drenched in the smells of meat, potatoes and most importantly…pie.

I am aware that there is no such thing as perfect pie.  But I’m going to make MY perfect pie and I still have some work to do.  I went full steam ahead with a three-way dough experiment this week.  Continue reading


The L Word

10 Oct

I had to do it.  It was the natural next step.  It was time to make pie crust with LARD.  For some reason, I was having a hard time making the leap.  It’s the word – lard.  The first thing that comes to mind is the Lard A$$ pie eating contest in the movie Stand By Me.  Lard and pie together in a hard to watch ending.  But I’m ready to reclaim the word and find out if I will join the ranks of those singing its praises.

On a tip from my Mother-in-Law, I found non-hydrogenated pure lard at our local Heinen’s grocery store.  Right there next to pork bones and other non-identifiable pork products was a shiny white tub marked “Pure Lard.”  I almost made a mistake and bought beef suet, but I remembered that all the articles reference Leaf Lard from pigs.  Good thing I didn’t – the beef suet was like a hunk of fat and the pork lard is creamy.

I was carrying the tub to the front with my fingertips – like it was going to seep through the plastic.  Then I felt the need to chit chat about why I was buying lard to the 16 year old cashier who humored me and confirmed that it was “gross.”  But it was at that moment that my heart started to embrace this little tub of fat – it rang up $.99!  WOW!  A 14 ounce tub of Lard for $.99 and a 20 ounce package of Crisco costs nearly $4.50.  This could be the beginning of a beautiful pie partnership.

Continue reading

Apple Crumb Pie

15 Sep

Enough about all of the books, blogs and articles that espouse how to make great pie.  It’s time to put my hands in the bowl and get dirty.

Over the past month or so, I’ve made ten attempts at various incarnations of a pie crust (attempt number eleven is in the fridge as I type).  I’ve landed on a pie crust recipe that is a hybrid of a few that I’ve had success with.  There’s not much creativity in tweaking a pie crust recipe, but this one seems to have the right shortening to butter ratio for my taste.

Best of Both Worlds Pie Dough

For a 9-inch single crust

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour (Cold!)

1 Tablespoon sugar

1 tsp salt

4 Tablespoons (a little more than 1/3 cup) shortening (I like Spectrum palm oil shortening) (Cold!)

8 Tablespoons unsalted butter (Cold!)

* cut both of these into tablespoon-sized pieces

Just under 1/4 cup ice water

1 1/2 teaspoons cider vinegar (just add to the water)

Put the flour, salt and sugar into a food processor with a metal blade; pulse just to combine the ingredients.  Drop in the butter and shortening.  Pulse only until they are cut into the flour – don’t over process.  It will look like some are the size of peas and some pieces might be larger.  Gradually begin to add the water through the chute pulsing each time.  Add about a tablespoon at a time. Watch carefully – you want to stop as soon as the dough can be pinched together.  This will happen in the blink of an eye.  The dough will not form in the processor like you would expect cookie dough to.  It might even still look a little crumbly.  If you can pinch it, turn it out onto saran wrap and form it gently into a ball.  Wrap the dough, flatten into a disk and refrigerate for at least an hour.

In future attempts, I’m going to try a vodka twist and one that includes an egg just to spice things up.

It was all about apple pie this weekend.  I mean, you can’t be a pie maker (or an American so I hear) if you can’t make an apple pie.  Continue reading

Pie School 102 – the ingredients

11 Sep

4.  Maybe 5.  That’s it.  That’s the number of ingredients that you need to make a pie crust.  And they are all ingredients that you probably have in your house right now.  Compared to the ingredients needed to make a cake, pie crust should be, well, a piece of cake!

I had always heard that making pie crust was a big deal.  It was so scary, so temperamental.  It took some special gene that you were born with.  I honestly thought I could jump in and get it right after a few tries.  WRONG.  My crusts have been edible, but not up to the standards of amazing pie.  I feel like my kitchen has turned into a science fair project.

While I can’t say I’ve perfected crust yet (just you wait, I will!), I have nailed down the ingredient tricks of the trade.  So, for those like me and mining for tips, here’s what I have gleaned so far.

Cold, cold and colder

I hear you – keep the ingredients COLD!  Goodness.  Every person, every book, every website is a broken record.  The colder the better.  So, I am now keeping my butter, shortening and flour in the freezer.  To help make cutting in the fat easier, I slice my butter and shortening along the tablespoon lines while still in the wrapper before I freeze it.  Then, I put them in freezer bags and can break off however many tablespoons I need.

The type of ingredients matter

Butter – make sure it’s unsalted and don’t cheap out!  Some generic brands do not cook well.  Word has it that Land O’ Lakes is a good brand.  I’ve been buying Trader Joe’s and it seems good.  Butter in a crust gives it flavor and tenderness, but an all butter crust will tend to not be as flaky.

Crisco – by all means, buy the sticks not the tub! 

The sticks make it so easy to cut the right amount of shortening.  Shortening is the key to flakiness but not flavor.  I was struggling with an all butter crust, and once I added shortening to the mix, everything changed and the texture was spot on.  I am now a convert – though I think there’s room for both butter and shortening.

Lard – I haven’t gone there yet.  I hear it’s not so easy to find quality lard these days, but I have not tried.  What I do hear is that Lard will hands down give you the flakiest crust in town.  After all, that’s what grandma used.  And that store bought dough?  All lard.  I bought one, baked it and read the ingredients.

Flour – Call me naive, but I thought all purpose flour was all the same.  Nope.  Apparently, BLEACHED all purpose flour is key to pie crust.  I’ve been using unbleached all along.  Whoops.  That might explain my problems.  I have a pie crust sitting in the fridge right now that was made with bleached and am keeping my fingers crossed for a step in the right direction!

Throw in some salt, sugar and ice water and you have yourself a pie crust!  Time to get baking.  Next up will be a recipe for crust and a report back on this weekend’s pie experiment!

Pie School 101 – The Gear

10 Sep

In July, I decided to up my game and start making new pie recipes once a week.  Practice makes perfect is what I hear.  And most people will say that it takes years of practice to become a master pie maker.  So, I’m going to condense years of practice into an intensive fall/winter pie school and come out next spring with a strawberry rhubarb pie that will knock your socks off!

Like any good student, I’ve started studying everything I can get my hands on about pie.  Blogs, websites, books, articles… you name it, I’ve probably uncovered it.

My textbooks

From Julia to Dorie to a 1940’s Good Housekeeping cookbook, I’m trying to learn the basics as well as take note of any interesting techniques or tips.  For instance, the Good Housekeeping cookbook is the only one that had a great tip for how to not over mix the crust – push the dough that is ready to the side of the bowl with a fork while you continue to sprinkle water on the dry parts.  That way you don’t end up with too much water in your dough.

Here is what I have learned so far about gear (I’m still reading!)

Get the right tools

Like any good baker, you need to have the proper tools to make good pie.  It seems that the top two methods for mixing crust are a pastry blender and a food processor.  You also need to invest in a good rolling pin (I have yet to spring for the $30 that this costs).  Here’s a link to a good article about pie gear:

I purchased the OXO pastry blender mentioned in this article at Sur La Table.  I dragged my family to 6 stores before I finally found one at Sur La Table!!!  Don’t pay more than $12 for one – there are some out there for $20, but that’s not necessary.

You will also need a bowl that’s big enough to get both of your hands into.  A deep but narrow bowl is a flour disaster waiting to happen.

The pan is where it’s at

Unlike the rolling pin, the most revered pie pan is the 9″ glass Pyrex pan.  It’s only around $7 if that!  A 9″ pan is the most basic pie size and will accommodate most recipes.

If you are making a pie that has a double crust and lots of fruit, then you will want to consider a 9.5″ deep dish pan.  Pyrex also sells a great set of 2.  If you want the holy grail of pie pans, then spring for an Emile Henry enamel pie plate.  They are beautiful and most reviews give their ability to brown a bottom crust a big thumbs up.  You can get them at Williams Sonoma and Sur La Table and I’m sure other places.  But, that’s easy for me to say because by sheer luck, I happen to have one that I picked up for $5 five years ago at a garage sale!  Yet another sign that I was meant to make pie.

Pie gearOther important supplies

Before you dive in with me, be sure to stock your kitchen with the following:

Parchment paper – Because after I master the crust of a whole pie, the “pie but not pie” recipes is where it’s at.  Handpies, pie on a stick, mini pies, pie pockets… many of which need to go on a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Wax paper – Many people suggest using wax paper to roll out dough.  I’m not completely sold on this (it slips all around on my counter!), but get some just in case.

Pastry brush – Get two of them.  Regardless of what shape the pie takes on, they will be brushed with milk or an egg wash and a brush will ensure that you don’t over-moisten the dough.

Next up… tricks of the trade 102!