Monday, July 19, 2004

It's the Simple Things in Life That Matter

Simple things like pie crust. Yes, you heard me ... pie crust. Its always a touchy subject among cooks and I can't blame anyone for using the pre-made ones in the red box (Pillsbury?). I have to admit they really are the best commercial alternative to homemade.

However, (you knew there had to be a "however", right?), in response to the comments for Apple Pie last week I had to post this recipe, which is the easiest and most foolproof I've ever found. When Rose was making it, she accidentally added an extra 1/4 cup of water and wound up with something like a thick batter. We improvised by sprinkling extra flour in until it looked right and ... voila! A delicious, flaky pie crust with no problem. Now that's hard to beat.

It is from The Man Who Ate Everything by Jeffry Steingarten. Marion Cunningham, baker extraordinaire, made about a zillion pie crusts while detailing every step along the way so Steingarten could get it just right. The beauty of it is that this makes a lot more dough than you need so you don't have to worry about scrimping to get the crust just perfect when rolling it out.

It looks intimidating but that's because it details every step needed. Rose was a first time pie maker and had no problem.

Perfect Piecrust

Step 1:
3 cups flour (scoop with 1-cup measure, press it very lightly into the cup and level off excess with side of hand)
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1½ cups shortening (Crisco, butter, or a combination)

In a large bowl mix flour, sugar, and salt with fingers. Drop shortening onto flour in bowl. Toss with flour, then break up into about 12 nuggets, tossing gently to coat and arrange on flour in a rough circle. Rub fat into flour in two stages.

Step 2:
First, scoop fingers of both hands down along the sides and bottom of bowl under flour and lift them several inches above rim of bowl with a pile of flour and one large chunk of fat in each. Lightly rub thumbs back and forth across fingertips, about three times, in order to break up into pieces the size of small olives while coating with flour. Do not press down hard with thumbs; do not flatten fat. Roll it between fingertips. Let flour and fat fall back into bowl. Repeat five times, until all large nuggets are broken up.

Step 3:
In second stage, continue scooping up flour and fat from bottom of bowl, sweeping thumbs only once and only in one direction, from little finger to index finger. Smallest pieces will slip between fingers and largest pieces will tumble over index finger. Repeat 20-25 times. Particles of flour-coated fat will range in size from coarse meal to peas to small olives. It is important that particles range widely in size. A little flour may remain uncoated.

Step 4:
¾ cup very cold water
1 tablespoon cold milk for brushing the pie
1 tablespoon sugar for sprinkling crust

Add ½ cup of cold water, sprinkling evenly over the surface. Immediately stir water into flour with fork, held vertically, starting at sides of bowl, then stirring in smaller and smaller circles toward center, making sure that the points of the fork sweep the bottom of the bowl. Motions should be light. After a few stirs, all the flour should be moistened and dough gathered into small clumps. If there are too many loose, dry crumbs, add a tablespoon or two of water and stir again. Do not overmix.

Step 5:
Gather all dough by pressing it together firmly against one side of the bowl. Break off about half, shape into a bowl with cool fingertips, and flatten it on the counter into a disk about an inch high. Repeat with other half of dough.

Step 6:
Grease a 9" pie plate with a tablespoon of shortening. Both crusts may be immediately rolled out or wrap each disk in plastic and refrigerate for 15-20 minutes. If refrigerated, dough will require 5-10 minutes at room temperature before becoming malleable; it should not break at edges when you roll it out. It must be refrigerated if dough contains butter.

Step 7:
To roll: On a well-floured surface roll the larger of the two disks into a rough 13" circle, 1/8" thick. Use a light touch, rolling from the center to the far edge, being careful to life to pin before flattening the far edge. Roll toward you in the same manner. Turn the dough an eighth or a quarter of the way round and roll again. Do not compress downward but stretch outward. Fold the circle gently into quarters in place in pan, placing the point of dough at the center. Unfold and trim. Cover with plastic wrap. Repeat with other disk. Unless kitchen is cool and dough is firm, cover with more plastic wrap and refrigerate for 10-15 minutes.

Step 8:
Prepare filling, fill, and when pie is sealed brush with milk and sprinkle with sugar. Set on cookie sheet and bake as per filling dictates. For a fruit pie, bake at 450° for 25-40 minutes until darkest spots on crust are very dark brown. Reduce heat to 375° and continue baking until it has been in the oven for a total of about 1 hour.

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