About Me

I have been cooking my way through life for over 50 years, beginning with mud pies as a child. I've turned a corner now and feel a Renaissance in my life. Recipes and Random Thoughts is my personal spin in a blog about how to prepare good food and how it prepares you for life. I want to share with you, honest to goodness food punctuated with perspective from the special memories and moments that have marked my journey.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Keep Your Eyes On the Pies



It's Thanksgiving and my eyes are on the pies.  My heart and stomach are full of thanks.  I'm counting my blessings and the pies.  Wishing everyone  a Happy Thanksgiving.🦃

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Pursuing the Perfect Pie Crust

spinach quiche
 The "perfect" pie crust that rolls out like a "dream", light, tender with a flaky bottom crust  is achievable with practice and attention to detail.  I don't make too many pies and never really settled on a single recipe until my cousin called and asked me to help her master her late mother-in-law's pie crust in time for Thanksgiving.  She had departed this world leaving behind two treasures; a sketch of a recipe and a well laminated pastry cloth.  When I heard that, I knew we were talking about a pie saint with a sacred recipe. She had baked each son's favorite pie for Thanksgiving with skillful ease and my cousin wanted to honor the tradition.  What I noticed as I dove in and reviewed the varieties I'd made before that included variables like egg, shortening, cream cheese and even vodka, was that they're leaving out a lot in the recipes and videos.  "Roll the dough out on a floured surface" is culinary malpractice.  That's like telling a passenger to land the plane at night.  Just look for the runway lights. Where's the instruction manual?
Double crust pie

More important than the ingredient mix is technique.  I've used a food processor to mix the dough before but realized that's for sissies.  Roll up those sleeves and use your hands.  Larger pieces of fat distributed throughout the dough still accomplish coating the flour with fat so not too much water is absorbed which makes for a sticky dough.  No matter the recipe, all ingredients and even the bowl need to be COLD and the dough throughly chilled before and after placing in the pie plate or tin.  It's a race of time vs temperature to cut, mix, knead and roll the dough before the fat becomes too warm.  According to the pastry goddess, Stella Parks, that perfect temperature is 68 degrees.  Any higher, and its back in the refrigerator for a chill down.  So keep an instant thermometer handy.

Rolling out the dough is tricky.  Here are some helpful tips;
  • pat the dough into a disc 5 inches in diameter.  That's about 15 oz per disc minimizing any fissures to the disc surface by smoothing the surface and edges.  A fissure will only enlarge with rolling and distort the circle.  
  • Pinch any cracks together with a moisten finger and dust with flour.  Wrap in plastic wrap. The plastic allows you to smooth edges without drag. Chill for at least 2 hrs before rolling out
  • unwrap and roll on a floured surface from the center to the edge making a quarter turn after each roll.  The dough should always slide and not stick on the floured work surface.
  • flip the dough over after you have completed 4 turns dusting the surfaces lightly with more flour and brushing away any excess on the dough surface.
  • use pyrex or quality pie tin for best results
  • for a nine inch pie plate, the rolled dough should measure 12+ inches in diameter
  • use a finger dipped in water to moisten any cracks and smooth. Dust again with flour 
  • a floured rolling pin sock discourages sticking to the pin
  • if at any time the dough gets too soft - back in the refrigerator for 10 minutes
  • either roll the dough over the rolling pin and into the pie plate or fold in quarters, center in the pie plate and unfold. Whatever works best for you.
  • adjust the dough so it falls naturally into the pie plate, never stretching the dough, making sure it fits into the bottom corners of the plate.
  • The dough should hang 1 1/4 inch over the edge. Trim to 1/2 inch and tuck under onto the top of the pie plate not inside the plate.  Crimp or flute as desired.
  • chill the crust again once the dough is fitted into the plate for single crust pies
  • to partially bake a crust, line with aluminum foil and fill with 2 pounds of dried beans or pie weights.  This will keep the crust from puffing and the dough from shrinking or sliding down the sides.  Remove the weighting and continue to bake as directed for a pre baked crust.  
  • pricking the crust is not necessary if pre-baking with pie weights.
  • bake on a preheated pizza stone
  • use bleached Gold Medal all purpose flour, it has a lower ph
flakey bottom crust

Now, for the recipe; all butter or a butter/shortening mix (lard if you can get it).  The hallmark of a good pie crust, for me, is a flaky bottom crust no matter the filling and both versions will deliver.  All butter is sturdy and has better flavor but butter/shortening has better texture.  For an all butter version, search Stella Park's All Butter Pie Crust.  It is brilliant, "easy" and intentionally cultivates gluten for a sturdy dough if you are making a lattice crust or tart shells.  Her method of folding and rolling the dough is as important as the recipe and worth watching her video.

2 Crust Butter/Shortening Pastry

2 cups or 275 grams all purpose flour
1 1/4 cups or 175 grams pastry or cake flour
1 tbls or 22 grams sugar
1 tsp or 2 grams salt
a pinch of baking powder *helps the crust expand for flakiness*
Apple pie sliced
14 tbls  or 200 grams unsalted American style butter
6 tbls or 72 grams shortening
1/4 cup ice water or 52 grams (add 1 or 2 tablespoons more if needed)
1 tbls white vinegar or 18 grams*this shortens the gluten strands*

Combine the flours, baking powder, salt and sugar in a medium bowl and whisk together 
Cut the butter and shortening into 1/2 inch cubes. Add to flour mixture and toss to coast each with flour.  Roughly smash each cube to flatten with your fingers.  Add the water and vinegar knead quickly to a shaggy mass then turn onto a floured work surface.  Continue to knead the dough until a cohesive mass forms.  Work quickly, handling the dough as little as possible. It should take no more than 1 1/2  to 2 minutes. Divide in two, form into discs and wrap in plastic.  Chill for at least two hours before rolling out.  See notes above.
If refrigerated overnight, set out for 10 minutes at room temperature before rolling.  Lasts in freezer 3 months.

A disclaimer: The above recipe is based on Chef Thomas Keller's ordinal in grams.  The weight conversion to Imperial is close.  I encourage all cooks to buy a digital scale for accurate baking.