Doing it by heart…
Pie was never my favorite food when I was growing up, but for some reason, I asked my step-mother for an apple pie one day when I was about 8…
Confession time – this whole baking thing happened by accident. I was not the kid with the easy-bake oven and I don’t have any memories of baking cookies with all the women in my family. One day while we were at the grocery I asked for apple pie, likely having just laid eyes on some Hostess pre-packaged thing full of green filling, and my step-mom led me to a life-time of baking by misunderstanding what I wanted – how cool is that?
Since then, I’ve made (liking them or not) a lot of pie, and consequently, a lot of pie crust, which non-baker types will say is the hardest thing about making pie. It’s actually not – you just can’t be afraid of it. Which also means that you can’t be afraid to throw it out if it sucks, and it does from time to time, and mostly no fault of the baker. Somewhere in my twenties, the same step-mother gave me a copy of Julia Child’s “The Way To Cook” (you have to love Julia for giving her book such a definitive name). The book did indeed teach me “the way” – and in teaching me about technique, it also taught me the easiest pie crust recipe I’ve ever used. This recipe is so easy and works so well, I stopped using other recipes. Cook’s Illustrated could come out with a recipe and I wouldn’t…ok, never say never. I might be tempted to try it. But why really? I have this one in my heart. And here it is:
Really Easy Pie Crust a la Julia Child (modified by me)
1 1/2 cups unbleached flour
1/2 cup cake flour (very important!)
1 1/2 sticks butter
1/4 cup Crisco (also very important!)
1/2 cup ice water (and I mean ICE WATER)*
Little bit of salt (more if you’re making a savory pie)
Couple pinches of sugar if you’re making a sweet pie (none if you’re making a savory pie)
Very convenient – food processor fitted with a metal blade**
Cut butter up into little pieces. Wrap the pieces up in saran wrap (or don’t) and put in the freezer for at least 15 minutes. The colder it is, the better.
Combine flours, salt and sugar (if using) in the bowl of the food processor. Pulse for a couple of seconds to blend. The flours can also be measured out, put in a ziplock and put in the freezer for a while. This might be a good idea if you live in LA and it’s 99 degrees in the middle of freaking October. If you live someplace with a civilized version of Fall (like Missoula or Boston or anywhere else on the planet), you don’t really need to do this, but cold never hurts anything with pastry.
Measure out the Crisco (which should also be kept in the fridge) and make your ice water (just pour some tap water over ice cubes and let it sit for a few – when the water gets really cold, measure out 1/2 cup)
Now you’re ready to rock. Break the butter pieces quickly into the bowl of the food processor and pulse pulse pulse! Get it to look all mixed in and kind of grainy. Now get that Crisco in there! Same thing, just blend it up so it’s roughly incorporated. Turn that food processor on (as opposed to pulsing) and stream the ice water in through the feed tube and leave it on until it’s just about to make a ball. No more that that. If it’s not starting to come together when you’re done pouring the water, turn the machine off and just pulse until it does start to form a shaggy ball. If for some reason it doesn’t start coming together at this point (you must live someplace really dry) you can put more water in droplets at a time.
Oops – I should have mentioned earlier to have a floured board ready for the kneading. Sorry. Have a floured board ready for kneading. That’s what you get for trying to type recipes out by heart.
Turn the dough ball out on to a nicely floured board and knead it in this fashion; smear it away from you, about a quarter at a time, into the flour. Pull it back, turn it about a quarter turn, do it again. Do this until the dough is smooth and consistent, but is still kind of swirly. The butter and fat layered on each other makes the flakiness you like so much. Cut the dough in half and quickly shape into two balls (if you’re making a pie with a top and bottom crust, make one part of the dough slightly larger, for the bottom crust). Wrap each loosely in plastic and then push them flat into disks that expand into the plastic wrap. (You can also just form them into disks however you like – this is just the way I do it.) Refrigerate for at least an hour (I just made that up)*. The more they chill, the more likely you’ll need to let them soften up a bit to roll them out. You can also put them in a freezer bag at this point and freeze them up for future use. If you freeze them, I’d let them thaw in the fridge all day before you use them. If you don’t use the dough within two days and you don’t freeze it, it will turn gray. Blech.
That’s it. Roll one out for the bottom crust, trim it up. Once you get it into the pie pan, be sure to put it back in the fridge or the freezer for a few, so the dough keeps it’s shape. That’s the main thing to remember here – crust likes to be cold. If the fats start to melt, the dough needs to get back to a cold place. Doesn’t have to be for too long, just long enough to make the fats cold again. Roll out the top if you need one, but not until you need it (until then, keep it in the fridge!). Water works great for helping to seal crust together. Brush some water along the edge of the bottom crust (or use your fingers to smear it) and then smash the top crust into the bottom. If being fancy tickles the fancy, beat an egg with a tablespoon of water (I just made that up) and brush that all over the top. Should make the top really pretty and shiny when it’s done.
If you already love making pie crust, I hope you love this recipe. If you hate making pie crust, I hope you try this a few times and it makes you think “pie crust is easy!” If not, come over to my house and I’ll make you a pie in trade for something that doesn’t come easily to me – like baking fish or doing taxes.
So last bit (jeeze this post is long- how do these things get so long?) This is one of my by-hearts (along with macaroni and cheese and, of all things, Thai curry). What are yours? What do you love to make so much that you don’t need the recipe…and what’s the recipe?
* In the interest of full disclosure, I actually looked up the recipe after typing it out from memory and made two errors. I did correct the amount of water, but Julia recommends two hours in the fridge for your pastry to relax. She was a much better cook than I am – trust Julia.
** This recipe can be done without using a food processor but I haven’t included the instructions here. If you want to do it ‘by hand,’ read up on the method and use these ingredients.