I absolutely adore pie. Every aspect of it. From the making of the pie crust to the americana, homey feel to the fall atmosphere to the smell of baking pies to the beauty of pies lined up in a row ready to be served. I love pie. I love pie! Pie is glorious. I love making it, I love eating it. There is basically nothing I do not like about pie. Pie always beats cake (unless it’s a birthday, then you obviously have to have birthday cake, it’s in the name, people!). Pie is easier that cake to make look great, fantastic for all occasions (except birthdays, then you have cake, are we getting this?), and generally makes you seem like an awesome baker for something that isn’t difficult to make.
I learned how to make pie from my father when I was very little. He learned how to make pie from cookbooks when my mother was pregnant with me. Why? My mother’s number one craving: homemade pie. Smart woman. My dad learned a great skill and my mother got to feed her cravings. A pregnant woman’s gotta eat what she wants! Growing up, my family focused mainly on pumpkin and apple pies. When I was old enough to have an opinion we branched out to decadent fudge pies. Yum. Pecan pies? Sure thing. Ice cream pies? Absolutely. Anything pie. Anytime. Anywhere. All occasions (except for birthdays, have I been clear about this?).
Now if you want to learn how to make all sorts of pies I highly recommend getting yourself a good cookbook. This one by James McNair is my dad’s favorite. You can only buy it used now though… Tragic. It’s a great book! Once you find a good pie cookbook, whether it’s James McNair or one you pick up from your local bookshop, find some guinea pigs. Anyone will do as long as they will eat pie and give you feedback. Heck, they don’t even need to give you feedback, you can judge for yourself. You basically just need some people to eat a few slices of pie so you don’t eat the entire thing by yourself. Which I’m working on right now with my latest pumpkin pie…. Ooops!
Last year I asked for red pie pans for the holidays and was gifted with three beautiful pans. I love them all, they’re amazing! Each one is just a little different, which I adore. Plus, when I make pie, I rarely make fewer than than three. Heck, I’d take another pie pan too if someone was offering! I have a few glass pyrex ones as well, but I just love the red ones. They’re deeper and wider and gorgeous. A good pie pan is a fantastic thing to have, but you can bake a pie in almost anything, so don’t worry if you don’t have a special pie pan. A cake pan will work, a loaf pan will work, a casserole dish will work. If it holds water, it will work!
Today I’m going to give you my recipe for pie crust. The essential part of the pie. A good starting point don’t you think? You have your recipe, you have your guinea pigs, now it’s time to start baking! Here is how I make my absolute favorite pie crust. It’s the perfect amount of healthy and sweet, flakey and floury. It’s fantastic. Tomorrow, I’ll share the pie filling itself.
Start with the crust. I always make crust for two or four pies and freeze the extra dough. You almost always make crust for two bottom crust pies (or one pie with top and bottom crust). It’s just how it’s done. And don’t cop out and buy store bought crust, it’s just not as good. Plus you miss all the fun part. Making crust is fun!
2-3/4 cups finely milled organic whole wheat flour ( try 1/4 cup less if your flour is not so finely milled)
1 tsp salt
2 sticks organic butter
1 cup ice water
Add when appropriate:
2.5 Tbsp organic brown sugar
1 Tbsp organic cinnamon
1 tsp organic cloves
1 tsp nutmeg
Savory pies –
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 tsp nutmeg
2 Tbsp rosemary or thyme
Since I am planning on pumpkin pie for my dough, I made mine with the sweet pie recipe. First get a big bowl with lots of extra room. This can get messy. Then combine the flour, salt, and spices in the bowl, mix well. Then add the sugar. Once these are well stirred together, cut the sticks of butter into slices 1/4″ thick. Add them to the mix a few add a time. Then get one of two things, a pair of forks or a handy pastry cutter like this one:
A pastry cutter is ideal for the next part, a pair of forks will work. If want to do this entire process in a mixer, that will also work, but when you cut in the butter by hand (with the forks or pastry cutter) you get a better tasting, flakier crust. A machine just can’t duplicate this.
So! You cut in the butter. This is basically mashing the butter into the flour mix. You want there to be some pieces of butter in the mix, you don’t want to blend them to smooth. Make a rotating movement with your wrist to mash in the butter if you’re using a pastry cutter and it you’re using forks, give it everything you got, ’cause it’s probably going to hurt!
Once all the butter has been cut into the mixture, start sprinkling the ice water over it teaspoon by teaspoon. Be very careful you do not add too much water. You will most likely not need the entire cup of ice water, so go slowly. You really just need the dough to start clumping. Once the dough clumps a bit, hold off on the water and dig in with your hands. If you can shape the dough into the ball, you’re done! That’s all the water you need. Sometimes the dough at the bottom of the bowl doesn’t get quite as much moisture as the rest, but you can usually roll this into the middle of the dough ball.
Guess what? You just made pie dough! Yay! The not so great part? It’s not ready for rolling into a crust yet. Put it into the fridge for a few hours or into the freezer for twenty minutes or so. You need the dough to be cold and slightly hard to the touch before you can roll it out. Hard like the resistance of your thumb pushing into a muscle, there is some give, but it’s pretty firm to the touch.
Once your dough is cold and firm, you’re ready to roll! You will need a rolling pin, but if you don’t have a rolling pin, a wine bottle will work too. Can you tell I’ve made a pie in a dorm room before? I know all the tricks. Yes, fancy cooking tools help, but you can totally do this with or without them, it just takes a little more effort.
Sprinkle flour over a large flat surface, the bigger the better! 😉 Place your cold, firm dough in the middle of your flour. Sprinkle a bit more flour over the top. Then, using the part of your palm that meets your wrist, carefully push the ball of dough outward from the center in a gentle motion until the dough is not longer a bowl, but rather more flat and about 3/4″ to 1″ thick. Now it’s time for your rolling pin. Put about a tablespoon of flour in the middle of palm and run the rolling pin through it until it’s covered. Then place it in the center of the dough and, applying pressure, push outward. Move the pin back into the center and pull the rolling pin toward you. Continue starting from the center and rolling the dough outward, alternating the direction you are rolling. You may want to occasionally flip the dough over and sprinkle with more flour to prevent it from sticking. You will want the dough to be thin, about 1/8″ to 1/4″ thick.
When your dough is thin enough, get your pie pan and place it close to the dough. Then carefully roll the dough over the pin and use it to move the dough, centering over the pie pan. Then cut off the excess and bunch the dough edges to form your crust. Take your egg and scramble it with a fork and use a pastry brush (or your hands!) to brush over the crust edges and sides (not the bottom).
You’re done! Now time for the filling. Your pie is going to be delicious. Your crust is going to be flakey, golden brown, and wonderful, just like this guy below.
Stay tuned for tomorrow when I share my recipe for the absolute best pumpkin pie ever! Do you have any pie secrets? Great recipes? Or are you the kind of person who would rather just buy a pie?