Friday, May 18, 2012
Sometimes You Just Need to Make Yourself a Pie
After reading a couple of opinions about how food processors are unnecessary when it comes to pie construction, I began questioning my worth as a pie baker. I use a machine to make my dough. This makes me a pie-making failure. But here's the thing: my food processor makes really amazing pie crust. Me clumsily trying to drizzle in water while mix, mix, mixing makes for tough, unpleasant pie crusts. I'm sure I could overcome this shortcoming with practice, but why bother? Sometimes machines are better (and, bonus! most of the time they're faster).
So, when I'm not suffering from self-doubt, my crusts are totally decent. I started off a few years ago with the crust from this recipe (the filling is nice too; I usually pull this recipe out around the holidays). I know people can get snobby about the fats that they use, but I stick with all-butter because shortening: blech, and having any of those fancy goose fats or pig fats on hand is too complicated. A couple of years later I started substituting vodka for water because I heard that America's Test Kitchen recommended it and I haven't looked back.
Here's my heavily annotated pie crust recipe. You'll notice that I'm a bit neurotic about keeping things cold. This is because I conveniently crave pie on 90 degree days with 200% humidity. Add a hot oven and it's easy to see how every little bit of fridge time helps.
Flaky Butter Pie Crust
2 1/2 cups of all purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, fresh from the fridge
1/4 cup cold water
1/4 cup cold vodka
1. Get your water and vodka in a measuring cup; add an ice cube if it isn't cold. Stick it in the freezer.
2. Get your butter from the fridge and cut it into cubes. Stick it in the fridge.
3. Get out your food processor* and toss in your flour, sugar and salt. Give it a few pulses to mix everything up.
4. Retrieve your butter and chuck it into the processor. Pulse a few times, but don't go too crazy, it'll get more chopped when you . . .
5. Take out your water/vodka combo and drizzle it through the feed tube of the processor, whirring away all the while. Keep blending until the flour starts pulling together. Check and see if the dough will hold together without too much of a crumble. If you need to, add more cold water a tablespoon at a time while blending. Repeat until you have a dough that looks like it'll hold together.**
6. Unroll two sheets of plastic wrap and divide the dough between the two. Use the plastic to mold the dough into a ball and then flatten into a disk. Wrap tightly and throw in the fridge for a half hour or more before rolling.
*There are perfectly acceptable methods that involve pastry blenders or even your plain old hands. I'm sure the internet can tell you all about them.
**I usually end up using the whole half cup--the genius of the vodka is that a little extra water isn't going to toughen things up too badly. I more often end up needing more water and have been known to discover this after I've taken the dough out of the refrigerator to roll, in which case a small spray bottle of water comes in handy. Just spritz until it holds together (hat tip to Alton Brown).
Thoughts on getting it all together:
So here's where you'll have to take off on your own. Getting the crust rolled out easily will probably take some trial and error--heaven knows I'm still pretty clumsy with a rolling pin. Do have plenty of extra flour on hand to de-stickify things, and try and roll from the center out instead of rolling back and forth. I use a silicone pastry mat which is helpful.
Crimping edges isn't my strong suit. I'm just now figuring out that too much dough on the edges makes a sloppy mess, so keep it trimmed to a half inch from the plate edge, roll the top crust under the bottom, and crimp with your fingers or a fork.
Finally, do not skip the egg wash. It will make your pie beautiful. The original recipe I linked above calls for an egg yolk and a tablespoon of heavy cream, but you can use a whole beaten egg with a splash of milk or water without any problem. And add air vents. I feel like that's an easy part to forget, so don't forget.
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So there you have it. Go forth and make pie! I, on the other hand, have the burden of a seven-pound block of milk chocolate sitting on my kitchen counter that I need to deal with. You can go ahead and start playing your tiny violins now.