In my mind, nothing sums up Fall like pies. It’s hard to improve upon the wonderful fruits this season has to offer, but a warm pie certainly does.
Many of my friends are intimidated by making pie crusts but I’ll share a few of my tips for making the perfect crust everytime. First off, pies are dessert so put away your calorie counter and enjoy. There are recipes that try to make them “healthier” but in my mind they’re nothing like the pies my mom and grandmother made.
“There’s no getting around it, you need fats and sugar to have a great pie so if you’re concerned, don’t pass on the pie just have a small slice, take your time and savour it.”
The first thing you need to make the perfect pie crust is a scale. In my mind this is the secret to consistent results. Baking is part science and part cooking. Professional bakers go by baker’s measures which measure by weight and percentage of ingredients as compared to the amount of flour. You don’t need a recipe to make perfect pie pastry you just need a scale and to remember this ratio 3,2,1. Measure your ingredients using a scale and make sure you have 3 parts flour, 2 parts fat and 1 part ice water. For example, when I make crust for one pie (a top crust and a bottom crust) I measure 12 ounces of flour, 8 ounces of fat, and 4 ounces of ice water.
Lets talk about “fat”. You can’t get around it, great pastry requires fat and the best is one half butter and one half lard. Forget vegetable shortening, you need lard. So when I say I use 8 ounces of fat for one pie, that’s 4 ounces of lard and 4 ounces of butter. The fat also has to be cold, at the least just out of the fridge, or better yet, straight from the freezer.
Once I’ve measured my ingredients I can make a pie crust in just a couple of minutes using a food processor. I add the flour and fat to the food processor and pulse it a few times until the fat is roughly cut into the flour in small pea sized chunks, less is more when pulsing the fat and flour mixture. Now add the ice-cold water gradually as you pulse the food processor until the mixture starts to come together and clean the bowl. Dump the mixture on to your counter and press it together, don’t knead it just quickly shape it into two equal sized portions and flatten into a disk shape, Wrap the pastry dough in plastic wrap and place in the fridge to hydrate. What if you don’t have a food processor? Don’t despair, you can get equally good results using a simple box or cheese grater. Freeze both your lard and butter and then grate them into the flour. Once you’ve grated the fat into the flour, rub the flour and fat mixture between your fingers to make sure it all combined well. Now add your ice water and stir with a fork until the mixture comes together, wrap and refrigerate as above.
While the pastry is chilling in the fridge it gives you some time to prepare your pie filling. When it comes to pie fillings anything goes, use your imagination just add a handful of sugar some spices and you’re good to go. When baking fruit pies I tend to add either instant oatmeal or tapioca to the bottom of the pie to contain the juices and make them more solid instead of soupy.
Time to roll the pastry. Make sure your rolling pin and hands in addition to your pastry are cold. Cold pastry is the key to a light flaky crust. It’s the steam from the fat in the crust that makes little light airy pockets in your pastry when they hit a hot oven. Roll your pastry out quickly so it stays cold then transfer it into your pie plate, fill your pie shell with your fruit mixtrue and place in the fridge until you roll out the top crust. Place the top crust on the pie and seal the edges with cold water or milk. Trim the crust a little larger than the pie pan enough so that you can fold the edges under. Once you’ve folded under your crust, pinch the edges with your fingers and poke a few holes in the top to let the steam escape.
It’s time to bake. Crank your oven up to 400F. It’s best to start your pie out at a high temperature so that the little fat chunks in the crust explode into steam causing your crust to rise. After about 15 minutes reduce the heat of your oven to 350F and finish baking. Should the edge of the crust star to get too well done and dark, wrap some tin foil, shiny side out, around the edge of the pie.
Your house should be filling with the great smell of cinnamon and fruit baking in the oven. Give it a try, not only will you feel a great sense of accomplishment when you pull that pie from the oven, but you’ll be savouring some of the best of the harvest. Enjoy, and share your successes with me.