Saturday, February 23, 2008

Pie Crust

I have always been intimidated by pie crust. Every Easter, I remember watching my grandmother roll out the pie crust for her rice pies and her ham & cheese pies. I always helped with the filling, but I never helped her make the pie crust.

I love to make pies. One of my very first cooking endeavors was pie. Over the years I perfected my apple pie to the point that my family and friends declare it “the best apple pie eva!”. That’s eh-va, not eva, we don’t pronounce the R’s in Rhode Island. When asked, I would confess, I did not make the pie crust. This was not information that I offered freely mind you, but I did admit it when questioned. I was a pitiful failure when it came to the crust. Not that I hadn’t tried, and met with horrible results. Then Pillsbury came out with the little red box with pre-made crusts! It was like the pie Gods reached down, opened up the sky, looked down directly on me and said “behold child you can’t make a decent pie crust, this will make your pie baking easier”, and it did. There is nothing wrong with using those pre-made crusts. They are tasty and pretty flakey to boot, but I knew I could do better. So I started to look into the perfect pie crust. I didn’t realize that there were so many variations.

At the base of them all was some type of a solid fat, be it butter or shortening or lard. The liquids had me confused. Some folks use cream, others milk, buttermilk, water, vinegar, etc. With so many different variations how would I know which one to use?

Yet again I turned to the people at Cooks Illustrated for their version of Foolproof Pie Dough. They haven’t let me down yet right? The first thing that stood out for me was vodka. Yup, vodka. Seems strange? Listen to what Deb at Smittenkitchen has to say about that:

That thing is vodka, my friends. Yes, I think they’re brilliant too. But really, vodka, because it is 80-proof, will mostly evaporate in the oven, meaning that your crust gets the liquid it needs but much of it will not stay. Worried about a boozy vibe to your pie? Vodka is, by definition, colorless and odorless, so once it’s baked, you’ll forget it was ever in there. Of course (aheeeeem) if you are the sort that likes to pick up small scraps of raw dough and eat them because, mm, butter is awesome, let’s just say that things can get a little messy and leave it at that. Really, it’s not always a bad thing.

Deb used a dough cutter for her crust. I just ordered one at Amazon last week, along with a scraper, a new muffin pan and the cookbook Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. I can’t wait till that box arrives. My heart jumps with glee when I see the UPS truck pull up in front of my house.

I used a food processor this time. I found myself looking at the finished product saying “Is that it?” That was too easy. Here’s the recipe:

Foolproof Pie Dough
Cooks Illustrated, November 2007

Makes enough for one 9-inch double-crust pie
2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons sugar
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/2 cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into 4 pieces
1/4 cup cold vodka
1/4 cup cold water

1. Process 1 1/2 cups flour, salt, and sugar in food processor until combined, about 2 one-second pulses. Add butter and shortening and process until homogeneous dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, about 15 seconds (dough will resemble cottage cheese curds and there should be no uncoated flour). Scrape bowl with rubber spatula and redistribute dough evenly around processor blade. Add remaining cup flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl and mass of dough has been broken up, 4 to 6 quick pulses. Empty mixture into medium bowl.

2. Sprinkle vodka and water over mixture. With rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix, pressing down on dough until dough is slightly tacky and sticks together. Divide dough into two even balls and flatten each into 4-inch disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days.

Mine will be sitting in the fridge overnight. I plan on making some chicken pot pie with it tomorrow.
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