Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Mother to daughters: The secrets of flaky pie crust

by June
Our daughters love being in the kitchen. Before they could walk, they'd scoot in on their bottoms. (Crawling was too low-down for them: Who can see anything while lying on her tummy?) We kept a cabinet filled with cooking utensils just for them. As Birch and I rattled away at the stove, they would bang pots with wooden spoons. Their first Thanksgiving, we prepared the feast with them riding in backpacks and watching like baby owls over our shoulders. Later, Grandpa Hickory made them a double-size step-up, so they could safely work with us. If we made bread, they helped knead. If we made cakes, they sifted flour and helped with the frosting. And noodles...they've rolled a lot of noodles.

As I got ready to make pie crusts for this Thanksgiving, the girls appeared at my side. "Can I help?" Blossom asked.

I cupped her face in my hands and asked, "Do you know what the secret of great pie crust is?"

"No," she said, "but your hands are cold."

"Exactly!" I cried. "Cold hands are the secret of great pie crust." The idea is to get the butter all the way into the oven still in its solid state. When it finally melts away, it will leave behind air pockets that are the signature of a flaky crust. And a flaky crust is what we're after.

Fern and Blossom have very warm hands (probably from all that goat cuddling). So our pie-crust adventure began with a cold-water rinse. We also added ice cubes to a little bowl of water and set that aside.

Then we put two cups of flour (after leveling with a knife) into the bowl of a food processor and pulsed it two times with one-quarter teaspoon of salt.

Then we chunked up ten-and-two-thirds tablespoons of butter and loaded the chunks into the bowl with the flour. Here, the important thing was to cut the butter into the flour without creating heat from the spinning blade. A series of quick pulses (about fifty) turned the flour and butter into what we call butter crumbs. (We sometimes add a tablespoon of sugar if we're making the crust for a sweet pie, but we only pulse a time or two to mix it into the butter crumbs.)

 Next we separated an egg yolk from the white and beat it into three tablespoons of the ice water. We sloshed this down the chute of the food processor.

We pulsed just until the butter crumbs and egg mixture began to cling together in a clump.

We tumped the dough clump onto a square of wax paper and cut it into two sections. We quickly—with our cold, cold hands—gathered it into two circular-ish patties and wrapped each patty in its own square of wax paper. These went into the fridge for twenty minutes (though we could have held them there a couple of days if we had zipped them it into an air-tight bag).

After the dough chunks were chilled, we patted flour onto both sides of what Fern has dubbed the pie-crust suitcases. (Every pie maker should have at least two of these convenient pouches.) We put a dough patty in each one and began to rock a rolling pin across the stiff dough until it began to flatten out into a larger and larger circle. It was hard going at first, which is as it should be if the dough is thoroughly chilled.

As the dough thinned, it was important to roll from the center, then turn the wheel of dough, then roll from the center again. When it was roughly the size we need (and we eyeball everything at this point), we began to feather any gaping edges together by just rolling with one end of the pin.

Then the two flat discs of dough, still in their suitcases, went onto a round pizza pan and back into the fridge for another twenty minutes (at least).

Finally, the bottom crust got unzipped from its pouch. We peeled off the top layer of plastic then flipped the crust over the pie plate. Because the dough was cold enough, the bottom plastic peel away cleanly, leaving the crust draped over the pie plate. Then we gently nudged the cold dough into the bottom of the pie plate and filled it with our pie filling.

The top crust then covered the bottom, and we tucked its edges down along the bottom crust's edges, and then pinched  so that the bottom crust's top edge was sandwiched in the fold of the top crust. We crimp quickly into a fluted edge. Even with cold hands, we tried to touch the dough as little as possible.

We painted it with milk.

We sprinkled it with sugar.

We pierced it so steam could escape.

Then, since it was an apple pie, it went into the oven at 425 degree Fahrenheit for about thirty minutes. Next, it got turned down to 325 degrees for another thirty. We had to watch carefully to make sure it wasn't getting too brown too fast. When it was done, the pie filling was bubbling out like warm jam, and the crust was golden brown with a crackling glaze of sugar.

There is no trick for waiting until the pie is completely cool before cutting it. So we didn't even try.


Magnolia Handspun said...

I think you need to publish a cookbook June...you and the girls just make everything so appetizing.
Wishing you all a Happy Thanksgiving.
hugs from Montana

meemsnyc said...

That's great that the girls like to help in the kitchen. They must learn a lot from you and will grow up being great cooks. That pie looks amazing.

Catherine said...

Yum! Those round cheeks are just the best!! My twins were bum-crawlers too! I never tought about cooling my hand before making a pie crust! I used iced water, but I have pretty warm hand... Interesting!

Unknown said...

I needed a good pie crust tutorial! Thank you!! I'll have to bookmark this one!

Country Girl said...

Looks good, love the pics

Wren said...

How wonderful to have your girls with you in the kitchen! Fantastic looking pie! Wishing you a most wonderful Thanksgiving!

Nellie from Beyond My Garden said...

What a wonderful memory you made this day.

JGH said...

Perfect Timing! I am making pies today! and one will be with my son. I did know about the cold butter, but I never knew why-- about the melting and the air pockets and such. Always helps to know the science behind these things.

Have a wonderful holiday!

Kelli said...

Isn't it great cooking with young ones! Your baking looks super, and great job at desribing it. Camilla's idea of a cookbook sounds like one to consider. Have a happy thanksgiving!

Tom @ Tall Clover Farm said...

Your family photos paint a wonderful picture of the beauty of family life. And what better life skill is there than making a perfect pie crust.

Happy Thanksgiving June to you and yours, here's to many more pies and to the stories that follow.

PS-I'm coveting that Emile Henry pie dish.

Linda said...

Mmmm, that pastry looks so flaky and delicious. I've never heard of these pockets that you rolled the pastry out in. Had a look on Google, but 'pastry bag' in the UK seems to mean an icing bag, so it looks like an American import if I want to try one. My father-in-law and dear American step-mum-in-law are in the US at the moment for thanksgiving, so perhaps they might bring me one back!

Garden Girl said...

What a great idea those pie crust bags are! Just like Linda, above, I had a look online here in the UK and they seem to be completely unobtainable... Will have to ask the inlaws to send me a couple from the good ol' US of A!

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