I remember my first time. It was neither perfect nor pretty. Not tender or flaky, either. With a new copy of “The Pie and Pastry Bible” by Rose Levy Beranbaum at my side, my 30-something self pored over the recipe for a two-crust pie like it was a graduate school entrance exam. Oh, how I fretted, and yes, that nervous energy did work its way into my chew-toy dough. I went to culinary school, I remember yelling at my scary pie. Why can’t I seem to get this?
What I didn’t know then is that if I wanted to “get” pie, I needed to keep practicing, like riding a bike or learning piano. I stayed away from pie for many years, convinced I had a big “PL” stamped on my forehead. My friend Kate McDermott, now a well-known name in the world of pie, got me out of the doldrums when we collaborated on a dough recipe for my 2012 cookbook, “Meatless Celebrations.” With her steady yet playful presence, McDermott, who’s based in Port Angeles, Washington, taught me that pie, like life, is imperfect — and that we need to get over it. “One more thing,” she said to this reporter, before we ended our call a few weeks ago: “Keep everything chilled, especially yourself. This is just pie; it’s not rocket science.”
Twenty-plus years since that imperfect day, I get it now. Pie is practice, but it’s something we can pick up at any age. With holiday baking around the corner, I’m sharing lessons learned along the way, as well as crumbs of wisdom from the pie oracle — namely McDermott and cookbook author Cathy Barrow.
Recipe by Kim O’Donnel, with guidance and inspiration from “Pie Camp” by Kate McDermott and “Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry” by Cathy Barrow.
Makes one 9-inch double-crust pie.
- 1 cup (16 tablespoons) fat of choice (see box for details)
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour using dip-and-sweep method (or 300 grams on a scale)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup ice water
- 1 egg white for finishing wash (Plan B: 1/3 cup milk of choice)
- 1 to 2 teaspoons sugar, for sprinkling
1. About 30 minutes before you plan to make dough, get your fat and flour good and cold. Place the cubed butter in a small bowl and the flour into a large bowl, then transfer both bowls to the freezer.
If using lard or shortening, measure out 8 tablespoons and place in a small bowl. Transfer to the freezer to slightly harden, about 10 minutes. Quickly cut the fat into small pieces, which is easier to do while cold. Return to the freezer for an additional 10 minutes.
2. Place the fat, flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse 15 times; think of the pulse button as a hot potato, said McDermott, to keep from overmixing. Add 3 tablespoons of the ice water, holding back the ice cubes. Pulse 10 times. Add 3 more tablespoons of water. Pulse 7 times. Your dough may look like cracker crumbs with unevenly sized pieces and there may be some lingering flour on the sides of the bowl; that’s OK.
(No food processor? Make by hand. Consider grating the frozen butter with a box grater, especially for your first few pie adventures. Use a bowl large enough for your hands to work comfortably. To blend the fat into the flour, use two forks, a fork-table knife combo, a pastry blender or your fingertips. Think of fluffing in an upwards motion as the flour coats the fat.)
3. Transfer the dough to a large bowl. Drizzle 1 more tablespoon of water on top. Quickly fluff the dough with a fork or your hands. It should start looking shaggy. Surround it with your hands and form it into a clump. If dough seems dry, dip your fingers into the ice water and quickly pat the dough to moisten. Dump onto a work surface and form it into a large mound that easily sticks together. The dough should feel like cool clay, according to McDermott.
4. Cut the dough into half and wrap each in plastic, pressing onto the plastic and shaping into 5- or 6-inch discs.
5. Place in the rear of the refrigerator and chill for a minimum of two hours (and up to four).
To roll, work with one dough disc at a time.
Lightly dust your work surface with flour and on top of the dough. With a rolling pin, pound the dough a few times on each side to soften and wake up. If dough is sticking to the rolling pin or surface, sprinkle more flour as needed. From the center, roll the dough in quick, even strokes, making a quarter-turn after every few strokes.
As you rotate and roll the dough, check to make sure the dough is not sticking. (A dough scraper is helpful at this stage.) When the dough is about 12 inches wide (or a few inches wider than your pie pan), it’s done.
Transfer the dough to a pie pan. You can do this by draping dough over the rolling pin or by placing a dough scraper under one side and hoisting it into the pan.
Gently press the dough into the bottom of the pan and along the sides, keeping the overhanging dough intact. Patch any holes with extra dough, moistening with fingertips dipped in ice cold water.
Add filling until it reaches ½ inch below the rim of the pan. Place in the refrigerator while you roll out the second disc, repeating the process as with the first.
Lay the remaining dough on top of the fruit, making sure that the edges of both dough layers meet. Trim any overhanging dough with kitchen shears or a paring knife, using any extra dough to patch holes or tears. Do you like to crimp the edges with a fork or create a folded ridge? Now is the time. Make a few slashes on the top of the dough to create vents.
Return to the refrigerator for 20 minutes and preheat the oven to 425 F.
In a small bowl, fork whisk the egg white and 1 tablespoon of water. Lightly brush all over the pie, including the edges. Sprinkle with sugar.
Place the pie on a sheet pan and bake for 20 minutes. Lower heat to 375 F and bake for 40 minutes. The crust should be golden and the filling bubbly.
Transfer to a rack and cool for at least 1 hour before serving.
A few notes:
— I highly recommend that you use a mixture of apples, both sweet and tart. Many Lancaster County orchards remain open throughout the winter; check out our list from this fall.)
— Following Kate McDermott’s lead, I keep the skins on the apples, which soften while baking and add color (and nutrients) to the filling. (It’s also one less thing to worry about.)
— Because apples vary in size, especially those that come from farm stands, I focus more on the total amount of sliced apples rather than the exact number you may need. If you end up with leftover filling, consider it a cook’s treat and have a snack while the pie bakes. If you end up short, slice another apple and add it into the mixture. It will all work out.
— As noted in the dough recipe, when adding filling to a pie shell, stop when it reaches a 1/2 inch below the rim of the pan. An overfilled pie can erupt in the oven.
- 6 to 10 apples, skin on, quartered (and cored as needed)
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons finely chopped rosemary
- A few gratings of whole nutmeg
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar or 1 to 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1. Cut each quartered apple into 1/2-inch slices and place in a large bowl.
2. Add the remaining ingredients and stir with a rubber spatula until evenly coated. Set aside while you roll out pie dough.