Pie season is upon us!

I have been “trialing” new recipes for pie crusts and fillings for a wide variety of eaters. I think the earliest recipes for making non-wheat pie crusts were a good start, but I’ve been working on improving the flavor and texture of crusts made from almond, cassava, and coconut flours. I’m getting there and hope to be sharing my results in another week. One more tweak should do it.

In the meantime, this week addresses tips for making traditional pie crusts with flour made from grain.

  1. Keep the butter or lard chunks ice cold at all times, right up until the pie goes into the oven. When the cold fat melts, it creates pockets of steam. These pockets of steam are what will make the crust flaky.
  2. Handle the dough as little as possible. When cutting the butter into the flour, we are creating a tender crust through the magic of science that we bakers call “gluten development.” Too much handling will cause the dough to shrink during baking, or a tough crust rather than tender.
  3. Cut the butter into the flour until the combined chunks are pea-sized. To do this use a hand-held pastry blender; a fork and knife; or a food processor. Don’t use your hands as this will warm the butter quickly.
  4. Once you have pea-sized bits of fat and flour, add ice cold water a little at a time. Incorporate by hand so as to keep the pea-sized bits and keep gluten development at a minimum. Continue to handle just until the flour is hydrated. When it packs together like a snowball, you’re done and ready to roll out the dough.
  5. Measure dough into 8-9oz balls for a 9” pie. Flatten into discs. Store in airtight container in the refrigerator to keep them cold until you’re ready to roll them out. They can also be frozen for up to a month. Allow the dough to warm up gradually, about 10 mins, so it’s just right for manipulating. If it starts to crack at this point, it’s probably too cold.
  6. To thwart using too much flour when rolling out the dough, which can lead to a tough, dry crust, roll in the center of the dough and keep giving it a quarter turn. This will prevent sticking to your floured surface. It also helps it stay round. The dough should look “marbled” as the butter chunks are flattened into the flour.
  7. There are two ways of transferring the crust to the plate. One is to lightly drape the crust over your rolling pin or fold it in half and gently lay across the pie dish.
  8. Trim the edges and put the trimmings aside. I use a knife and carefully just graze the edge of the pie plate as I go around it. Some people say to trim before crimping, some say to do it after. I say try both ways and see which one works best for you! (Watch my website in the next couple of weeks for directions to make “nun farts” with the excess dough).
  9. Crimp or flute the edges, as desired. Chill the shell for 20 minutes to relax the gluten.
  10. Blind baking is a term for baking a shell without filling. Preheat oven to 425ºF (218ºC). Line the shell with aluminum foil. Fill with pie weights to cause the sides of the shell to stay in place and prevent shrinking. Put in the oven to bake for 10 minutes. Remove the pie from the oven, then remove the beans by lifting the foil out of the shell. Return it to the oven and bake until the bottom is crispy, about another 10 minutes. Remove from oven and cool completely. Fill with desired filling.

Have fun with baking. It doesn’t have to be fancy or perfect to be pleasing and tasty! 

Gramma’s Favorite Pie Crust Recipe:

Ingredients:

3 cups Pastry Flour (Pastry flour has less protein so it doesn’t generate as much gluten as All Purpose flour, which means a tender crust).

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup butter (use lard if available!)

½ cup ice water

1 Tablespoon of vinegar or flavored vodka (Substitute orange juice for a sweeter crust)

Short on time and live in the Western Mountains of Maine?

There are many Maine bakers who are ready to fill your seasonal baking needs. “My Pie”, “The Homestead Kitchen, Bar, and Bakery”, and the “Beehive Bakery Maine” (Farmington); “The White Elephant” (Strong); “Collins Cakes and Bakes”, “Calzolaio Pasta Co., and Meg’s Sweets (Wilton) are a few local options. Remember to get your orders in early. Don’t forget that when stopping at Craft Fairs, baked goods are often available.

Maine is a small business state. Each one will greatly appreciate our patronage.

No matter where you live, small businesses appreciate our patronage. So don’t fret if you aren’t a bakere or have no time to bake no matter what the time of year is. Give a call to a business that will be happy and grateful for your supporting them.