Sunday, May 26, 2013

A Pie Crust That Can Fly

I'm just going to give it to you straight. The best pie maker in Wilmington is not a southerner. Yes, I know it is hard to accept, but Carolyn Atkinson is a welcome transplant at Flying Pi Kitchen on the corner of 4th and Chestnut and you'll stop complaining once you taste her pie of the day.

Number two in the "from scratch wisdom with Carolyn Atkinson" series: the pie crust that you can't seem to get enough of.

The recipe for a good crust is never particularly complicated. You need a ratio of flour to fat to liquid that lets the water evaporate while baking, leaving the buttery flour crisp and rich. And you need to do it fairly quickly, keeping everything cold and not letting the gluten form.

And yet there are a million astuces, tricks and pieces of advice from bloggers and great aunt elmas. I've read articles discussing the percentage of fat in French vs. American butter (which is apparently government regulated) and the merits of a food processor vs hand mixed, but the simple truth seems to be that each person is going to have a different pie crust. You just need to develop your own style with as much wisdom input as you can get.

I realize I am repeating myself, but a recipe won't teach you to cook. Cooking with someone who knows how to cook will teach you to cook. And yet I have a blog, so here's my best shot at transcribing that experience.

Ingredients for 2 crusts
(or one top and one bottom)
1c butter
3c flour
tsp sugar (if sweet crust)
tsp salt (if savory crust)
A mix of 1 part grain alcohol, 1 part water, ideally in a squirt bottle
Note: This recipe uses a food processor

Cut the butter into 1 inch cubes and put everything in the freezer for a good 30 minutes before starting. Yep. Everything. In the freezer.

Put the flour and sugar or salt in the food processor and give it a quick buzz to mix. Cover it first, silly, or you'll have flour all over the place.

Next in goes HALF the butter. There is an eternal debate about the ideal size of butter clumps floating in flour, which Carolyn solves once and for all by blending the first half into the consistency of sand, and then adding the other half and blending until they are about the size of lima beans.

Then comes the water and alcohol liquid. This you squeeze in 2 tablespoons at a time, blasting a few times in the blender between each addition, for a total af about 6T. Always use bursts of processing, checking each time before adding more liquid because there is no perfect amount. The liquid to flour ratio will depend on altitude, the weather that day, how long your flour has sat out, etc. So you have to develop and eye and a fist for it.

When a handful squeezed in your fist clumps together, you probably have enough liquid, and a few more blasts of processing will get you to the 'ball' point you see to the side.

This is always kind of a miraculous process as it looks as if there is no possible way that there is enough liquid... and then three seconds later it is a wet ball of dough.

The food processor comes in handy here: you're supposed to work fast, keeping the dough cool, and the food processor makes that possible.

You'll see that this is a bit more moist than a lot of crust recipes, but the secret of the alcohol is that it dissolves extremely quickly, leaving your crust perfectly flaky while still giving you a dough that is moist enough to work with.

Place the ball of dough in the fridge for 1hour before working it! Yes, covered, silly. This makes for a more tender crust because it loosens the gluten.  Remember: you have enough for two here, so it is a good idea to separate it into two before putting them in the fridge. The second can keep for a day or two.

When you're ready to roll it out, the ideal is on a silicon pad sprinkled with flour. I won't pretend to know other good alternatives, but metal and marble stay really cold... just sayin. Perhaps on parchment paper, also sprinkled with flour.

Roll starting from the center and moving out, with short gentle rolls, making sure the roller has a bit of flour to keep the dough from sticking. Drape the finished crust over your roller and gently unfold into your pie crust.

If you're highly skilled like Carolyn, you can use this fancy crimping method for the sides.

If you are going to fill the crust with a non-bake filling (French Silk, for example), you'll need to blind bake first. 

All that means is prebaking, but if you just throw the pan in the oven as is, the crust will puff up in the middle, giving you a crust dome instead of a crust that you can fill. Wikihow has a good article on it.

Blind Baking:
1. use a fork to punch a bunch of holes in the bottom of the crust
2. cover it with parchment paper
3. fill the pie with a dry bulk item in the kitchen, or if you're fancy with ceramic pie crust beans you can buy in stores that are fancy like yourself
4. bake.

No comments:

Post a Comment