Saturday, November 26, 2011

Pie Redux

          Can we talk about pie? Again?
          Of course we can! Pie is the perfect conversation topic: it is delicious, widely varied, and inspiring of great partisanship (fruit or cream? Pumpkin or sweet potato? Lemon meringue or coconut cream?) and amusing stories of failure.
          I'm thinking about pie again* because I just read this in the editor's note in the November 2011 Cooking Light: "Lord, there is a heap of tragic pie in America—sad pie, lonely pie, befuddled pie. I've had pie so bad I think the pie laws were broken."
          Aside from the fact that this quote sounds like the beginning of a really great country-and-western song, and that "Tragic Pie" would be a great name for a grunge band, I heard my spiritual calling in those words.
          Yes, my friends, I can help you de-sadden, de-lonelify, de-fuddle—in short, de-tragic your pie.
          Because I have the Pie Laws.
          Easier to follow than the Ten Commandments—also shorter—the pie laws can help you—yes you! right there in front, in the yellow shirt with annoyingly large grey stripes—de-tragic your pies and improve your life!

          Herewith Nancy's Pie Laws for De-tragicking Pie:
               1. Ice water. Not cold water—ice water.
               2. Use enough ice water (one-quarter cup for one cup of flour; one-half cup for two cups).
               3. Cold butter. If you use lard (and why would you?), I can't help you. Shortening, ditto.
               4. A pastry cutter.
               5. Once it's been made, keep the dough chilled.

          See, short and sweet.
          And now the commentary: 1. Put ice cubes in your water and swirl them around to get the water properly chilled, then measure it. I'm serious as death about this. In order for the crust to be flaky, the butter has to stay as cold as possible. Use tepid tap water and suffer Pie Fail.
          2. More on this below. Use less than these amounts and suffer Pie Fail.
          3. See 1 above.
          4. I used to use a food processor. The food processor cuts the butter in uniformly, and I've come to believe that this negatively affects the flakiness of the pastry. My heirloom, never-has-failed-in-umpty-twelve-years recipe tells me to cut the butter into the flour and salt until the particles range in size from rice to navy beans. So you have to use a pastry cutter. Just pull up your socks and do it.
          5. I make my pastry at least a half-day ahead and stick it in the fridge so it can chill properly. You can freeze pastry; just remember to thaw in the fridge. Yes, you have to bang the solidified lump with the rolling pin until it relaxes a little when you go to roll it out, but just pretend it's your boss. Roll out, fit the pastry to the pie plate, trim and flute the edge, and stick it back in the fridge while you prepare the filling and heat up the oven.

Do all of the above; get this (assuming, of course, that you're making
apple pie topped with a streusel)

          And the corollary to the commentary, because, even though it's long-winded, you must be convinced to Use Enough Water, and an example may help: My dad (who reads recipes for fun, but has never, to my knowledge actually made pie), directed me to a recipe for vodka pie crust that apparently made a huge impact when Cook's Illustrated published it in 2007. After my initial reaction (euuuuwwww! Nasty!), I decided to try it, for my dad's sake. Because I am The Good Daughter.
          Much is made, in the comments section of the various blogs where it is reprinted, of three things: 1—That's a LOT of liquid; 2—Wow, very flaky crust; and 3—It's No Fun to roll out.
          So I measured out the vodka and stuck it in the freezer to chill. Then I checked the fridge because I couldn't remember whether we were out of butter or not. We had butter, but not a lot, so I checked the recipe to see how much it needed. It needed three-quarters of a cup of butter and one-half cup shortening, for which I planned to sub butter because why use shortening when there's lovely butter in the world? So I added the amounts up and came up with one and one-quarter cups butter. For two and one-half cups of flour? No wonder it's beastly sticky to roll out!
          It then struck me that my heirloom crust recipe, which has never failed me, has two cups of flour and three-quarters of a cup of butter (a bit more than half the amount called for in the Most Wondrous Vodka Miraculous Pie Crust Magical recipe). It also has exactly the same amount of liquid (in this case, boring old ice water) as the MWVMPMC recipe that everyone seemed to think contained enormous amounts of liquid (one-quarter cup ice water, one-quarter cup chilled vodka).
          And then, it was as dawn breaking over the mountain tops: pie crust fail is directly related to not enough liquid to begin with! I checked my cookbook collection, and found that most pie crust recipes call for half the amount of water for the same amount of ingredients as my heirloom never-fail recipe. No wonder people have problems!
          I never made the Vodka Pie Crust. Mostly because it was my standard recipe with the addition of a little sugar and a whole lot more butter** and subbing vodka for half water, a strategy I fail to see the point of because 1—everyone claims you can't taste the vodka, so why use it in the first place, and 2—if you could taste the vodka, vodka-flavored pie crust just sounds nasty.
          I find the payoff is better if I use the vodka as God intended—in my favorite neighbor's martinis.

*Well, truly, I think about pie almost all the time.

**Actually shortening (but remember I was subbing butter for that), and while ideally I never object to butter, I have discovered that there is such a thing as Too Much Butter in pie crusts. I know, almost impossible to imagine, but there you are.

1 comment:

  1. i am willing to attest to the fact that nancy is a truly a GOOD DAUGHTER and always has been - once she graduated from high school.