If there is a pie cooling on your kitchen counter, then your kitchen is a happy place to be. Pies are one of the world’s splendiferously, swoonworthy desserts.
Pies are served less and less frequently these days, another sign of a world gone mad. The mere thought of a homemade apple pie, dusted with cinnamon sugar, still warm from the oven and topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, is enough to start a goodly percentage of the population drooling like a Saint Bernard. Or at least it does me. So does a Quebec Maple Sugar Pie, a luscious Peach Pie (baked in August when the peaches are in season), Key Lime Pie, Rhubarb custard pie, Wild Blueberry Pie with Lemon Zest, Pecan Pie, Coconut Creme Pie, Tart Lemon Tart, Pear and Raspberry Pie….
Part of the reason for the disappearance of pies from the menu is that the home baker is an endangered species. I know this is true. I don’t understand, mind you. But I know.
Why would you NOT bake when you get to eat the good stuff that comes out of your oven? Why would you NOT bake when baking makes your house smell so good, when your creation will give so much pleasure to your loved ones, when it tastes better than something commercially prepared, and when it’s made with natural, unprocessed ingredients, free of chemicals and preservatives, so you know exactly what is in it?
It’s beyond me, but there you go.
Apparently people, by and large, would rather pin pictures of yummy desserts on Pinterest than bake. Then they go out and and pay someone $4 for a mediocre cupcake with pretty icing that looks better than it tastes. Style trumps sensual pleasure and, besides, they avoid having to clean the granite counter top in their designer kitchen.
Pastry, in particular, intimidates many in the small population of home bakers who still exist. It’s a shame, because you really can’t buy good pre-made pie shells and, because, dammit, making pastry is not that hard.
I’m here to tell you that if I can do it, you can do it.
I was lucky enough to marry into a family in which the formidable matriarch made killer pastry. She couldn’t cook for beans (which is what drove my husband to learn) but, boy, oh boy could she bake. I still use her pastry recipe, below. My own mother’s recipe was similar but called for more liquid, which made her pastry tougher. My mother-in-law’s Roblin Manitoba Pastry dough makes tender, flaky crusts that are a melt-in-the-mouth joy to eat. The pastry is so good it doesn’t even need filling: I can eat the scraps plain. (Just bake them on a cookie sheet beside your pie.)
(i) Use a BIG bowl with a lot of surface area.
(ii) You can use shortening rather than lard. Keep it in the fridge at least overnight before making the pastry.
(iii) Cut the fat into the flour really, really well. This takes a little muscle and it’s better not to do this on a stinking hot, humid day. You don’t want the fat to get too warm.
(iv) Once you add the liquid, minimize handling the dough to keep it tender. If you add more liquid, you will toughen the pastry so resist the temptation.
(v) Dust your counter top, the ball of pastry and your rolling pin with flour before rolling out the pastry. Once you have a big circle, use a spatula to lift one edge up over top of your rolling pin.Basically roll the circle of pastry up over the rolling pin to make it easier to lift and drop into the tart pan with minimal tearing. If you do tear the pastry, don’t worry. Just patch it.
vi) Blind bake your shell at 450F for about 15 minutes before adding any filling, placing the tart pan on a cookie sheet to avoid messing the inside of your oven. What can I say except I’m a klutz with a tendency to spill things (like still runny pie fillings), so I’ve developed strategies over the years to protect me from myself. If you’re adding something like a lemon custard, you are really going to want to drop the temperature dramatically, to about 300F, so you don’t toughen the eggs in the custard.
vi) Practice makes perfect.
Alternatively, try Cooks Illustrated’s Foolproof Pie Pastry because, according to my husband who does not bake, it really IS foolproof, though I think he just loves the idea of vodka in the pie pastry.
BTW, the Roblin Manitoba Pastry recipe makes enough for 3 tarts and it freezes well. You can fill it with almost anything. I’ve even made quiches with it. It makes 3 tart shells not 3 pie shells, because although I have mastered the art of making pastry, I have not mastered the art of a nice, neatly crimped pie edge so I get around that by only making open face tarts in pretty tart dishes. No one has ever complained.
If they do, I’d just tell them it’s lower cal this way!