My life of pie: 3 months elbow deep into flour, butter, conquers fear of pastry dough

Posted Online: March 12, 2013, 11:59 am
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By Bill Daley
Pies always made me nervous. Didn't matter if they were deep-dish or mile-high. And you could call them whatever: quiche, tart or galette. It's the crust and the making of it that always stopped me cold. I would avoid recipes calling for pie dough, or I'd scurry shamed-faced to the frozen food aisle of the local supermarket to buy ready-made.

Last summer, though, I was "volunteered" as refreshments chairman for my Sunday men's group. I looked at those 30 hungry guys, and one printable word came to mind.


That next weekend I started making pies: Two pies usually, every weekend for three months.

I took step-by-step snaps of each pie with my smartphone and posted the photos on such social media platforms as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. I didn't do this for ego. It was a disguised call for help. I reasoned if I started doing something wrong, someone would step forward amid the snickers and offer assistance.

And that happened. One of the best tips came from chef Matthias Merges of Yusho restaurant in Chicago, who suggested I chill the food processor work bowl along with the steel blade before cutting the flour and butter together. Nancie McDermott, the North Carolina cake and pie cookbook pro, cheered me on with spirited praise, even when one of my pies burst into flames under the broiler.

Lessons learned along the way

1. Relax. A pie doesn't have to be made all at once. Stretch out the steps to fit your schedule. I'd make the dough Friday, roll it out and pre-bake the crust Saturday, fill and bake the pie Sunday.

2. Chill! Keep your dough ingredients cold. The dough will be easier to work with, and the finished crust flakier. Let the dough rest in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes — an hour or more is even better — so it will relax and be easier to roll. If the dough gets warm and sticky, toss it in back in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to chill. If you can, chill any equipment or utensils used in making the dough too.

3. Roll right. Rotating the dough on your work surface every couple of rolls will help keep it circular; use gentle but firm movements to roll the dough outward evenly.

4. Size matters, part 1. Don't think you can make a pie dough designed for an 8-inch pan fit into a 9-inch pan by rolling the dough that much thinner. Cracked, raggedy pie crusts result.

5. Slash with care. Cutting the top crust allows steam to escape while the pie is baking. Just consider what sort of slashes you are making. Some guys mistook my star-burst pattern of cuts as a portion guide and helped themselves to huge slices.

6."Whoosh" is bad. Any such noise coming from the broiler is never good. It means your pie is on fire. Put out the flames, open the window, head out to a bakery for a replacement.

7. Chocolate is good. Everyone loves chocolate, be it the filling, a decoration or even a thin coating painted on the crust.

8. Size matters, part 2. A shallow tart baked in a 9- or 10-inch ring looks so French elegant with its thin wedges, but most of the guys dived first into whatever pie sported the heftier-looking slices.

9. Grab the knife. Thus armed, you can control portion size and cut the pie in a pretty way.

10. Whip it. Men love homemade whipped cream even more than homemade pie. The key is chilling the bowl and the wire whisk or beaters in the refrigerator or freezer. Pour in cold whipping cream, sprinkle with a tablespoon or two of sugar and start beating. Beat, beat, beat until soft, fluffy peaks form.

Apple tart
Prep: 30 minutes Chill: 30 minutes
Cook: 65 minutes Makes: One 9-inch pie, 8 servings
This French-style tart is one of my go-to pies. I've made it with sliced apples and sliced pears. I've glazed it with apricot preserves and orange marmalade. I've painted the bottom crust with chocolate or lined it with minced fresh cranberries. Play with it as you will. Do pre-bake the pie crust; I think it has more flavor. For the dough, I use a recipe from "A Year of Pies," by Ashley English, adapted for a food processor. The pie filling is a mongrel, combining elements from Julia Child's "The Way to Cook" and Benjamin Darling's "Easy as Pie" with whatever I had on hand in my kitchen.
1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter, frozen
1 1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup, plus 2 tablespoons ice water
1/4 teaspoon salt

3 large Granny Smith apples
1 teaspoon lemon juice
3/4 cup apricot preserves
1/4 cup water
2 teaspoons cinnamon, optional

For the crust, cut butter into cubes. Place butter and flour in the chilled work bowl of a food processor with a chilled metal blade. Pulse to cut the butter into the flour; the mixture should look like coarse meal. Pulse in the ice water. Place the loose, crumbly dough on a cutting board or counter. Using the heel of your palm, work the flour-butter mixture together, pushing it into a smooth ball. Wrap in plastic wrap; refrigerate 30 minutes to 1 hour.
Lightly flour work surface and rolling pin. Begin rolling the dough, slowly rotating the dough every couple of rolls to help it spread out evenly. When desired size and thickness is reached, fold the dough loosely into fourths; position it in a 9-inch tart or pie pan. Unfold the dough and press gently into pan. Trim off excess dough, leaving about a ½-inch margin. Fold over or push the extra dough down to build the sides of the tart crust.
Prick the dough with the tines of a fork; line the crust with aluminum foil topped with pie weights or dried beans or even a smaller pie pan. Bake in a 450-degree oven until the crust firms and colors lightly, about 15 minutes. Remove the weights and foil; allow crust to cool.
Meanwhile, for the filling, peel, core and slice the Granny Smith apples. Spritz with lemon juice to prevent browning.
Mix apricot preserves, water and cinnamon in a saucepan. Heat to a boil over medium high heat; boil until a light syrup is formed. Remove pan from heat; let cool slightly. Arrange apple slices over the glaze in concentric rings. Bake at 350 degrees until the apples are just tender, 50 minutes.
Remove tart from oven; paint top with a thin layer of apricot glaze. (Reheat the glaze if needed to make it more spreadable.) Work gently so as not to disturb the pattern of apple slices. Let the pie cool. Top with homemade whipped cream, if you like.

Nutrition information per serving: 271 calories, 12 g fat, 7 g saturated fat, 30 mg cholesterol, 41 g carbohydrates, 2 g protein, 75 mg sodium, 1 g fiber


Local events heading

  Today is Monday, Sept. 22, the 265th day of 2014. There are 100 days left in the year.

1864 -- 150 years ago: The board of education has granted Thursday as a holiday for the children, with the expectation that parents who desire to have their children attend the Scott County Fair will do so on that day and save irregularity the rest of the week.
1889 -- 125 years ago: The guard fence around the new cement walk at the Harper House has been removed. The blocks are diamond shape, alternating in black and white.
1914 -- 100 years ago: The Rev. R.B. Williams, former pastor of the First Methodist Church, Rock Island, was named superintendent of the Rock Island District.
1939 -- 75 years ago: Abnormally high temperatures and lack of rainfall in Illinois during the past week have speeded maturing of corn and soybean crops.
1964 -- 50 years ago: Installation of a new television system in St. Anthony's Hospital, which includes a closed circuit channel as well as the three regular Quad-Cities channels, has been completed and now is in operation.
1989 -- 25 years ago: When the new Moline High School was built in 1958, along with it were plans to construct a football field in the bowl near 34th Street on the campus. Wednesday afternoon, more than 30 years later, the Moline Board of Education Athletic Board sent the ball rolling toward the possible construction of that field by asking superintendent Richard Hennigan to take to the board of education a proposal to hire a consultant.

(More History)