Pie, any way you slice it

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The air is crisp, the leaves are turning, and the apples are coming in.

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It’s my favorite time of year, because it also means I’ll soon be on the road, meeting our customers, and teaching people how to make piecrust. We show people how to do this at our the Traveling Baking Demos featuring, of course, apple pie.

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People are afraid of piecrust. They want to recapture the pies their grandmother made, and taste memories can be awfully hard to compete with.

So we go on the road, hoping to ease that anxiety, because once you enjoy the process, everybody wins. And, hopefully, pie happens. You may not get there the same way I do, but I can show you what works for me, and maybe I can inspire you to give it a go. PJ has a different way to get there, and the pie is just as awesome. The moral of our story? Any way you get to good pie is a path worth pursuing.

Flour. Salt. Fat. Water. Four ingredients, four thousand ways to put them together.

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First things first. Add the salt to the flour so your crust doesn’t taste flat (especially important if you’re using unsalted butter). Stir together. Next? Flaky or tender: both adjectives you want to see applied to your finished crust. Want both? Keep it cool (the butter, that is). Should be right out of the refrigerator.

Apple Pie-cutinbutterCut in the first half of the fat fairly small (this coats the flour, therefore tender). 

For flakiness, cut in the other half, leaving it in big chunks. Bigger than you think you should. This big.

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Really.

Now the tricky bit. Add the water and toss with a fork, but keep things on the dry side. Just enough so that some of the dough will hold its shape with a gentle squeeze, but with about a third of the mixture still pretty dry.

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How to get the rest of the dough to come together, without making it soggy or tough? Turn the mess out on a piece of parchment.

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Organize it into a band the length of the paper, and reach for your new best friend.

Apple Pie-revealbottleThe spray bottle. Give the really dry-looking parts of the pile a few spritzes,

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then use the parchment to fold the dough over on itself.

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Repeat, spritzing as necessary, until the dough comes together, with some dry crumbs still shedding around the edges.

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Divide 60/40 (the bottom crust should be bigger).

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Check out those layers!Apple Pie-Sue Reid-26

To roll out a round crust, put it away round, taking time to smooth the edges. Pat the dough into a disk. It’s OK that there are some crumbs still flying around.

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I use sandwich bags to store the crusts; they’re easier than wrestling with strips of plastic wrap. You’re going to rest the dough for 25 to 30 minutes, and during this time the water will redistribute itself.

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The gluten will also relax, making rolling easier. Smooth edges will keep those dreaded Grand Canyon cracks from appearing when you roll. Which means no desperate wetting, patching, stretching, or (we know it happens) swearing. You can start making your crusts for Thanksgiving RIGHT NOW. Once you’re at this point, no problem to pop your creations into the freezer for up to 2 months. Thaw in the fridge overnight before rolling.

What a difference a little rest makes. See how the dough has changed? Not dusty or crumbly, just ready to go. And still big butter chunks visible (remember, those are flakes in the making!).

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Many moons ago, Mom taught me to roll pie dough between 2 sheets of waxed paper. I’ve graduated to slightly different tools, but the idea’s the same. Take a piece of parchment, flour it. Grab a food storage bag, cut off the bottom and up the sides.

Apple Pie-Sue Reid-32Put your dough disk on the parchment, sprinkle with more flour, and put your nice big sheet of  plastic on top. I use this “sandwich” and one hip to keep the dough where I want it.

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Work from the center of the dough out, but don’t get all contortionist about it. You can pivot your little dough sandwich much more easily than you can bend yourself 180°!Apple Pie-Sue Reid-40

Big enough? Check with the pan above the dough, inverted. Make sure there’s about 2” more dough than the pan’s perimeter. People always ask: “What’s the best pan for pie?” “Any pan with pie in it is a good pan”, I reply.

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Ahh, the poor sacrificial first slice. How many mangled first servings of pie have you experienced? No one tells you this, but you can (and if your dough is relaxed, should) grease your pan. It’ll make taking slices out easier, but will also help brown the bottom.

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Plop your dough in the pan, trim the edges, flute. I’ll be doing a schmantzy top, so no need to wait on finishing the edges.

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Now for the filling. I like to use at least 3 types of apples, for more complex, interesting flavor. This pie has Granny Smiths, Braeburns, and Honeycrisps in it. Sugar, cinnamon, flour. Some boiled cider and lemon juice for brightness and intensity.

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Some of my colleagues swear by a generous dose of vanilla here: this recipe gives you an idea. A little bit of hooch (bourbon, for me, please) never hurt, either. Need a formula? Here’s the recipe we give out at our demonstrations. Stir, fill, set aside (in the fridge) while rolling out the remaining crust.

The easiest, prettiest thing to do is use some seasonal cutters on that dough, Apple Pie-Sue Reid-68

and place the shapes on top of the filling. Easy as… yes, pie to do, and looks just gorgeous. If you want to get all in it, you can emboss the leaves with a paring knife, la de da!

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Place, brush with milk or cream, sprinkle with sparkling sugar, bake. I love this technique because the leaves ride down on the filling as it bakes, avoiding that big old gap you sometimes get with 2-crust pies.

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When I said bake, I meant to say on a parchment-lined pan. Bake at 425°F for 15 minutes, then 350°F until you see some real live bubbles in the center. Remove, cool, slice, share pie happiness.

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By the way, these amazing photographs are courtesy of Julia Reed, our new public relations coordinator (and good company in the kitchen to boot!). I thank her for helping me show you how much fun and beautiful making pie can be.

Susan Reid
About

Chef Susan Reid grew up in New Jersey, graduated from Bates College and the Culinary Institute of America, and is presently the Food Editor of Sift magazine. She does demos, appearances, and answers food (and baking) questions from all quarters.

comments

  1. Kim Throop

    Great article, but I have another question… my rolling pin handle broke after 30 years of use. Do you have a recommendation? I see you had a stainless steel one. Mine was wooden. Thanks!

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid, post author

      Hi, Kim. I have a number of rolling pins, and use whatever I’m in the mood for, or whatever is best suited to the task. I like my stainless one because it’s heavy, rolls well, and can be chilled if I have to work with it in a hot kitchen. I also use a tapered wooden pastry pin, which is useful for things like dumplings or anything you want to roll with a tapered edge. They have the advantage of not having a handle at all, so nothing to break. Wood is fine, as long as it’s a dense maple. I am used to having my pin be 18″ long with a 10″ barrel. It’s very useful for determining dimensions when I’m rolling out. The barrel is 10″ wide, each handle is 4″, so I can see 10″, 14″ and 18″ just by looking down at my pin. Susan

  2. Lorrie Burkes

    I have missed the point of why you put plastic on top of the crust when rolling out? I’ve always just been sure to dust up my wooden rolling pin with flour. Having the parchment paper underneath makes sense though, not to mention, makes for easier clean up of the counter but not understanding why you cover the dough before rolling. Thanks.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Lorrie, if you use plastic wrap you can avoid having to dust the dough with extra flour. Incorporating additional flour can sometimes make your pie dough tough, as well as add a raw flour taste. It’s a quick trick makes clean up easier too! Kye@KAF

  3. Brenda Walked

    Oh my, I am the worlds biggest flop at pie crusts!! My mom’s were w o n d e r f u l. She told me my hands are too warm to make good crusts. Her hands were always chilly. I’m going to try your tutorial so wish me luck.

    Reply
  4. Kathryn McMorrow

    Doesn’t the broad “oculus” in the center make the apples left exposed to the oven’s dry heat dehydrate, becoming leathery and dry-edged? While I believe that some of the best kinds of apple pie do have a denser-type, non-glossy matrix of apple slices, such apple slices are usually uniformly cooked to one overall delectable texture.

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid, post author

      Hi, Kathryn. That has never been my experience. The open area acts like a vent, allowing the steam from the entire center of the pie to escape, therefore preventing sogginess. I have never liked uniform texture in my pie filling; the variations in texture and in types of apple make for a more intriguing dining experience. A little surprise in every bite is a good thing, IMHO. Susan

  5. Maryanne

    Thank you so much!! So much detail..wonderful tips.
    I’ve been making pies for years and always get rave reviews… bit I never rested my dough for 25 to 30 min. I will start doing this….thanks… plus that time can be used to do some clean up or a break! 😃 Thanks again from a 72 yr old can can still learn new tricks…

    Reply
  6. Alana

    I just made this crust-this technique did not work for me! The dough never seemed to come together, and the parchment turned into a soggy, falling apart, dough crusted mess! Now I am worried my crust will be tough from all of the ‘kneading’ I did trying to make it come together. What did I do wrong? Will it be tough now? Help!!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Alana, we’re sorry you’re having trouble with this method. As we mention in the article, there are many techniques for getting a flaky and tender piecrust, and it can take some experimentation to find the one that works best for you. It’s a little hard to diagnose what went wrong without more information, so we’d ask that you give our Baker’s Hotline a call at 855-371-BAKE. One of our bakers will be happy to troubleshoot and talk tips and techniques for this and other pie making methods with you. Mollie@KAF

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