Pie and Piecrust

Frugality, Part 1
TDF's Guide to Handling the Holidays with Flair

I plum forgot what I’ve made lately. That is what happens when I don’t update enough. Let’s go back in time to Valentine’s day, shall we? Dinner was delicious — sauteed shrimp in a harissa cream sauce (recipe to follow later), steak (do you really need a recipe?), mashed potatoes (again? But I’ll give you my secret which is to add just a leetle mayonnaise to the mix — Best Foods of course. It adds a nice tang and even if you hate mayo you don’t taste it. I myself love mayo), roasted asparagus, because it’s the time for those little teeny asparagus, and for dessert, maple cream pie, for which I MADE THE CRUST FROM SCRATCH AND ROLLED IT OUT ALL BY MY LONESOME. You have no idea how huge this is. I don’t have an issue with MAKING pie crust, but the rolling gives me heart palpitations. The key, I think, in this case, was a slightly wetter dough, courtesy of Cook’s Illustrated, which suggests putting vodka in your dough — it burns off fast when cooking but gives you a little wiggle room in wetness. I didn’t use vodka — never drink the stuff, never in the house, but a little white rum did the trick. It also made the dough taste deliciously rummy, but was imperceptible in the baked crust, which left me a smidge disappointed.

Pie crust
Serves: 6
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Adapted from Cooks Illustrated, November 2007
  • 2½ cups (12½ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 large pinch sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into ¼-inch slices (I use salted, I always use salted. I'm a rebel like that, yo. CI replaces ½ c. butter with shortening, but but 1- ugh and 2 - never in the house)
  • ¼ cup cold vodka, rum or other colorless liquor
  • ¼ cup cold water
  1. Pulse 1½ cups flour, salt, and sugar in food processor until combined. Add butter and pulse (about 2 seconds per pulse) something that looks like dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps. (Cottage cheesey) Scrape dough off the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula so it's more evenly distributed. Add remaining flour and pulse until the mixture is evenly distributed and mixed up -- it should look like breadcrumbs. Empty mixture into medium bowl. 2. Sprinkle rum and water over mixture. With rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix, pressing down on dough until dough is slightly tacky and sticks together. Divide dough into two even balls and flatten each into 4-inch disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days until it is hard like a stick of butter. For this recipe, you only need one of those disks so freeze the other and make more pie.
  2. Then, and this is the key - you roll it out, but between two sheets of parchment paper. (I've heard plastic wrap too.) See, I HATE TO ROLL. Everything always sticks like crazy, and I get hives just thinking about it. My mother uses lots of flour, which is one trick, but my mother has significantly more counter space than I do. So the parchment paper trick is a good one. It should be big enough to contain a circle of approximately 12 inches in diameter when you're done (or really, a big square off of most rolls of parchment paper). You put the hard disk between the sheets of parchment, and then you start to roll. The way to roll, as my mother taught me, as her grandmother taught her, (and her grandmother was a Mormon who walked to Utah with all of her possessions in a wheelbarrow, which is apropos of nothing but what I'm saying is that that woman knew how to make PIE is what I'm saying because we're talking pioneer ladies here) Is to only roll in one direction -- away. Start in the middle and roll away. Then turn it about an eighth of a turn and roll away -- start in the middle and roll away. Just one roll. Keep turning and rolling until you have a big flat circle. Now this is the part that always is the worst -- moving it from nice flat counter into pie dish. I like to use a Pyrex glass pie dish. Cook's Illustrated says that gives the best crust, and Cook's Illustrated is right up there with Mormon Pioneer Grandmothers when it comes to pie baking. Now, this is the brilliant part -- peel off one sheet of the parchment, leaving the other on. Put the pie pan face down on the dough, turn it over, and with the parchment still on, press into the pie plate. Then carefully peel off the parchment. Feel free to patch up holes, and fold over the edges and crimp with your thumbs or with a fork.
  3. So now we have a pie crust in a pie plate -- what do we do? This particular recipe calls for parbaking, which means you have to fill it with pie weights, or, in a pinch, dried beans, so the crust doesn't get all poofy without anything to weigh it down. Now, listen very closely, because I am going to give you a BIG TIP. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT, OK? Before putting any pie weights onto your crust, please please put down some parchment paper or tin foil. You do not want to dump an entire jar of split peas onto your nicely rolled pie crust without lining it first, and then realize in horror what you have done and then spend an hor picking out all the split peas from your piecrust with TWEEZERS in some horrible twist on one of those fairy tales where the heroine is forced to pick up a bushel of split peas only THIS TIME THERE ARE NO FAIRIES OR TALKING MICE TO SAVE HER. Not that anyone I know did that, I'm just saying line your pie crust, OK? Or buy a pie chain. That's what I'm doing.
  4. To parbake, 350 degrees, lined and filled with beans or weights, bake 10 to 12 minutes or until beginning to set. Remove foil with weights and bake 15 to 18 minutes longer or until golden. If shell puffs during baking, press it down with back of spoon or prick it with a fork. Cool on wire rack.
Makes enough for 1 9" double crust pie

Maple Nutmeg Cream Pie.
Serves: 6
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
This pie is pretty delicious, if you love a) real maple syrup, and b) nutmeg. Given that those are the main ingredients, I suppose that is unsurprising. It does have a nice silky texture, although I think it's served better cold because it gets less scrambled eggy and more silken glory. Nuni liked it a lot -- we can add the word "Pie" to her vocabulary.
  • ¾ cup maple syrup
  • 2¼ cups heavy cream
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 whole egg
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 parbaked pie crust, see above.
  1. Prepare filling: In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, boil maple syrup until it's reduced in volume by about a quarter, 5 to 7 minutes. Here's another tip -- don't walk away from this and then forget to check it, causing the last bit of maple syrup in your house to burn and stink up the kitchen and forcing a run to Trader Joe's for more maple syrup on Valentine's Day at 5:30 pm. Just a little tip from me to you. Set a timer is all I'm saying. Stir in cream and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together egg yolks and egg. While whisking, slowly add cream mixture to eggs. Strain mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a vessel that is easy to pour out of. Stir in salt, nutmeg and vanilla. I would not skimp on the nutmeg here. If you're not using fresh grated, add extra nutmeg. But really, use fresh grated. A microplane and a nut, that's all it takes. I buy my nutmegs from Penzeys or the Spice House.
  3. Pour filling into crust and transfer to a rimmed baking sheet (unless, of course, you want burnt maple filling on the bottom of your oven). Bake until pie is firm to touch but jiggles slightly when moved, about 1 hour. Let cool to room temperature before serving, or even better, serve cold.
  4. Yield: One 9-inch pie weeknight food.

So I had this nice pie crust, and I decided to fill it with some deliciousness for Valentine’s Day — I got this fantastic recipe from the NY Times by way of smitten kitchen.

One Response

  1. Laure August 20, 2009
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