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KSDK - Easy as pie?
Not quite. For many people, the idea of crafting a pie from scratch can be intimidating, to say the least. But Thanksgiving marks the beginning of pie season, so it makes sense to try to come to terms with untapped piemaking skills — because we all have them, as dormant as they may be.
"I think people are so concerned their pie should be perfect," says pie expert Kate McDermott, creator of ArtOfThePie.com. "They should throw that out the window. A good pie looks like it was made with love. Don't strive for the perfect picture of what a pie 'should' look like," she says.
Instead, embrace the rusticity of a homemade pie. When it's a little lopsided, bumpy, or — gasp! — overly browned, it can look better, and maybe even taste better. "Pies are great when they're rustic," says Susan Wallace, executive pastry chef at D.C.'s BlackSalt Fish Market & Restaurant.
"You can decorate them, but a simple pie is nice even with just ice cream on top. They really don't have to be fancy," she says.
The No. 1 concern among striving pie makers? The crust. "People always ask us about making the dough too wet or too dry — how much to blend in the butter?" says Melissa Elsen, one of the two sisters behind Four & Twenty Blackbirds pie bakery in Brooklyn. Elsen recommends using a pastry cutter instead of a food processor, and working it until the butter resembles cornmeal but with larger bits of butter scattered throughout. "When you use the machine, the flour-butter mixture absorbs water differently and you can wind up overblending it. When you do it by hand, the water is distributed more evenly, which results in a better crust."
Most piemakers agree that a good crust also is born of cold — by pre-chilling everything from the butter to the flour to the bowl itself. Let the flour and mixing bowls take a rest in the freezer, and leave the butter in the fridge until just before using it. "After constructing my pie, I put it back in the fridge to chill it once again — 15 minutes up to overnight," McDermott says.
But the biggest key (and controversy) to making a perfect crust is the fat you choose: butter vs. lard vs. shortening or oil.
"I like half butter and half shortening," Wallace says. "You get the flavor of the butter and the tenderness of the shortening." McDermott, on the other hand, opts for butter and leaf lard (the fat around the pig's kidneys). The takeaway: Pie crusts can turn out well using a variety of fats. There's no one right way.
If from-scratch crusts are simply too frightening, a cookie crust might be the way to go. "It's an easy crust to do," says Emily Elsen of Four & Twenty Blackbirds. "You just grind up cookies in the food processor and mix them with enough melted butter to get the texture of wet sand. It shouldn't be too dry or too wet — just moist enough to come together in your palm."
So what are you making for your family this Thanksgiving? Let us know on our Facebook page and we'll add your family favorite to this article!
From BlackSalt Fish Market & Restaurant executive pastry chef Susan Wallace
- 1- 9" unbaked pie shell
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 cup light corn syrup
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups coarsely chopped pecans
Heat oven to 350°F. In medium saucepan, heat butter, corn syrup, and sugar over medium heat till butter is melted.
In medium bowl, whisk together eggs, vanilla, and salt. Slowly add hot mixture to egg mixture, whisking constantly. Place pecans in pie shell. Pour mixture over pecans to fill shell.
Bake for 1-1/4 hours till set on top, and golden brown. Cool 30 minutes. Chill 2 hours or overnight. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream, if desired. Makes one 9-inch pie; 6-8 servings.
CHOCOLATE WALNUT TART
From BlackSalt Fish Market & Restaurant executive pastry chef Susan Wallace, who as a high school student had this recipe published in a local newspaper in Pennsylvania.
- 1 9-inch unbaked pie shell
- 4 Tbs. unsalted butter, softened
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 2 Tbs. all-purpose flour
- 3 large eggs
- 1/2 cup light corn syrup
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/4 cup bourbon
- 1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
- 1 cup chocolate chips
Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a mixer with paddle attachment, cream together butter, brown sugar, sugar, and flour. Add eggs, one at a time, scraping well after each addition. Add corn syrup, vanilla and salt. Add bourbon. Add walnuts and chocolate chips.
Pour mixture into pie shell. Bake for 11/4 hours until set on top and golden brown. Cool 30 minutes. Chill 2 hours or overnight. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream, if desired.
Makes one 9-inch pie. Serves 6-8.