You know how going through an arduous adventure brings people closer together?
Well, I don’t know if it’s true or not but I certainly had an arduous adventure making pie-crusts this weekend.
A couple of factors made this baking session more difficult than usual:
- Palo Alto experienced a mini heat wave with a high of 86ºF/30ºC. (I’m sure folks in Arizona can appreciate how warm that is.)
- It was my first time using shortening to make a pie instead of butter. I had no idea how soft shortening is compared to butter. Makes it both easier and harder to work with.
- Our event almost ran 4 hours long…twice as long as I advertised. This was definitely my bad. Should have had pre-baked pies ready for everybody to taste.
With these challenges stacked against us, how did the pie-crust making event go?
This post is the third in a new series of “How To Build Community” posts where I plan on chronicling my adventures trying to build a real-life, in-person community around home cooking and the pleasures of making food. My hope is you can glean information to start a group in your neighborhood and learn from my mistakes (Oh yes, because I’ve already made quite a few). Because food is too fun and delightful to keep to yourself!
Check out my tips to start your own meetup. And if you live in the Bay Area, please join us at Rediscovering the Lost Art and Delights of Cooking for some fun cooking projects.
Ingredients and Equipment
What We Bought At the Store
- Frozen cherries (pitted)
- Frozen peaches (peeled and pitted)
- Tapioca starch
- Mushrooms (crimini, though any kind would work)
- Goat cheese log
- Prosciutto (presliced, of course)
- Heavy whipping cream (for fresh whipped cream)
- Frozen pie crust (hey, always have a backup just in case)
What We Brought From Our Kitchen
- Measuring cups
- Rolling pin
- Pie pan
- Mixing bowl
- Electric egg beater
This pie crust recipe survived an 86ºF summery day with the oven on. Passed down from a friend or neighbor (we're not sure), Doreen's No-Fail Pie Crust survived many years on the well-loved index card. Fill it with a sweet or savory filling.
The shortening makes a very flaky and crispy crust.
This recipe makes 2 crusts and is designed for 2-9 inch pies.
- 2 cups Flour
- 1 teaspoon Salt
- 1/4 cup Water
- 3/4 cup Shortening
(You can substitute butter. Use the same amount)
Sift flour and salt together. If you choose not to sift flour, use a tablespoon to heap the flour loosely into the measuring cup. Avoid compressing the flour to keep it aerated.
Take out 1/3 cup of the flour mixture (again use a tablespoon to fill the measuring cup instead of digging the measuring cup into the flour mix).
Add the water to the 1/3 cup of flour mixture. Stir until smooth or the lumps are minimal (hey, nobody is perfect). You should now have a slurry.
Cut the shortening or butter into the remaining flour mixture. Use two butter knives to cut or a pastry cutter. (I prefer the butter knives on the very hot day because the pastry cutter would simply mush the soft butter).
Add the flour + salt + water slurry into the shortening + flour mixture one spoonful at a time. Mix it with a fork (or another instrument with tines) until the dough can be shaped into a ball. Be careful not to pack the flour. And for goodness' sakes, don't touch it with your hands. I always make this mistake and end up with a hard doughball from overworking the flour -- it ends up like shortbread instead of flaky pie crust.
Cut the ball of dough into half. If using single crusts, cut evenly. If using the crust as a bottom and top crust, divide so that one half is larger than the other especially if you have a deep pie pan.
Roll the crust into a circular shape. Push from the center outwards. Check the dough continues to move as you roll it out. If it starts to stick, add more flour underneath and to the rolling pin.
Lay the pie crust on the pie pan. Cut away the excess crust. Save it for decorations like lattice, hearts, or leaves. Put the pie pan and crust into the fridge to give the crust a chance to cool down and hardening before filling and baking.
Bake at 425ºF for 12-15 minutes if baking blind. I suggest dried beans or raw rice to weigh down your crust if you don't have pie weights.
Or follow your pie recipe's instructions for how to bake. For a single crust with a custardy filling like lemon tart, prick the dough thoroughly with a flour before putting in the oven.
Did you know that marble-rolling pins exist?
Holy guacamole, marble-rolling pins are genius inventions for pie-crusts. It saved our pie-crusts from our warm, sweaty hands that were hellbent on radiating heat to destroy our pie crusts in the summery weather.
Not only was this rolling pin beautiful and perfectly smooth, but also the heavy weight of the marble naturally rolled out the dough with almost no work.
Instead of pushing deep into the dough like what you’re used to with a wooden rolling pin, you simply guide the rolling pins in your desired direction using the handles. It smoothly rolls out the dough, transforming you into a master baker with ease.
2-Cup Measuring Cup
By coincidence, both of Alex’s grandmothers’ houses were cleared out and sold around the same time last year. Even though it was a heartwrenching process, it had to be done. As a result of emptying out these houses, we inherited some kitchenware that we have treasured because of the family legacy and stories behind the gadgets.
It turns out that Grandpa Rider, for example, was an avid baker. To my surprise, when I brought a set of measuring cups to Doreen’s place, she noticed that the largest was a 2-cup measuring cup:
Hmmm, that’s unusual. You don’t see many 2-cup measuring cups anymore. They don’t sell them in the store.
You know, I hadn’t even noticed. Thanks to Doreen’s observant eye, I am now more grateful for these rare treasures we inherited.
I shall hone my pastry-chef skills in the family’s honor! (It’s got nothing to do with how much I love ice cream or chocolate cake…of course.)
Fun Experimental Pie
Based on the spirit of the experimental lemonade infusions, I was inspired to launch an experiment with every meetup. For this pie-crust making event, why not try a savory pie? After all, who says that pies are only fruity, custard, chocolate-y, nutty creations?
Growing up in New Zealand, our pies are predominantly meat-based, not sweet-based. When you say PIE, people think mince-and-cheese pie, steak-and-cheese pie, and bacon-and-egg pies. Pies with fruits aren’t pies. They are tarts.
Since I had some arugula from my CSA box, I centered our experiment around this leafy, peppery ingredient. Alex and I came up with…
Sweaty Cat Pie* (Prosciutto + Goat Cheese + White Wine Mushroom Sauce + Arugula + Flaked Salt)
Thanks to naming inspiration from the film Waitress, this whimsical Sweaty Cat Pie is layered with thinly sliced prosciutto at the base, smeared thickly with goat cheese, and drizzled with white wine chunky mushroom sauce on top. Instead of brushing with egg yolk for a beautiful golden brown crust, I decided to sprinkle flaked salt to garnish the outside of the crust.
We served it with the loose arugula. The flakey crust added an initial crunch followed by a slow melting in the mouth. Usually, I hate arugula especially raw because it’s too peppery. But I decided that with enough fat to dim the sharpness (which is why I like arugula pizza), it is very refreshing to enjoy arugula on a hot summer’s day.
*Why Sweaty Cat Pie? Because I’m always terrified by my food experiments not working out. Plus, along with us, the butter, the pie crusts, and Mr. Spots (the fluffy cat) were all sweating too.
Pie-Making Tips from Doreen
The best part of these community events is picking up cooking and baking knowledge locked in people’s heads. These golden nuggets of wisdom are passed down through parents, aunts and uncles, and friends as well as through fails from trial-and-error experimentation.
It’s not always possible to learn through reading a book because cookbook authors have so internalized these learnings that they don’t realize some of these skills don’t come naturally to amateurs.
These are the tips that I took away from this pie-crust making class:
- If you skip sifting the flour, then use a spoon to measure the flour into the measuring cup instead of scooping the flour. Heaping the flour with a spoon leaves the flour more aerated.
- A pastry cutting board is helpful for containing messes. It also has guides to show where to trim the pastry to fit into your pie pan, be it 9-inches, 11-inches, or 12-inches.
- I barely touched my pie crust with my bare hands. It’s no wonder that my pie crusts used to fail because I have a nasty habit of overworking and touching the flour mixture. When possible, use a fork, spoon, or knife to mix, cut, or ball anything. Heat from your hands will ruin everything.
- Sometimes you need toothpicks to separate the pie from the pie pan. Or a hammer. Sometimes, you need a hammer to knock the pies out.
- Skip the whole pie pan part and go straight for the low-maintenance and rustic galette.
- If we can make pie crusts successfully in 86ºF/30ºC summer weather, you can do it too!
In spite of my bad planning, the event was a stunning success thanks to Doreen’s generosity and expertise, Mai’s dishwashing, Kristine’s lattice making, Kate’s expert rolling, Priscilla’s patient understanding, and Chef on Fire’s lemonade making.
These are the pie filling recipes I followed from Serious Eats (Stella Parks/Bravetart provides excellent pastry recipes):