Advice For the Crust-O-Phobic

It’s easy to be afraid of making pie crust. I know. I am a recovering crust-o-phobe.

I have been a passionate baker all my life, happy as long as I have my hands in some combination of flour, butter and sugar. But there was something about pie crust that made me steer clear. What spooked me?

There was that voice in my head. The one that was hissing, “Don’t handle it too much!  Don’t handle it too little, either! You know how easy it is to fuck it up!”

And there were also those few, nervous attempts, which only confirmed the Awful Hissing. It was, indeed, easy to fuck it up.

The tide began to turn when my younger daughter, then about 10, gave me a little faith. “It’s not that big a deal, mom,” said she, who had been matter-of-factly and fearlessly making pie crusts at her dad’s house. “You just mix it up, roll it out, and you have a pie crust.”

Inspired, I began to give it a whirl. The more I did it, the more I got the hang of it. (Drinking wine and listening to Coltrane ballads during the process helps, too.) Years later, I’m still in search of pie crust perfection, but that’s okay. I love the addiction, and love the quest.

So I’m really happy to see a recent outpouring of pie passion. Perhaps it’s just the season; we’ll get a better pulse on the Trend Potential of pies once we get past the pie-heavy months that include Thanksgiving and Christmas. But right now, we have quite a mini pie craze going on.

A few random examples: The Cooking Channel is criss-crossing the country looking for good pie in its new show, “For the Love of Pie!” Another of the channel’s shows, “Unique Sweets,” devoted its first episode to pie. (CurvyMama doesn’t subscribe to the Cooking Channel, so she’ll have to find some other very-legal-and-above-board way of seeing them. Ahem.)

Maybe you automatically pitch the corny Parade Magazine into the recycling bin every Sunday, but this past Sunday’s cover story was devoted to pie, and was accompanied by recipes and a sidebar about the history of pie.

The nice thing about this big pie wave is that it brings us a boatload of good–or at least interesting–advice about making pie crusts.

Parade’s package of pie stories included one on avoiding common pie pitfalls, and another on the stuff you need to do pastry leaf cutouts for a top crust. A five-minute video tutorial, with accompanying written instructions, walks us through the process as well (although I found their teacher, Shannon McCook, inexplicably annoying. Maybe it was just me.).

The New York Times posted a video tutorial on pie crust and gives us advice about vegan pie-making (and it actually has a topic section that lists all the stories it has run about pie).

In today’s Washington Post, Tiffany MacIsaac, who oversees the pastry work at a group of local restaurants, cautions us to use top-notch butter and suggests we cook our apple filling ahead of time on the stovetop.

America’s Test Kitchen just put up a very nice step-by-step with good photos that walk us through the process. They do suggest one thing that I strongly disagree with, though: using aluminum foil to line an unbaked pie crust for par- or blind-baking. Feh!

In my experience, this makes the bottom crust all hot and sweaty, and increases the likelihood that some of it will come right up when you remove the foil. I prefer breathable substances like parchment or flat-bottomed, basket coffee filters to put into my unbaked crust, line with dried beans, and bake. (That said, if I am baking my pie in a 9-inch disposable foil pan, I have had good luck using a trick I learned during my time in the kitchen at Bubby’s in New York: filling a second 9-inch disposable pan with dried beans. Perhaps it’s the more rigid shape of the pan that doesn’t damage the bottom crust; just a theory. All I know is that I’ve had bad luck with straight-ahead aluminum foil.)

Of course, this is hardly the first year that pie advice has been pouring forth. I like last year’s video tutorial from Brown-Eyed Baker, who is one of the advocates of freezing your butter and then grating it, as opposed to using a pastry cutter or food processor. These tips, from CinnamonSpiceandEverythingNice, were gleaned from a King Arthur Flour workshop. (To go right to the source, check here for King Arthur’s recipe and video on basic pie-crust making; here for a video tutorial on pie-crust-rolling from KAF chef-instructor Susan Reid; and here for another video on making decorative pie crusts.)

Joe Pastry has an intriguing approach, cribbed from pie and pastry goddess Rose Levy Beranbaum. But wow, I would have to try that one on a really patient day. For sheer goodheartedness and low-tech simplicity, I love Seattle pie guru Kate McDermott’s video tutorial.

I’ve shared my Good Basic All-Butter Pie Crust recipe with you, but I will put up more as I tinker with them. I’m hoping to put up videos, too. But that depends on persuading some poor soul to hang around in my kitchen when I happen to be baking. Stay tuned.

  1. matthewcibellis
    Great blog post, Curvy Mama! Love the details about wine and Coltrane. I'll implement this new approach.