The Savvy Girl’s Guide to Making Homemade Pie

Is there anything more all-american than pie?  For me, it falls into the same category as blue jeans, road trips, the 4th of July, and all other things patriotic.  Last year for Thanksgiving, my husband’s family flew out from the east coast to help us celebrate our first holiday in our first home!  It was a small group so I stuck to the Thanksgiving pie basics, one pumpkin and one strawberry-rhubarb.  This year, though, we’ll be in Austin with my family and while most of the cooking duties fall upon my parents, my sisters and I plan on digging into the depths of our Pinterest arsenals and taking charge of the dessert menu.  I’m giddy just imagining all of the butter and sugar and chocolate we will use!  The golden rule of desserts?  Everything should be from scratch– especially the crust!  If you plan on baking a pie next week– and I highly suggest you do!– this is the recipe I have found to be the best.  I have made all shortening crusts, all butter crusts and lots of combinations of the two, but I have yet to find a crust I enjoy more than this one from Julia Child.  Here are some tips from the master chef herself to ensure that your pie baking endeavors are successful this Thanksgiving!

  • Cube cold butter. Cut your cubes into pieces and make sure that they are well coated with flour before you begin cutting them into the dough. It’s necessary to have the butter separated into pea-sized pieces throughout the dough for evenly distributed fat and flavor.
  • Add a little shortening. For flakier results, substitute about half of your butter with refrigerated shortening chunks and work both into the dough in tandem. Combining the two will result in optimum buttery flavor and tender texture.
  • Measure correctly. Nothing is more important in baking than using the appropriate amounts of each ingredient. For dry, scoop ingredients into correct measuring cups and level off with a straight edge to remove excess. Pour liquids into glass measuring cups until you can see that they’ve reached the desired calibration at eye level.
  • Mix all-purpose flour with cake flour to make pastry flour. If you use all-purpose flour alone, your crust may turn out tough. Conversely, the low protein content of cake flour by itself will make it too delicate. Combine the two and it’ll be just right.
  • Make sure your water is icy cold. The key to flaky dough is suspending fat deposits of butter and shortening, rather than fully incorporating them into the dough. The colder the fat remains, the easier it is to turn out the ultimate pie.
  • Blend only until ingredients come together. Mix ingredients delicately with your fingertips or pulse in a food processor. As soon as the dough feels stable enough to hold together when pressed in the palm of your hand, STOP! Go past that point and your dough will begin to toughen.
  • Strengthen with egg. If your ultimate goal is to create a durable dough–perhaps for handheld hors d’oeuvres–use egg as the liquid component of your dough. The added protein will work to bind and you’ll be left with an unshakable crust.
  • Roll out on a cool surface. Dust a smooth, dry surface with flour and grab hold of your rolling pin. Start from the center of the dough, working out so that your dough ends up spread evenly throughout. Also, be certain to carefully lift your dough sheet off of the rolling surface every so often to ensure it’s not stuck. You can always add more flour if necessary.
  • Chill and rest dough before and after rolling. Allowing your dough to sit will make it less likely to shrink in the rolling process or while it bakes. Just like you, your dough’s been through a lot–treat it gently and with care and you’ll have made a new friend.

And finally, your ace in the hole for a flawless Thanksgiving Day pie… Click here for the recipe!

Images by John Kernick for Bon Appetit Magazine

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  2. So many fantastic tips! Will definitely have to keep this in mind when I next bake a pie..

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