Cathy welcomes Beth M. Howard to talk about her book Ms. American Pie. Beth is an author, blogger and pie baker. She lives in the famous American Gothic House in Eldon, Iowa, where she writes, teaches pie classes, and during the summer runs the Pitchfork Pie Stand. (www.bethmhoward.com) Featured recipes below are Apple Pie, Strawberry Rhubarb Pie, and Basic Pie Crusts. Enjoy!
Basic Pie Dough (for a single-crust pie)
To make your single-crust pie dough, simply follow the instructions below for the double-crust pie dough. It’s the same exact method!
¼ cup (1/2 stick) butter, chilled and cut into large chunks
¼ cup vegetable shortening, chilled 1 ¼ cups flour, plus at least ¼ extra for rolling
Dash of salt
Ice water (fill a ½ cup but use only enough to moisten dough)
Basic Pie Dough (for a double-crust pie)
½ cup (1 stick) butter, chilled and cut into large chunks
½ cup vegetable shortening, chilled
2 ½ cups flour, plus at least ½ cup extra for rolling
Dash of salt
Ice water (fill a full cup but use only enough to moisten dough)
Before you Begin
★ Flour is your friend when it comes to rolling dough. It’s what I like to call your “insurance policy.” Contrary to what other cookbooks will tell you, extra flour will not make your dough tough. Adding flour to your rolling surface will keep your dough from sticking—and will keep you from running to the store in frustration to buy pre-made pie crust.
★ That said, always start from the center and roll out to the edges, rolling in one direction. You can push, you can pull, but don’t roll back and forth like a crazy person. I like to think of rolling dough as a dance; stay fluid in your motions. Also, put a little body weight into it so you can really stretch your dough. Too little pressure won’t get your dough to roll thin; too much pressure will mangle your dough. Try it out, get a feel, don’t be afraid to experiment.
★ Keep your workspace clean. Take the time to scrape the gunk off your rolling surface as well as your rolling pin. This is another one of those “insurance policies” to keep your dough from sticking.
★ When rolling dough, use your pie dish to calculate how big you’ll need it. Allow for enough extra width to account for the depth of the dish and make sure the extra inch or two of overhang from the dish has enough bulk for crimping the edge.
★ Size isn’t the only goal when rolling dough. You want to aim for a certain “thinness.” My pie teacher, Mary Spellman, taught me what her mother taught her: Roll it thin enough so you can just start to see the stripes of the tablecloth through the dough. I always think about this transparency, even if there are no stripes on my rolling surface.
1. In a deep, large bowl, work the butter and shortening into the flour and salt with your hands until you have almond- and pea-sized lumps of butter.
2. Then, drizzling in ice water a little at a time, “toss” the water around with your fingers spread, as if the flour were a salad and your hands were the salad tongs. Don’t spend a lot of time mixing the dough, just focus on getting it moistened. Translation: With each addition of water, toss about four times and then STOP, add more water, and repeat.
3. When the dough holds together on its own (and with enough water, it will), do a “squeeze test.” If it falls apart, you need to add more water. If it is soggy and sticky, you might need to sprinkle flour onto it until the wetness is balanced out. The key is to not overwork the dough! It takes very little time and you’ll be tempted to keep touching it, but don’t!
4. Now divide the dough in two balls (or three, if your pie dishes are smaller) and form each into a disk shape.
5. Sprinkle flour under and on top of your dough to keep it from sticking to your rolling surface. Roll to a thinness where the dough almost seems transparent.
6. Measure the size of the dough by holding your pie plate above it. It’s big enough if you have enough extra width to compensate for the depth and width of your dish, plus 1 to 2 inches overhang.
7. Slowly and gently—SERIOUSLY, TAKE YOUR TIME!—lift the dough off the rolling surface, nudging flour under with the scraper as you lift, and fold the dough back. When you are sure your dough is 100 percent free and clear from the surface, bring your pie dish close to it and then drag your dough over to your dish. (Holding the folded edge will give you a better grip and keep your dough from tearing.)
8. Place the folded edge halfway across your dish, allowing the dough of the covered half to drape over the side. Slowly and carefully unfold the dough until it lies fully across the pie dish.
9. Lift the edges and let gravity ease the dough down to sit snugly in the dish, using the light touch of a finger if you need to push any remaining air space out of the corners as you go.
10. Trim excess dough to about 1 inch from the dish edge (I use scissors), leaving ample dough to make crimped, fluted edges.
Basic Pie Dough for double-crust pie (see above).
7 to 10 large Granny Smith apples, peeled (see tip below)
1/2 tsp salt (you’ll sprinkle this on so don’t worry about precise amount)
1 to 2 tsp cinnamon (use however much you like, but remember it’s a powerful spice)
3/4 cup sugar (more or less, depending on your taste, tartness of apples, and number of apples)
4 tbsp flour (to thicken the filling)
1 tbsp butter, to pat on top of filling
1 beaten egg, to brush on top crust
The pie is “assembled” in two layers, which is not only a nice shortcut, it saves you from having to wash an extra bowl!
1. Prepare the Basic Pie Dough for a double-crust pie (see above).
2. Prepare the Filling: Slice half of the peeled apples directly into the pie, arranging and
pressing down gently to remove extra space between slices. Fill the dish enough so you don’t see through the first layer to the bottom crust.
3. Cover with half of salt, cinnamon, sugar, and flour.
4. Slice the remaining apples into the pie, arranging and pressing down gently on top of first
layer, and cover with second half of ingredients.
5. Add a pat of butter on top, then cover with the top crust.
6. Trim the edges with a scissors, leaving about 1 to 2 inches overhang, and then roll the top
and bottom crust together underhand so that it’s sealed and sits on the rim of your pie plate.
7. Crimp the edge with your fingers or a fork, then brush with a beaten egg. (The egg gives
the pie a nice golden-brown shine. Do be careful not to let egg pool in crevices. You will use about half an egg per pie.)
8. Use a knife to poke vent holes in the top (get creative here with a pattern), then bake at
425 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes to set and brown the crust.
9. Turn oven down to 375 degrees and bake for another 30 to 40 minutes, until juice
bubbles. Keep an eye on it as it bakes. If it gets too dark, turn down the temperature.
10. To be sure it’s done, poke with a knife through the vent holes to make sure apples have
softened. Do not overbake or apples will turn mushy.
VARIETY IS THE SPICE OF LIFE…AND PIE: It’s okay to use a variety of apples. Try Braeburn and Royal Gala. I don’t use Fuji (they are too juicy) or Red Delicious (they have no taste). Tart apples work best for pie. The number of apples you use will depend on the size of apple and the size of pie dish, but the general amount is about 3 pounds per 10-inch pie.
BETH’S TIP: Slicing your apples too thick will mean your pie takes longer to bake. But slicing them too thin will translate in filling that’s like applesauce. I don’t like to suggest numbers, but think 1/4 inch thick. Also, keeping your slices a consistent size will help the pie bake more evenly.
KEEP CALM! Don’t worry about your apples turning brown. I mean, think about it: what color is cinnamon? Exactly! No one will ever know.
Strawberry Rhubarb Pie
Basic Pie Dough for double-crust pie (see above)
2 pints whole fresh strawberries, cleaned, de-stemmed, and cut into halves or quarters (about 3 cups)
3 cups (about 1 lb) sliced fresh rhubarb (1 inch per slice) (about 8 medium stalks)
1 cup sugar 1/4 cup tapioca 1 tbsp butter, to pat on top of filling
1 beaten egg, to brush on top crust
Prepare the Basic Pie Dough for a double-crust recipe (see above).
Prepare the Filling: In a large bowl, combine strawberries, rhubarb, sugar, and tapioca. Let sit for 20 minutes to let tapioca activate, then pour into pie shell. Add a pat of butter on top, then cover with top crust. (Feeling adventurous? Go for a lattice top so you can see the pretty red and green filling underneath.) Trim and crimp edge of crust, brush with beaten egg, then poke vent holes (no need for vent holes if making a lattice top.) Bake at 425 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes to set and brown the crust, then turn oven down to 375 degrees and bake for another 20 to 30 minutes, until filling is bubbling and thickened.
BETH’S TIP: I go a little heavier on the strawberries than the rhubarb, mostly because rhubarb is hard to come by. You can shift the balance of fruit to your taste or your availability. I’ll say it again: Pie is not about precision!