Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sundays with Sparky - Pies - they're not just for clowns to throw - Part I

Well, pie season is upon us, and since Sparky and I have spent a lot of time discussing the glutionous properties of flour, I thought it was time to show it's other side: flaky pastry. So, pulling out our slightly sticky but unbowed copy of the Farm Journal's Complete Pie Cookbook, we set to work. We were planning for 3 pies, one two-crust, one tart and one one-crust, so we doubled the two-crust pie recipe.

First, the mise, simple enough:

4 cups AP flour
2 tsp salt
3/4 cup Crisco, frozen at least overnight
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, frozen
1/2 cup ice water

Equipment: Metal bowl, placed in freezer or fridge before use. Food processor or box grater, spatula, clean kitchen-safe spray bottle, stiff whisk, and our secret weapon for reducing the mess: a Zipper Pie Crust Form.

The trick to a flaky piecrust is to keep the fat as solid as possible until it hits the oven. We accomplish this in two ways: everything is kept as cold as possible, and the fats are grated so we get uniform distribution of fat to flour quickly. Piecrust, though it has many of the same ingredients as bread, showcases the starches in flour: a good piecrust has as little gluten development as possible.

As Sparky remembered, gluten is the glue in flour that fills up like little balloons when the yeasts in bread hiccup, (he has forbidden me to to say they fart) and that also gives bread a stretchy, chewy quality. Piecrust needs to be tender and flaky - so we're going to want just barely enough gluten so the end result has structure and holds together until you stick your fork in. Flaky piecrust is created when the little blobs of fat in the piecrust heat up and fry the flour into little flakes - in order to do this, it's best to keep the flour, water, and fat as separate as possible.

So, first, put the shredding disc in your food processor. Grate your frozen butter and Crisco (we use sticks, they fit in the chute fine if cut in half) by turns, butter following Crisco since it's harder.

Measure your dry ingredients into the cold metal bowl, and give them a light whisking to incorporate them. Add the shredded fats slowly, whisking gently after each addition to break up the long shreds and coat each shred in flour. You should end up with a lumpy dough that resembles sawdust. Don't worry if you have a few big lumps of fat in there, as long as the shreds are relatively separate.

Now, add the water a small drizzle at a time, folding it in carefully with the spatula - this is where cold is crucial; you don't want to melt any of the fat if you can help it. You may not need all the water, and the idea should be to add just enough to make the dough come together - but as little as possible to guard against gluten development.

When it seems like the dough holds together loosely if you squish it into a ball, put the remaining water in a spray bottle; you can use this to lightly hydrate areas that need it without mixing your dough too much.

Divide the dough into quarters. Form each quarter of the dough in a ball, making sure that it holds together if you apply pressure. Refrigerate dough for at least half an hour or until you need it.

Place one quarter of the dough in the center of your well-floured pie form.

Zip up your pie form, and roll the ball out from the center, pushing hard so it fills the form all the way to the zipper.

Repeat with other 4 quarters. At this point, you can wrap each piecrust well in plastic wrap, fold it gently in quarters, and freeze until you need it. Be sure to thaw before you open it up, or it will crack.

Read more in Part II.

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