Monday, November 28, 2005

Easy as Pie 

Nowadays, many people are unsure of the meaning of the old saying "easy as pie". That's because they grew up with box cake mixes, baking powder, baking soda, electric mixers and the like. They haven't made cake from total scratch using only wooden spoons (and maybe a whisk).

If they had, they'd know the 5 minutes it takes to mix up a pie and toss it in the oven really is incredibly easy.

And if more people knew how truly easy it is to make pie, frozen pie sales would plummet.

Making pie crust is far simpler than many people believe it is. If you have room to roll it out, from beginning to oven, making a pie takes 5 minutes.

Here's my 5 Minute Pie:

Double Crust

2 1/4 cups flour
dash of salt
3/4 cups solid fatty stuff (Crisco, lard, butter, or some combination or equivalent thereof)
5-10 tablespoons very cold liquid (water, lemon juice, apple cider, amaretto or any any combination or equivalent thereof)

Mixing bowl
measuring cups and spoons
Pastry cutter
Rolling pin
Pie tin

If you don't have a pastry cutter with 4 sharpish blades, tape 3 or 4 good butter knives together to use, and "cut" the fatty stuff into the flour and salt until you get little lumps the size of peas (takes about 30-45 seconds with some good wrist action). As soon as you get lumps, dump in about 5 tablespoons of your very cold liquid (it's OK to put ice in it to chill it down, and scoop the liquid out with your measuring spoon) and use your pastry cutter to blend it together. If it's too dry, add more liquid. Give it a a few quick kneads with your hand and plop it onto a floured flat surface (some people like using waxrd paper, or a marble board, or those plastic pie bags, but really, if you have a clean, flat surface, that's all you need. Sprinkle on some flour, divide the dough in half and flatten it onto teh flour with your hand. Lift it up, Sprinkle on a bit more flour and flip the dough. Roll it out into something approximating a circle (and if all you can do is a decentish rectangle, that'll do). If you don't have a rolling pin, you can use a straight-sided glass. It's not as easy, but it works. If all else fails, you can pat it out like pizza dough. If the dough tears, repair it by moistening the edges with water and smoothing it together. You may want to sprinkle on a bit of flour if you're still rolling.

Now, roll the dough up like a poster going into a shipping tube (Use a knife or your fingernails to get the crust off the table if it sticks, repair after it's in the pie tin). Where the crust used to be, put the pie tin, and then unroll the crust over the pie tin. Don't worry if it tears, you can fix it with a bit of water. The crust should overhang the pie tin all around. If it doesn't, just tear off bits where it overhangs a lot and attach the piece to the skimpy areas with a bit of water, just like a repair. For really fast pie, open a jar of filling you made earlier (or canned filling from the store - except canned filling always needs tweaking - adding cinnamon or almonds or tarragon or white pepper or something) and dump it in. If you want a top crust, roll out the other half of the dough, use a teeny cookie cutter to cut out 3 or 4 small holes, then roll up the dough and unroll it on top of the pie. Pinch the edges together and cut off any excess. If you want it to look fancy, dampen the backs of the cut out pieces of dough and stick them between the cut outs. You can cut out more pieces from the left-over dough and "glue" those on with water, too.

All of this shouldn't take much more than 10 minutes, and with practice will eventually only take 5 minutes to do.

Cover the edges of the pie with foil (or a pie crust sleeve or the rim of a foil pie tin that you saved from the last store-bought frozen pie you had), stick your pie in the oven, and bake it at 375º or 400º for about 45 minutes. Take the edge off the crust and let it bake another 15-25 minutes, until well browned.

Voila! Easy Pie!

This crust works really well with savory fillings, too. Don't let fruit be your only filling. Consider vegetables, meats, even grains. One of my favorite pies is made with rice, boiled eggs, carrot sticks, and salmon, served with a butter sauce.

And don't limit your pie shapes, either. Some of those fancy gelatin molds? They make fabulous pie tins for double crust pies. Cool the pie completely, then invert the pie to show off the fancy patterns in the crust.

Professionals are good at making pies round because they either do it a lot (and practice makes perfect) or they use machines called laminators (or various other things) that roll the dough out for them. Don't compare your perfectly yummy home made pie crust to a store bought and probably machine-made pie.

And notice how the recipe calls for things like lemon juice or apple cider? Don't be afraid of experimenting with various liquids to alter the flavor of your crust. Mix and match thet crust to the filling. Use almond milk for a cherry pie crust, or hazelnut milk for a peach pie crust, or apple cider in an apple pie crust or lemon juice in an apple pie crust. Toss in a pinch of cinnamon or cardamom with the flour for fruity pies, or add ground pepper or cayenne or sage to the crust of a savory pie.

Each pie you make can be different - and yummy. And if the crust has a few tears in it? Or wasn't perfectly round when you rolled it out? Those things don't effect the flavor. But, if you're really embarrassed by your crust's look - use sauces! Cut the pie and pour on some delicious sauce, and serve it that way. Try a lemon sauce for apple pies, or match gravies to savory pies. Top your pie with extra filling or ice cream or whipped cream or creme fraiche. People will love the flavor and never notice your apple cut-outs are crooked or your pie edge is uneven.

If you make enough pies, once you've conquered your fear of making crusts, you'll be turning out pies you love.

Pie really is easy. Don't let the pretty pictures in books and magazines intimidate you.

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