If the thought of making your own pie crust sends you into a tizzy, we say read on…This my very well be the year that you finally tackle pie crust, and with Chef’s Last Diet’s Chef Nancy Lowell’s assiduous tips, you’ll wonder why it took you so long .
Thanksgiving is undoubtedly a pie holiday, and though many people fear them, there’s a reason for the expression easy as pie. Pie is an easy thing to make, and even better, a hard thing to mess up. A lot of people think they can’t make crust, or don’t have time, but before you reach for that red and blue box of premade crust, in the dairy section, take a look at the ingredients. I promise you that you have both the time and the skill to make a great pie crust with only a few ingredients that you probably already have.
Set aside two hours this weekend or next, one in the morning, and one in the afternoon. In the morning you’ll assemble enough crust for two pies, one double crust, and one single. You’ll make the dough in your food processor, separate that into three discs and leave them in the fridge for one to 24 hours. Then you can roll out each round of crust and wrap them in plastic wrap, or put them into pie pans, stack, wrap and freeze them until you’re ready to make your pies.
For my family there are three and only three pies we have on Thanksgiving; apple, pumpkin and pecan. If you like blueberry pie or peach try these. Pecan is my hands down favorite pie, and I haven’t found a better one than the one we use from the Frog Commissary cookbook which is a great cookbook filled with recipes my entire family uses over and over. Pie filling is also very easy, and can be made a day or two ahead. Because pies are best eaten the day they’re baked, if you’ve got all your components ready you can assemble and bake the pies Thanksgiving morning before the oven is crammed with turkey, sweet potatoes and such. Frozen pie crust will thaw in about 30 minutes.
Filling is easier than crust, canned filling is never as good as what you can make, and is generally much more expensive than making your own. For nut pies try buying the nuts from the bulk section and buy just what you need. If you have extra, the best place to store nuts is your freezer. You can use a fruit filling without pre-cooking it—we often do, but if you want to avoid the gap you sometimes get between the crust and filling, pre-cooking it is the way to go. I am partial to using instant tapioca as a thickener, especially for juicy fruit like berries. For an apple pie, flour is fine, and you don’t need much.
The crust rules:
- Use real, unsalted, cold butter. There are people who prefer lard, and it does make a great crust, but I prefer the flavor of butter.
- Don’t over-handle it, it will develop the gluten in the flour and the crust will be tough. If you think you’ve over handled it, let it rest for half an hour, the glutens will relax (really)
- It doesn’t matter if it tears, you can patch it by dabbing with some water and pressing the pieces back together
- To make it gorgeous, and to hide any rough spots, brush the top crust with milk and sprinkle liberally with either plain or sanding sugar (a larger grained sugar)
- Before rolling press the disc out to a flat circle, this means less and easier rolling, always roll from the center out, and keep turning the disc in a clockwise direction, hitting each hour, all rolling in the same direction, checking to make sure the final circle is evenly thick
- When making a top crust always cut vents for the steam that the filling will create
- If you have room in your freezer you can make your pie and freeze it raw, then cook from frozen, like Mrs. Smith’s pies, but waaay better
This recipe will make three crusts (two double crusts and one single)
- 2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tsp sugar
- 3 sticks of unsalted butter cut into pieces
- 4-6 TBL ice water
- In the bowl of a food processor mix all dry ingredients to combine
- Add butter and pulse until the mixture looks like coarse cornmeal
- Move dough to a large bowl and add ice water 2 TBL at a time, tossing the dough gently until it starts to come together (you may not need all the water)
- Separate the dough into three equal sized balls, then press each one into a flat disc. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least one hour, up to 24 hours
- On a well floured board or counter, flatten one disc at a time and roll into a flat circle larger than your pie pan, moving dough around to make sure it’s not sticking to the counter, and to ensure an even crust
- To move the round, roll it gently around your rolling pin and unroll it into the pie pan
- For a single crust, tuck the excess dough under the edge of the circle, and using the index finger and thumb of your left hand, and the index finger of your right hand crimp the edge working around the circle.
- For a double crust add the filling brush the rim of the bottom crust with water, and then using the same method you used to move the bottom crust, unroll the top crust on top of the filling. Press the edges of the two crusts together, and crimp as in #7 (above)
- For a lattice top, cut the top crust into strips (fewer, wide strips will be easier if you are a beginner, and will look beautiful) and alternate laying them in different directions (no need to try to weave them). Crimp the edges with a fork, or roll and crimp.
- For any pies with a top crust brush with milk and sprinkle with sugar before baking.
What are your favorite Thanksgiving pies?