Archive for November 21st, 2011

The Pie Crust Chronicles

Sharon November 21st, 2011

Despite the fact that I’m somewhat famous for my association with pie ;-) , piecrust has always intimidated me a little bit.  I’ve made some truly dreadful crusts over the years (most hideously the first time I tried a coconut oil crust from a loathsome recipe that not only tasted bad but crumbled into dust).   I’ve also made some pretty decent ones, but I wanted a pie crust that was functional, could be used all the time, tasted good, but also was low input – no food processors (mostly because I don’t want to clean all the food processor parts just for pie dough), no running back and forth to the freezer to put the butter and flour in to keep them perfectly cold, etc… just the same basic tasty pie dough that has been filled with just about everything in human history – that thing that wrapped up pumpkin and pecans and mincemeat, bits of beef and onion for lunch and vegetables in broth for dinner pot-pie.  I wanted it easy, I wanted to be able to do it my sleep, and most of all, I didn’t want any vegetable shortening or lard in it – vegetable shortening because the stuff is gross, lard because I keep kosher. (Once years ago we stopped at an Amish farmstand and bought an elderberry pie, and I was filled with passionate admiration for the crust and went back to ask the woman who made it how she did it – her recipe began with “render your lard” and I realized that sadly some heights might be denied to me – I’ve come to terms with it, since suet makes a fine crust for meat pies.)

Thanksgiving is the season of pies – and of pie-related adventures.  The great virtue of pie is that you can put just about anything into it – parsnip pie is a family favorite, so is leftover chicken bits with root vegetables.  Sweet potato pie, of course is ubiquitous, and I make a not-very-sweet pumpkin pie my children love for breakfast (a Yankee, by definition, is someone who eats pie for breakfast).

My two favorite crusts are butter and suet.  The trick with the butter is to keep it as cold as possible (I do not fetishize this, however – the reality is that people have been making crusts in summer for a long, long time), and also not to try and perfectly mix it with the flour.  This was the bit I had to learn myself – what you want are small pieces of butter not fully combined, so that they can create that flaky quality.

Here’s a fabulous recipe for butter pie crust. While she is rightly concerned with temperature, this time of year that’s not too hard to achieve – just stick your ingredients outside if need be (remember not where the dog can get them ;-) )

Does beef fat (suet) crust sound disgusting to you?  It is actually really good – I got the idea from a New York Times article of a few years ago, and because we can’t use a butter crust with meat fillings or meat meals (mixing dairy and meat is not permitted in a kosher home) I really needed a good savory piecrust.  All suet is great for meat pies, but suet and coconut oil are really good for a nice pareve crust for a cherry or pumpkin pie.  I also like it in biscuits. Even kosher suet is quite inexpensive, and doesn’t have to be rendered to use it – none of the standing over a hot pot of lard business.

I think demystifying pie crust may join with learning to can in my most important kitchen moments – I hope some of you who are still intimidated find, in this season of pies, a happy ending dessert.