The Pie Diaries

Alright, I may have broken into a cold sweat over making pies before. I may have even taken a frivolous route now and then at the thought of making the perfect crumbly crust. But, I am a firm believer in destiny. And there’s little you can do when life points you in the direction of all things that’s pies and deliciousness. You see, a couple of days ago, on my way to an errand, I stopped at a newly opened, seemingly promising bakery that’s opened a stone’s throw away from my house. I  popped in to take a quick look at their offerings hoping to be seduced by something.  I left disgusted. The first thing I saw when I walked in there was the saddest little apple pie ever! It had a fragile crust and an even more skinny spread of apple filling. Now, I’m no fan of pies but this was just plain cruel! I walked away, promising myself that I shall make a hearty, comforting pie to permanently shake away this image. Then, if you’d believe it or not, a few days ago while I was looking for something to eat, I found these invitingly green Granny Smith apples! There. That was the cue. The overlords had spoken. A pie had to be made.

Now, I know how intimidating your first pie can be. I’ve been there. Of course now that I’m no longer the pie virgin and have crossed over to the dark side, I have intentionally split this post into 2 – in this one, I’ll just present to you my collated research on pie making. This marks the first time I have made a pie without supervision so trust me, I’ve done my homework. I hope you give this a thorough read before proceeding onto the next one. Oh and if you do have some nifty little notes to add, hit the comments! The second part consists mainly of pictures because I do feel that this requires all the visual guidance you can get. I haven’t included so many pictures of the applesauce per se because that doesn’t really need any pictorial aid now does it? Just follow the instructions and you’ll be fine.

    Pie-Making 101:
  1. Not really restricted to pie-making but a general rule of baking – read your recipe twice, maybe even thrice over to make sure you have everything you need and laid out in front of you. Its also important so you don’t skip a step and do everything correctly.
  2. Butter must be chilled. If you like, you can measure it and then put that particular amount, cut up into cubes, into the freezer. That’s what I did.
  3. Ingredients must be ready, at the required room temperature, organized in an orderly fashion in front of you. If eggs are supposed to be separated, separate them, weigh your flour and sugar etc. It helps. Pie-making is slightly tougher, although not impossible, in hotter climates so its best to waste as little time as possible.
  4. The general rule is to handle the dough as little as possible. The more you handle it, the thinner it gets.
  5. I always like to keep some iced water with a tablespoon hanging nearby – mind you this is a cup or so of ice filled to the brim with cold water – handy. Cold water always helps to bind the dough.
  6. If you’re facing some trouble with the dough – don’t fret. Just pop it into the refrigerator for sometime, clear your head and read your recipe again (so calming!). Come back after a significant amount of refrigeration time and try working with it again. The idea of the dough is not scary but I’ve learnt that you need to have solutions ready and waiting so you can act quickly, preventing too much damage. In such cases, I’ve found that my true friends are – parchment paper sheets (to help roll the dough in between), iced water, chilled butter, the fridge and a tiny bit of dough (could be scraps too – once you’ve pressed the dough onto the pan and shaved off the extra edges) set aside in my fridge to help bind any cracks or tears. My palette knife has also come in handy to lift the dough at times (we aren’t allowed parchment sheets in patisserie class so we generally do a quick stroke like movement with the palette knife under the dough to ensure its not sticking).
  7. To roll the dough, always start out in the centre and roll outwards. Try to roll between parchment paper sheets to prevent it from sticking onto your surface. If you are working on your countertop, then generously sprinkle some flour on the surface before rolling out your dough to prevent a sticky situation.
  8. Use a rolling pin that has a smooth surface – no cracks or splinters – because, quite simply, it will imprint onto your dough.
  9. In reference to this particular crust (the Pate Sablee), the end result is supposed to be a crumbly crust so don’t fret if the outcome is similar to a cheesecake crust.
  10. Some helpful visual clues:
  11. Cracks appearing on the edges of your dough, once you’ve started to roll it out is a good thing.
  12. If the dough appears to be sticking to your rolling pin, it means its too watery. So it would be a helpful reminder for the next time you make it, to hold off on the water.
  13. The dough should feel soft – slightly tougher than play dough but soft nonetheless. 
  14. If cracks appear in the centre of the rolled out dough, then its too dry. You could dip your fingertips in some of the iced water and press lightly over the cracks to make them disappear but if your dough is too dry, then you’ll probably have to start over.

    Some helpful terminology:
  1. Single/Double crust – quite simply, it means that you’ll have one/two layers of dough and your pie filling in the middle. While some recipes usually are for a single crust, I have seen a few double crust recipes. I have given a double crust recipe in the next post. A double crust recipe means that you must , after bringing your dough together, split into half. If you’re more comfortable with division of dough then start with a double crust recipe but if not, make your single crust recipe twice over. However, you must take into account the amount of refrigeration time required for each crust layer.
  2. Blind Bake – it means pre-baking your crust before putting the filling. For some recipes this is crucial because they won’t be baked again i.e. after pouring the filling. Blind baking is simply done with the crust firmly pressed onto the pan, lined with parchment paper/aluminum foil and pressed down with beans or rice. This is done so that the crust doesn’t puff up. Blind baking can either be partial (wherein the pie will be baked again so you blind bake it for slightly lesser time) or full (wherein the pie will not be baked again and has to be fully cooked).

    Some of my favorite Pie-making Tutorials:
    It’s not scary and even if it is the end result is delicious, comforting and worth every nervous breakdown. Remember, the dough can smell fear so keep calm and carry on! It also gets easier the second time you make it and slightly more easy the next time and so on and so forth. So anticipate some trouble alright but just don’t count on it. I have learnt, through experience that if you follow the recipe carefully, there really is no reason for it not to turn out every bit as delicious as it looks in pictures.

One response to “The Pie Diaries

  1. Pingback: Lemon Tart | The Vanilla Bean·

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