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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Pre-Thanksgiving Madness.

 this is a williams-sonoma pie, not mine (unfortunately)... 

Last year, I took it upon myself to volunteer to make desserts for Thanksgiving dinner at two houses.  I decided to make an assortment of pies and a few extra things because I was feeling ambitious.  I also decided that it would be best if I made everything from scratch, since it was my first time contributing to the holiday meal -- No store-bought pie crusts for me!  I spent weeks collecting recipes for different pies, crusts, and whipped cream variations.  The week before, I made sure I had all the ingredients I needed, and waited until the day before Thanksgiving to begin my brilliant bake-a-thon.  While I want to say that I put on my apron, made pie crust that cooperated beautifully, and everything was wonderful, I cannot. 
First of all, I do not bake in an apron  (I don't even own an apron -- I bake in sweatpants and a sweatshirt), the pie crust was not cooperating beautifully; everything was not wonderful.  By 7pm (I had taken the afternoon off of work and had been working diligently since 2pm), the pie crust had reduced me to a teary, floured mess, the smoke alarm had gone off twice, and my carbon monoxide detector went off (I opened up all the doors and windows so as not to asphyxiate myself, because this pie crust was not going to be the death of me, and it was freezing outside).  I was determined to get it right, so I kept working on it until it was correct.  Needless to say, I didn't get much sleep that night, although the pies were a hit-- Thanksgiving Miracle!   I learned a valuable lesson: Practice the art of pie crust in advance and do not wait until the night before Thanksgiving to begin these shenanigans unless you are experienced!! 

So, last night, I approached my kitchen, brought out my flour canister and supplies and went all John Wayne on them before I began: "Listen here Pilgrim..." 

I made three different batches of pie crust with no issues whatsoever. (I'm knocking fervently on wood, though!)  I think my successes were due to the fact that I found a "no-fail" recipe that I had tried out earlier last week in a quiche.  In case anyone fears pie crust like I do, you can rest assured: The nice people at King Arthur Flour have provided a recipe that is simple and delicious.  You can find the recipe here (with great step-by-step pictures), or you can read my variations below:

  • 2 ½ cups regular All-Purpose Flour (I used grocery store brand)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 tablespoons confectioner's sugar (just omit this if you want to make a savory recipe, like quiche)
  • 2 tablespoons buttermilk powder (I found it in the grocery store with the weird canned milk products -- condensed, evaporated, etc. -- that I never like to use, because let's face it, canned milk is weird, but powdered milk is also weird, so I guess just swallow your fears and proceed)
  • ¼ cup vegetable shortening
  • 10 tablespoons very cold unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon vinegar, cider or white (I used white, and don't worry, you can't taste it... the vinegar is used to tenderize the crust by preventing long strands of gluten to form -- yay, chemistry!)
  • 7 to 10 tablespoons ice water
** For a Cinnamon-Spice crust, add 1/2 tsp Cinnamon, 1/4 tsp ground cloves, and 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg to your dry ingredients.  It's delicious! **

  1. Mix together all of your dry ingredients in a large bowl.
  2. Cut in the shortening with a pastry cutter, or your hands, until it has formed pes-sized beads.
  3. Add your butter in small amounts, cut up into tablespoon-sized blocks.  Use your pastry cutter (or hands) to incorporate it into the flour mixture as with the shortening.  You don't need to be overly-zealous with this process, and if you have big chunks of butter, it's ok.  I promise.
  4. Add your vinegar and four tablespoons of water to the mixture one tablespoon at a time.  I found that it doesn't matter whether you mix the vinegar with water or add it straight to the dry ingredients, although mixing it with water will give you a guaranteed better dispersion.
  5. Toss the mixture with a spatula or spoon to combine.  Add additional water to bring the dough together (I added approximately 8-9 T water).  
  6. Gather the dough into a ball, divide it in half, form your halves into disks, wrap them in plastic wrap, then refrigerate 30 minutes to an hour. You could also freeze the dough for up to two months, according to the King, but wrap foil over the plastic to seal it well.
  7. After you've chilled it, let the dough come to room temperature and roll it out to fit in your desired pie plate or tin.  Each disk should be enough for a one-crust pie recipe.
  8. Decorate the edges of your crust however you choose.  I prefer fluting, but I am also a bit hoity-toity, so if you'd like to fork it, then go right ahead.
  9. You're ready to bake your pie according to the instructions that will correspond to whichever filling you choose. 
 I highly recommend using a technique called "blind-baking" on your crust, so that you don't get a soggy bottom (haha).  Essentially, blind baking requires you to partially bake the crust before adding filling so you'll have a crispy bottom for fruit pies and such.  The details are laid out here.  After blind baking, you should use tin foil to cover your beautifully fluted crust, so that it won't burn to a crisp. 

After work today, I will be running a few errands before returning to the kitchen to roll out the dough, and finish the pies, as well as make some home-made vanilla bean gelato.  For pies, I'm making Pecan, and Pumpkin with traditional crust, and Blueberry with the Cinnamon-Spice crust variation (I even make little fall foliage cut-outs like in the picture above... awwwww, how cute, right?)  Hopefully there will be no tears tonight and certainly no carbon monoxide detector...

I hope that everyone has a wonderful and safe holiday!! 

Oh, and wish me luck -- I will need it!
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