The art of making a perfect pie

“Have you ever made a dough and felt like YOU are the one who must be wrong because even though you followed everything that the recipe said to do, it just doesn’t turn out right?

“You are not wrong. The recipe just did not give you enough information. This is the art of making a pie.” Kate McDermott, Art of the Pie

Up to this point I have approached baking from a scientific perspective. To achieve the desired results in a pastry it is necessary to measure accurately and use the correct balance of ingredients. Sure there is room for a bit of finesse but push the creativity too far and your cookies won’t be cookies nor your cakes resemble cakes. This approach becomes problematic when it edges out the soul of the baker.

Last summer, for the first time, I tackled making my own pie crust. Any pies (or quiches) I made before then were presented in a pale, over-salted, store-bought dough. There are enough idioms related to the perfection of pie making that the actual act left me intimidated. When I finally pulled out the ingredients and produced my first homemade crust, I was over the moon at the accomplishment. Since the first successful dough I have made several more (not a lot — a pie is only an occasional treat after all). These were all fine but I have now realized a great pie crust is more than the science of its ingredients, a great pie crust is an art form.

I would like you to introduce you to Kate McDermott. She is the heart and soul behind Art of the Pie and if you really truly want to call yourself a great pie maker she is the guru to guide you. I didn’t really know I needed to learn more about making a great pie until I spent a few days in her presence at the Blogher Food conference in early June. She speaks about crafting pies with a passionate enthusiasm that has inspired countless pupils, including some of the biggest names in the food world, to roll up their sleeves and rethink their approach to pie.

For those eager to immerse themselves in the her artful approach, Kate offers classes primarily from her Pie Cottage in Port Angeles as well as muliti-day camps in various locations. I hope to be able to attend one of these at some point. For now I will take the next best thing – her website. On the site there are a few basic sets of ingredients including a Gluten-Free Vegan dough. Of course the ingredients are important but what turns them into an art is Kate’s tactile and encouraging way of guiding the baker through the process of turning the ingredients into the perfect crust (see: Flour, salt, fat, and water).

After reading through her thoughtful and carefully nuanced instructions I felt like I had a friend right at my elbow guiding me through each and every step. With the ingredients ready to go she encourages the baker to, “think good thoughts before you put your hands in the bowl” and then talks through working large chunks of butter into the flour and salt. While rolling the dough she includes this comforting reminder, “It may not turn out exactly as planned, but it will be perfect none the less but perhaps in a different way than you expected. Just keep going and it will be fine.”

Admittedly I made my dough from a slightly altered set of ingredients due partially to the contents of my pantry (forgive me Kate). Before beginning the crust, I de-cluttered my work space, set The Little Helping up with an activity, and put on some relaxing music. I watched my son play and sang along to the radio while my chilled hands worked cold butter into flour. My heart was light and my mind was present and the result was leagues beyond the pie crusts I had made previously.

I have included my ingredients here but for the method I urge you to read through Kate’s step-by-step coaching – here. If you would like a video introduction to Kate’s approach to pie making check out her recent appearance on New Day Northwest, a Seattle talk show.

Whole Wheat Pie Crust

The recipe is slightly modified from Kate McDermott’s Art of the Pie.

Prep time: 15 minutes, Rest time: 1 hour, Cooking time: 55 – 60 minutes; Yield 8-10 servings depending on the size of your dish.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks or 16 tablespoons) butter, cold and cut into cubes
  • 8-10 tablespoons of ice-water (more or less as needed)

For the filling

I followed Kate’s basic process for Huckleberry pie

  • Blackberries – enough to fill my 9 1/2 inch pie dish to 1/2 inch below the top
  • 3/4 cup raw sugar
  • a big squeeze of lemon
  • 1/3 cup tapioca starch (also called tapioca flour)
  • a sprinkle of nutmeg

Method

1. Create, rest, and roll the dough as directed by Kate (see above).

2. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and position the rack in the center. You may want to place the second rack directly below with a sheet pan on it to catch any berry juice that bubbles out of the pie while baking.

3. Place the berries and a large bowl and squeeze the lemon over the fruit. Fold in the sugar, starch and nutmeg — being careful not to crush the berries.

4. Place the lower crust in your pie dish and turn the berries into the crust. Set the pie in the refrigerator while rolling the upper crust. Roll one large piece or cut into strips to create a lattice top.

5. Arrange the upper crust over the pie and roll the edges to seal them. Be as simple or as fancy as you choose. For a really beautiful top brush the upper crust with an egg wash and sprinkle on a bit of sugar.

6. Bake the pie for 20 minutes at 425 degrees then reduce the heat to 375 and continue baking for an additional 35-40 minutes. The pie is done when the crust is golden and the fruit is bubbling away.

7. Allow the pie to cool for several hours before serving.

Approximate Nutrition per 1/10 serving: 358 calories, 19 g fat, 46 g carbohydrates, 5 g fiber, 4 g protein, PP = 10

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