Elegant pie crusts easier than they look

  • Martha Stewart Living Magazine
  • Wednesday, October 31, 2007 4:11pm
  • Life

Once a baker, always a baker. That is what my neighbor, Mr. Maus, would say as he rolled sheets of pate brisee (pie crust) for Mrs. Maus’s legendary peach or apple pies. No one could crimp edges like she could — perfect flutes and tucks and ripples, evenly spaced around the outside edges of a pie tin.

For this column, I decided to simplify those earlier decorative motifs while maintaining the embellished look of the pies, so they would still create that “wow” effect we hosts and hostesses so desire when we present our handiwork to family and friends. Apple, pear and pumpkin fillings are traditional this time of year, but these crusts can be paired with most fruit fillings for charming results, no matter what the season.

Pate brisee

Makes enough for one double-crust or two single-crust 9-inch pies.

To ensure a flaky crust, chill the butter and the flour before using. A food processor yields the best results, but you can use a pastry cutter instead; work quickly so that the butter remains cold.

I usually divide the dough into two pieces, one about three-fifths of the total and the other, two-fifths. Use the smaller amount for the bottom crust and the larger piece for the top. I roll out both and chill them on parchment paper until I’m ready to use them.

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

2 1/4 sticks (18 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

7 tablespoons to 10 tablespoons ice water

Pulse flour, salt and sugar in a food processor. Add butter, and pulse until coarse crumbs form, about 10 seconds.

With machine running, add ice water in a slow, steady stream just until dough holds together and is not wet or sticky, no longer than 30 seconds.

Divide dough into two portions, and shape each into a disk. Wrap in plastic; refrigerate at least 1 hour or overnight. Dough can be frozen up to 1 month; thaw in refrigerator overnight before using.

Fluted-rounds piecrust

You will need a 13/4-inch fluted round cookie cutter to make this crust.

Roll out one portion of the dough to 1/8 inch thick, and fit it into a pie plate. Roll out remaining dough to 1/8 inch thick, and use a 1 3/4-inch fluted round cutter to cut out about 70 rounds, rerolling scraps if necessary.

Place filling in pie plate, mounding it in the center. Lightly brush edge of crust with a basic egg wash (1 egg yolk and 1 tablespoon heavy cream whisked together).

Arrange rounds around the perimeter of the pie crust partly on top of the filling, overlapping them slightly. Lightly brush top of each round with egg wash as you work to help them adhere to one another.

Repeat, overlapping rounds to spiral from the outside of the pie to the center, until filling is completely covered.

Lightly brush the entire surface of the crust with egg wash, then sprinkle with fine sanding sugar before baking. Bake pie according to your favorite recipe.

Faux-lattice piecrust

You will need a 3/4-inch square cookie cutter to make this crust. Roll out one portion of dough to 1/8 inch thick, and fit it into a pie plate. Roll out remaining dough on lightly floured parchment to 1/8 inch thick. Gently press a 9-inch springform or cake pan into dough to make a light indentation.

Using a 3/4-inch square cutter, cut a lattice pattern out of the round, leaving a 1/2-inch border between cutouts and edge of circle. To make partial squares where the lattice meets the rounded edge, make a light indentation with the cutter, then use a knife to cut out the portion inside the circle.

Cut out circle, leaving an additional 1/2 inch of dough beyond the marked circle. Reroll scraps, and cut out as many squares as possible. Refrigerate lattice and squares for 1 hour.

Place filling in pie crust, mounding it slightly so it rises just above the edge of the pie plate. Lightly brush edge of crust with a basic egg wash (1 egg yolk and 1 tablespoon heavy cream whisked together). Carefully invert chilled lattice on top of filling. Gently press edges to seal. Brush entire surface of lattice with egg wash.

Arrange squares around perimeter of pie to create a rippled edge, overlapping the squares slightly and brushing the top of each one with egg wash as you work to help them adhere before baking. Bake pie according to your favorite recipe.

Proper toppers

Different sugars and washes brushed on the dough can alter the look and texture of a simple pate brisee.

Granulated sugar: The most delicate and least noticeable of sugar toppings, it adds a slight shimmer and crunch.

Fine sanding sugar: Creates an exceptionally elegant, sparkling effect.

Coarse sanding sugar: Adds textural contrast to any crust.

Turbinado sugar: Lends an amber finish and a more homespun feel to pies.

Plain water wash: Brushing on water creates a crisp, crackly surface with barely any color; works well to adhere sugar.

Heavy cream wash: Imparts a paler finish than egg but adds a lovely shine.

Plain egg wash: An egg whisked and then brushed onto unbaked pastry results in a rich, golden color and a shiny surface; it also prevents sogginess.

Basic egg wash: This is my favorite. Made from 1 egg yolk and 1 tablespoon heavy cream whisked together, it creates the best sheen, with a lovely golden color.

Leaf-lattice piecrust

Roll out one portion of dough to 1/8 inch thick, and fit it into a pie plate. Roll out remaining dough on lightly floured parchment to 1/8 inch thick. Gently press a 9-inch springform or cake pan into dough to make a light indentation.

Using a 2-inch leaf cutter, make a pattern in the circle, spacing cutouts 1 inch apart and leaving a 1/2-inch border between cutouts and edge of circle. Cut out circle, leaving an additional 1/2 inch of dough beyond the marked circle.

Etch leaf veins with a knife.

Lightly brush lattice with a basic egg wash (1 egg yolk and 1 tablespoon heavy cream whisked together), and arrange leaves around its edge. Brush top of each with egg wash.

Bake lattice and filled pie crust separately according to your favorite recipe. Let lattice cool completely, then carefully center it on pie, and bake a few minutes more.

Questions should be addressed to Ask Martha, care of Letters Department, Martha Stewart Living, 11 W. 42nd St., New York, NY 10036. E-mail to mslletters@marthastewart.com.

&Copy; 2007 Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc.

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