falling in love with pie-ing

Joined Jul 3, 2002
Hi folks,

I've just had the most satisfying moment a person can have. :roll: OK, I'm going just a little bit overboard, but it comes damned close! I was washing up the dishes while gazing at the steam coming out of the vents and breathing in the warm fruit smells of my very first apple pie (my second pie ever)! :D I really don't think too many other things feel like such an accomplishment. Yes, I know, only a convert gets this carried away.
I'd avoided pies for years because I was afraid of making pie dough. But last year, armed with Russ Parsons 1997 L.A. Times article titled "Fear of Pie-Ing," I attempted my first pie in the form of pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving and it worked! Stupidly, I waited a whole year to make another pie. But the apples at my local farmers' market were so good and so many people were talking pies, I just had to try again.
Well, she ain't pretty with her patches showing in the top crust :blush: , and she scared me when she took about 80 minutes to cook (instead of the 40-50 I expected :eek: ), and I won't know how she tastes until tonight (we're having guests and I have to wait, I guess). But, right now, I feel great and had to share it with you folks. After all, I spent a lot of time printing out past apple pie threads to get some idea of what I was doing from the experts here. Thank you all! :bounce: :bounce: :bounce:
Joined Apr 5, 2002

My name is Micheline and I'm a pie-aphobic!

For those of us that are still afraid of pies, can you post that article or is there a link to it because I'd love to make pies more often and with confidence. I"ve made pumpkin and apple but never really felt confident in my pie crust. It would be great to sell them at my shop but it's one thing to give your family a pie with a soggy crust but a whole different matter when selling them. I don't feel comfortable selling something I haven't come close to mastering yet so take pity on me and share your knowledge:D
Joined Jul 3, 2002
Hi Micheline,

I needed to use a password to get the text of Russ Parsons's article, so a link won't work. But I've pasted the whole thing here. Enjoy! :)


NewsBank InfoWeb
Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles Times

September 3, 1997

Fear of Pie-ing


Food Desk

Edition: Home Edition
Section: Food
Page: H-6

Index Terms:
Top Story
Main Story

Estimated printed pages: 6

Article Text:
After 20 years of making pie dough, I thought I had learned everything I needed to know: Avoid it whenever possible. This education was earned the old-fashioned way, by making mistake after mistake. I have messed up pie doughs in just about every way possible.

I have made pie doughs so wet they stuck to everything they came in contact with. I have made pie doughs so dry they fell to crumbs when touched. I have rolled out pie doughs that looked like the continent of Africa (or maybe Eurasia, depending on my mood). I have made so many pie doughs that fell apart when being placed in the pan that I considered them a standard part of my repertoire. I just pinched and patched and called them rustic.

Mostly, though, I ducked the problem altogether. Ice cream? Sure. Cakes? Sometimes. Crepes? No problem. Pies? No way.

Still, I couldn't lie to myself. Sure, I could serve a fruit crisp and tell guests it was my homage to an under-appreciated corner of American home baking. Down deep I knew it was because crisps don't have crusts.

This summer all that changed. This summer I confronted my fears and tackled pie pastry head-on. After a couple of months of making two or three pie crusts every few days, I am happy to say that I have picked up a tip or two about the subject. And along the way, I learned something important.

I started by searching in cookbooks and making every pie crust I could find. I called friends and badgered them for their favorite recipes. I pumped the experts for tips. Some worked pretty well. But after a couple of weeks of this haphazard experimenting, I realized that I didn't have a clue as to why something did or didn't work. That's when I began to get serious about pie.

Pastry is really nothing more than flour, fat and water. It's how those ingredients relate to one another that determines what kind of pie pastry you've got.

Essentially, when you mix flour and water you wind up with gluten--protein strands similar to those found in bread dough. Short pastry, which is crumbly and cookie-like, has very little gluten developed. In flaky pastry, which is puffed and tends to break in sheets, there is more gluten.

This isn't just scientific jargon; it goes right to the heart of the recipe. Pastry can be made shorter in many ways, but the most basic is by making sure the flour particles are well coated with fat before adding the liquid. The fat surrounds the flour and prevents the proteins from linking into strands.

In flaky pastry, the fat should not be cut in as thoroughly. In fact, when you gather flaky pastry dough into a ball, there should be separate pieces of fat still visible. Those pieces of fat melt during baking, creating layers. (The same thing happens in puff pastry as well.)

This complicated little three-way romance plays out in other ways as well. For example, warm fat smears rather than stays in distinct chunks. That's why you get the constant admonition to keep all of your ingredients as cold as possible.

There are plenty of other issues involving fat, too. The most important may be how much is used. I analyzed several dozen recipes for flaky pie pastry and found an amazing range of ratios of flour to fat--from 3 1/2-to-1 to 2-to-1. That works out to from 4 1/2 to 8 tablespoons of fat for 1 cup of flour.

The richest crust (the 2-to-1) was very buttery, very light and shatteringly fragile. The leanest was almost a demi-puff pastry, with very clearly separated sheets of very crisp, almost tough, crust. I settled on a ratio of about 2 1/2-to-1, which is somewhat richer than normal (most crusts tend to be about 3-to-1). It seemed to best combine flakiness and tenderness (to say nothing of being buttery). And it still rolled out easily.

The type of fat makes a difference, too. Butter, of course, has great flavor. But shortening is the fat of choice for many home cooks because they say it gives a flakier crust. That was not my experience.

When I made a crust with pure shortening, it was tough and had a very unpleasant cottony aftertaste. It was less flaky and more short than the all-butter pastry, though it was not as fragile after baking. I also made crusts with various mixtures of butter and shortening. To my taste, the best compromise was about 3 parts butter and 1 part shortening. It was richly flavored and had a good puff without being so fragile after baking that it fell apart.

I also tried the much-vaunted all-lard crust and found it lacking. These days, unless you are willing to render your own lard, forget it. Commercial lard has an unpleasant chemical flavor that lingers in baked goods.

Different flours are available, too--bread flour is much higher in gluten than all-purpose, and cake flour is much lower. A crust made with all bread flour is unpleasantly tough, even hard (though it is undeniably flaky). An all-cake flour crust is crumbly to the point of being sandy. I tried several combinations of bread and cake but couldn't find one that worked as well as regular old all-purpose.

The amount of water varies from recipe to recipe as well. In fact, in four recipes that called for exactly the same ratio of flour to fat, there were four different measures of water. That puzzled me, since water plays an important role in the quality of the baked pastry (either too much or too little and you wind up with a dough that is impossible to roll out and that will turn tough and refuse to puff).

In the end, I found that the reason for the range was that it is impossible to assign a specific measure of water to a recipe. Learning to recognize for yourself when enough water has been added is the only true way. The same mixture of fat and flour made at different times can take different amounts of water, depending on anything from the humidity outside to the temperature of the fat and flour. Any recipe for pie pastry that gives you an absolute amount of water hasn't been tested enough.

The way to tell when enough water has been added is to pay attention to the dough. Add water a bit at a time, sprinkling it over the dough, rather than dumping it in at one time in one place. You'll notice the dough coming together in larger and larger pieces. When it starts to look shaggy--in ragged clumps about the size of a pistachio--take a piece out and squeeze it between your fingers. It shouldn't feel sandy. It should stick together in a fairly smooth, nonsticky mass, kind of like modeling clay.

Times Test Kitchen Director Donna Deane showed me a great way to judge when a dough is right. She squeezes together a walnut-sized piece and then presses it out in her hand. When it can be pressed out without cracking at the edges, it's moist enough.

The best way to learn how pastry dough feels is to make it by hand. As convenient as big stand mixers and food processors are for some things, they don't really save that much time or effort in making pie pastry. And there is a difference in the final result. In my experiments, pastries made by hand were consistently lighter, more tender and flakier than those made by machine.

The food processor came in a close second, as long as everything was done just right. It's important when using the food processor to mix the dough in very short pulses and to stop adding water the very instant the dough begins to come together. It also helps to cut the fat in different size pieces--some very large and some very small--to prevent over-processing.

Once you're past those fundamental considerations, there are a lot of possible variables. First of all, if you're making crust for dessert, you'll probably want to add some sugar. Not too much, mind you. In addition to sweetening (and possibly over-sweetening) the dough, sugar disrupts the gluten formation, making the dough more tender and, in extreme amounts, sticky, fragile and less flaky.

Salt does the same thing, though it is usually used in such small amounts that the effect is negligible. In fact, I found using salted butter produced a crust that was pushing the edge of acceptably salty. You're better off using unsalted butter and adding about 1/4 teaspoon salt for every cup of flour.

Other things can be added as well. Some cooks add a dash of vinegar or other acidic ingredient to flaky pastries--it cuts the gluten, making a more tender crust. Egg yolks are frequently added to short pastries. They increase the amount of fat without increasing the amount of butter. They also help seal the crust when using very wet fillings.

And some cooks add a dash of baking powder--not for lightness, necessarily, but to push the pastry against the pie plate while it's baking to keep it from shrinking and slumping. Carefully pressing the pastry into the pan, being sure not to stretch it, will do the same thing.

One important thing to remember is to let the dough rest in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before rolling it out. Not only does this give the gluten a chance to relax, making the dough softer and easier to roll into a round, it also allows the moisture to be distributed evenly through the dough, reducing any sticky wet spots or crumbly dry places.

Ironically, after all the work I did trying to develop the perfect pie dough recipe, I have come to believe that the recipe is almost beside the point. The main thing I learned after making more than 50 pie crusts is that the way to get better at making pie crust is to make more than 50 pie crusts.

After all, equally talented bakers differ greatly on the details of what goes into their dough. The specific ratios of fat and flour are not nearly as important as learning how to cut them together. Knowing exactly how much water to add is not nearly as important as recognizing when to stop. The only way to learn to do any of this is to practice.

In other words, don't duck it. Just do it.


2 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) cold butter

3 tablespoons cold shortening

5 to 6 tablespoons ice water

Stir together flour and salt. Cut butter into 1/2-inch cubes. Distribute butter and shortening over top of dry ingredients and toss to coat well with flour. With pastry cutter, quickly work fat into dry ingredients, stopping once or twice to knock butter chunks from blades back into flour. Stop when half of fat is still roughly pea-sized.

Stir mixture with fork and, while stirring, sprinkle water over top. Stop when shaggy clumps form and mixture pulls cleanly away from sides of bowl. There should be no dry crumbs left in bottom of bowl.

Gather dough pieces together in your hands and press to make smooth whole. Flatten into disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before rolling out.

Roll out dough, place in pie plate, pre-bake (if desired) or fill and bake as directed in recipe of choice.

Enough for double-crust 9-inch pie, 6 servings. Each double-crust serving.

378 calories; 390 mg sodium; 52 mg cholesterol; 26 grams fat; 32 grams carbohydrates; 5 grams protein; 1.13 grams fiber.


Chef's Tip

The best pan for baking pies or tarts is made either of dark steel or glass. Both conduct heat better, creating browner, crisper crusts. Pies are baked in one-piece pans, sometimes called plates. Tarts need to be baked in special pans that have removable sides.

PHOTO: There's only one cure: Just start making pies.
PHOTO: (H1, Cover), (Pie dough)
PHOTOGRAPHER: ROBERT GAUTHIER / Los Angeles TimesCopyright, The Times Mirror Company; Los Angeles Times 1997
Record Number


Joined Apr 4, 2000
Congratulations on your second pie Phoebe!

YSoon you'll see how therapeutic pie making is. And wait to see how zen making miniature tarts and pies is. :)
Joined Nov 30, 2002
I just made my first pie a few weeks ago, and it was apple. I had gotten 8 bags of apples from a friend, and I still have 4. I've been testing my cooking out on the neighbors, and they have all seemed to love it. I was always afraid of making crusts, because, well, just cause....;)
Keep at the pies, the more you make them, the eaisier it gets!
I have a wonderfully simply apple pie recipe, if you want it, I'll post it here.
Good Luck with the Pie-ing!!
Joined Nov 30, 2002
Alright, here is the recipe for my pie...
Pastry for a two-crust pie
6 cups pared, sliced, tart apples
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons butter
Instructions(by the book):
Line a 9-inch pie pan with pastry. Fill with apple slices. In a bowl combine sugar, cornstarch and cinnamon. Sprinkle over apples. Dot with butter. Cover with slit pastry. Seal edges. Bake at 400 for 45 to 60 minutes.

Now, what I did was a little different. I did the pastry and everything, then I made a layer of apples, and sprinkled it with 2 spoon fulls of the cinnamon, sugar, and cornstarch mixture. I continuted that until the apples were over the top, then I put the rest of the sugar on top, and covered it. I think I used more apples than it said to also, but I'm not really sure. It tasted great, I hope you like it!
~*Katy*~ :bounce:
PS. 45 minutes was perfect for mine!
Joined Mar 3, 2002
Like you, I've discovered the joy of pie making relatively recently. So here's a couple tips:

First be sure to have a little extra dough - especially in the beginning. You can use it to make cute cut-outs to hide those little patches at the same time you impress your diners with the 'decorated' pie.

Second, I have banished soggy bottoms: First brush the bottom of a pie that will be filled before baking with some sort of jam. I think I've seen suggestions of using egg white wash, too, though I've never done that. Second, I have great luck using a pizza stone and beginning the pie directly on that. Often I will later raise it to a higher shelf, depending on the filling, how well the top crust is browning, etc.

And if you want to be bored by my other obsessive details, PM me and we will spare the others. Or check back threads where I think I posted it, but cannot find it on my snowed in lazy day. The snow's stopped, but the street's not fit for driving.

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