Monday, October 19, 2009

conquering my fears, and pie crust

We all have irrational fears, thoughts that we can't shake even though we know they are completely crazy. My irrational fears are things like Dan divorcing me for leaving long blonde hairs in the sink, catching herpes, or polio, or bed bugs (or all three!) on the subway, and making pie crust.

I know, I know...pie crust. I've heard it all: it's not so hard, I make it all the time, store-bought crusts are made of chemicals and Crisco, I can't believe you've never made your own pie crust. Well, until last weekend, I hadn't, okay?? Sheesh.

I've baked bread and made pizza dough. But when it comes to pie, I usually reach into a freezer case at the grocery store and call it a day. Something about pie crust just seems so intimidating. In my mind it involved butter, and possibly lard or Crisco (which I couldn't bring myself to buy and watch it collect dust until my next pie-baking attempt), ice water (but how cold? almost frozen?), and something called pie weights that I don't have. And all the ingredients had to be at just the right temperature, and you don't want to bake an all-butter crust too long because it might burn, and making pretty, crimped edges seemed really hard.

But then I saw the chocolate pudding pie on Smitten Kitchen and I thought...maybe. It looked so amazing, so decadent, so...perfect, that I couldn't even bear the thought of using a frozen crust. You just know Deb would frown at that. And that made me sad.

So I decided to go for it--make a real pie with a REAL crust for our party for Vanessa. Her birthday was a few days later and if your birthday doesn't deserve fresh pie crust, what does? I found a recipe on Epicurious that didn't seem so hard. It was called "Best-Ever Pie Crust," which sounded promising enough.

The day before, I freaked out a little and sent my friend Casey, a certified pie crust maven, a terrified email. It was titled "scary, scary pie crust" and full of anxious questions about Crisco and whether the recipe I found was good enough. And in her usual lovely, reassuring way, she told me everything would be fine.

On the day of the party, I procrastinated. Instead of tackling the crust first, I made two dozen stuffed mushrooms and deviled eggs, a bowl of dip, three dozen sausage rolls, got the house ready, called my parents, rearranged a vase of flowers, sent some emails, and did everything else I could possibly do before facing down the beast.

With a little more than an hour to go before people arrived, I got out my food processor, mixed together the flour, salt, and sugar, dropped in the frozen cubes of butter, poured in a little ice water, processed the ingredients, gathered the dough into a ball, refrigerated it, rolled it out, put it in a pie pan, trimmed the edges, pricked it with a fork, and baked it off. Before I knew it, it was done. I had made pie crust.

Vanessa said that the hassle involved in making a pie crust is easier than dealing with the guilt that comes from people complimenting you for a pie you made with a store-bought crust. And you know what? She is right. It was not hard. AT ALL. Sure, taking a pre-made crust out of its plastic container is easier. But not nearly as satisfying, ego- or taste-wise.

The crust was pale golden, adequately crimped around the edges, and most importantly, flaky and cooked through. And the pudding, oh, the pudding. It was deeply chocolatey with a silky texture. It wasn't the prettiest slice of pie in the world, but I didn't care. In my mind, it was like making a wedding cake.

And now I can make room in my mind for a new irrational fear. Maybe the squirrel-infested roof of our apartment caving in in the middle of the night?

Best-ever pie crust
I halved this recipe, from Bon Appetit, because I was only baking one pie, but the original yields two crusts. I also, upon Casey's blessing, used all butter, instead of half butter, half shortening. Additional baking instructions and tips via Smitten Kitchen.
(Makes 2 pie crusts)

2 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 cup chilled lard or frozen nonhydrogenated solid vegetable shortening, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
5 Tbsp. (or more) ice water

Blend flour, sugar, and salt in processor. Add butter; using on/off turns, blend until mixture resembles coarse meal. Transfer mixture to medium bowl. Add 5 tablespoons ice water and mix with fork until dough begins to clump together, adding more water by teaspoonfuls if dry. Gather dough together. Divide dough in half; flatten each half into disk. Wrap each disk in plastic and refrigerate at least 1 hour. Can be made 3 days ahead. Keep refrigerated. If necessary, soften slightly at room temperature before rolling out.

When you're ready to make the crust, roll out dough on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin into an 11-inch round, then fit into a 9-inch pie plate. Trim edge, leaving a 1/2-inch overhang, then fold overhang under and crimp edge decoratively. Prick bottom and side of shell all over with a fork (I used my fingers), then freeze the shell for 30 minutes. While shell chills, preheat oven to 375 degrees with a baking sheet on middle rack.
Instead of using pie weights, press a piece of buttered foil, buttered side down, very tightly against the frozen shell and bake on baking sheet until the pastry is set and edge is pale golden, about 25 minutes. Carefully remove the foil, then bake shell on baking sheet until pale golden all over, 15 to 20 minutes more. Cool shell.
Chocolate pudding pie
Adapted from Gourmet via Smitten Kitchen. SK's amazing tip for baking the pie shell without pie weights really saved me. Many thanks to you for that, Deb!
(Makes 1 pie, serves about 8 people)

For the filling:
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
3 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 tsp. salt
3 cups whole milk
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate (not more than 60% cacao), finely chopped
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 cup chilled heavy cream
Bittersweet chocolate shavings for garnish (optional)

To make the pudding:
Whisk together cornstarch, 1/3 cup sugar, cocoa powder, and salt in a 2-quart heavy saucepan, then gradually whisk in milk. Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly, then boil, whisking, two minutes (mixture will thicken). Remove from heat and whisk in chocolate and vanilla until smooth. Set aside to come to room temperature.
Pour filling into cooled shell and chill, its surface covered with wax paper (if you want to prevent a skin from forming), until cold, at least two hours.
Just before serving, beat cream with remaining two tablespoons sugar until it just holds soft peaks. Spoon onto pie and garnish with bittersweet chocolate shavings.


Margaret Pinard said...

Haha! I had a similar irrational fear of pie crusts- notably because my first attempt, hurried and making do with substitutes, was a failure. Second try, I used an Epicurious recipe as well, but I think it's titled "All-Butter Pie Crust"- anyway, just flour, butter, and ice water. Excellent.
Now my next Mt. Everest? Souffle. Still working up to it.

Color Me Green said...

i'm like you...i've made bread and pizza doughs but was afraid of pie. till i made it a couple weeks ago following smitten kitchen's pie 101 and 102 and it came out wonderfully! yay we can conquer our fears.

Lisa said...

Margaret: I saw that one! I think that will be the next recipe I try. It's basically the way I made this one.

Julia: Yes we can! I agree, aren't her tutorials great? She really has a talent for making complicated recipes easier to digest.(ha)

Daniel said...

So good...and not a single long blonde hair in the entire thing!

Unknown said...

I have irrational cooking/baking fears like this. Seeing you conquer your fear may give me courage to conquer mine.

Now to pin down which one to take on first...

And oh, this pic looks great.

Lisa said...

Daniel: Whew! Can you imagine how horrible that would be?

Nikkilooch: Thank you! It's ncie to know I am not alone in my baking fears. What are you nervous to make? I'm curious what everyone else is afraid of...

Unknown said...

Congratulations. I'm the same way (not so much a fear but a dread of making pie crusts). Your conquered fear will hopefully inspire the rest of us.

blueeyedfreckle said...

I totally understand your irrational fears. One of mine has always been making buttonholes when sewing. I always avoid making things that involve a buttonhole. I recently sucked it up and figured out how to make them, and I felt much like you with your pie crust! Why was I avoiding this little easy thing, thinking it was going to be the hardest thing in the world? duh.

Lisa said...

Yay for getting over silly fears!

Vanessa said...

And yay for pudding pie!

Nicole @ Sprinkle with Salt said...

that pie looks great! I just may have to try and conquer pie crust myself...thanks for the encouragement!


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