Wednesday, September 15, 2010


One would think by now that I would have learned the two most important rules in cooking: Never try out a new recipe when company is coming for dinner and never, ever enter an untried crust recipe in a pie baking contest.

Even I can’t believe that I had no idea how the crust tasted when I entered my pie on Saturday morning. Especially considering what I had gone through to get to that point. The Granny Smith apples that I had used in last year’s filling were a disaster. They were too tart and too hard. I don’t like my apple pies to be crunchy. Since I was going back to my regular filling, I decided that I needed to change my crust recipe. I took a peek into my Silver Palate Cookbook and fell in love. Pastry crusts with shortening or butter are familiar, but one with both? And who puts sugar in their pie crusts? I had to try it out.

I have arthritis in my hands, so mixing stiff pastries is difficult for me. I used chilled butter, but opted for room temperature shortening. Mixing wasn’t as difficult as I anticipated so I probably could have used chilled shortening also. As for the ice water, I distinctly remember the woman who gave me the cookbook and who was also the most fabulous cook I had ever met, told me that ice water in pie crusts was absolutely necessary. Cold water wouldn’t do. It had to be ice water. So I gamely filled my glass measuring cup with water and dropped ice cubes in to create my ice water.

I used a pastry blender to mix my ingredients but balked at tossing it with a fork after adding the ice water. In the past, I have tried using my favorite wooden spoon to blend in water with disastrous results. I always use my pastry blender. Judging from A’s comments after tasting the crust, perhaps I should have used a fork. I also skipped the "smearing" step. I couldn’t see the point.

Not surprisingly, the toughest part was trying to roll out chilled pastry. I couldn’t find my heavy maple rolling pin so I had to use my lighter everyday rolling pin. I wasn’t able to roll the pastry as evenly or as thinly I wanted. Big disappointment.

Something I should have remembered about pastry dough using butter is that it browns/burns more easily than pastry dough using shortening. I should have left my aluminum foil edging on longer than I usually do. I wasn’t happy with how brown the edges became.

As for the big taste test, I was happy with it because it tasted much less flour-y and dough-y than my usual Betty Crocker recipe. A had a different take on it. She pointed out that it was tough. There are two things that can make a crust tough: too much flour and too much handling. I think that I was guilty of both.

A just got a new silicone mat that she is raving about. I am still using my old fashioned pastry cloth to roll my pastry. I have to use a lot of flour to keep my pie crusts from sticking to it and my rolling pin. I’m definitely going to take A’s advice and invest in some new technology.

And now I understand the "smearing" step. In my zeal to mix the water and dry ingredients, I probably went overboard with the pastry cutter. If I had tossed it with a fork and then smeared the result on the counter (or a new-fangled silicone mat), I could have mixed the ingredients just as effectively but with a lot less handling.

I’m going to try this recipe again but follow the directions to the letter. If the result is still not great, I have plenty of time to find a new crust recipe for next year’s apple pie baking contest!

Verdict: Needs a do-over

(Source: The Silver Palate Cookbook)

2 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) sweet butter, chilled
6 tablespoons vegetable shortening, chilled
5 to 6 tablespoons ice water, as needed

Sift flour, sugar and salt into a mixing bowl. Add chilled butter and shortening. Working quickly and using your fingertips or a pastry blender, rub or cut fat into dry ingredients until the mixture resembles coarse meal.

Sprinkle on ice water, 2 to 3 tablespoons at a time, and toss with a fork. Turn dough out onto your work surface, and, using the heel of your hand, smear dough away from you, about ¼ cups at a time. Scrape it up into a ball and wrap in wax paper. Chill in refrigerator for 2 hours.

Roll dough out to ¼-inch thickness on a floured work surface. Line a 9-inch pie plate with half of the dough. Crimp edges for a single-crust pie.

For prebaking, line dough in the pie plate with foil and fill with beans or rice. Bake in a 425°F oven for 8 minutes, then remove beans and lining. Prick bottom of dough with a fork and return pie plate to oven to 10 to 13 minutes longer, or until crust is golden brown.

Makes one 9-inch double crust, or two 9-inch single crusts.

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