Baking pie late at night may not substitute for dinner and a movie, but it’s better than mowing a pint of ice cream and watching a Kevin Costner rerun. And if, like me, you’re an unrepentant first-thing-in-the-morning eater, making late night pie has a lot to offer that dates don’t—it looks as good as it did when you went to bed, makes breakfast for you, and although not as hot as it was last night, its just as sweet and tender.
The Heart and Soul of Pie
At its very best, a fruit pie offers a hearty, toasty, salty, and delicately butter-flavored crust along with a moist, intense filling that reveals your chosen fruit's unique character and complexity in it's most favorable light. The crust might be flaky or it might be tender—the filling always luscious and redolent of fruit and spices.
For my late night pie, I decided on apples and blueberries. The apples were fresh, organic granny smiths. The blueberries were good quality, frozen berries from Washington state. For me, the soul of the pie is a golden and tender crust. Tarts demand flaky, more structured layered crusts and pies gently call for golden brown, melt-in-your-mouthiness. Without a stunningly beautiful and fork tender crust, the pie is just a tart without direction.
Approach the Crust
Buying a pre-baked pie shell is not only easy and cheap, it’s a total cop out! Embrace the flour and butter: make your own. It tastes and looks much better. Industrial pie shells skimp on the quality of the fat, and it’s the fat that makes the flavor in a pie shell.
So buy the good butter (unsalted) and flavor-neutral vegetable shortening. Be sure to avoid any vegetable shortening that contains trans-fats or has been partially hydrogenated. That stuff'll kill you...
Cool Your Jets
First, make everything as cold as you can: the flour, the food processor (or good old) mixing bowl, and the fat (a blend of vegetable shortening and butter, or butter alone). The flour can be stored in Ziploc bags in the freezer, as can your sticks of butter and shortening. Before you start, throw the food processor bowl in the ice box for a few minutes while you gather the rest of your ingredients and measuring spoons. To make a crust with both top and bottom, you’ll need:
2 ½ cups of all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 stick of unsalted butter (8 tbs)
1 stick of vegetable shortening (8tbs)
You can elaborate this recipe by making pastry flour (half all purpose flour, half cake flour) but it's not really necessary.
Start by cutting up the butter and shortening into sugar cube sized pieces, then throw it back into the freezer. Measure the flour, salt and sugar and put it in the food processor or mixing bowl and pulse or whisk it around a couple of times to combine. Next add the fat cubes and pulse in brief bursts or cut in with a pastry tool until you see pea sized bits of fat scattered evenly in the flour.
Next add super-cold ice water a few tablespoons at a time, pulsing or cutting it in until you’ve mixed in a total of 8. You’re looking for a loose mealy texture that sticks into a semi-stable lump when squeezed. If it falls apart easily after clumping, you’ll need a bit more water, pulsing or cutting in after each addition. Be careful to add it just a tablespoon at a time until it’s ready. Take care not to push too far too fast in adding water and mixing: careful and frequent listening to your dough is the key.
Round it Out
Once you've gotten to a mealy mass that sticks under pressure, split it in half and pour into two Ziploc bags. Working quickly, form each of the dough into disks about an inch and a half thick and place in the fridge.
Now it's time to pop some corn and catch up on your movie for half an hour...the dough, like you, needs to relax.
Come back soon for part two, in which:
- The filling is made and added
- The pie is baked
- A potentially tearful evening of alone time becomes a dramatic crowd pleaser the next day at the workplace, home, picnic, or dinner party.