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The Basics of Pie

Posted August 22nd, 2013

Last week I took my first cooking class. It was a KCRW fundraiser with Evan Kleiman and Sherry Yard, two very impressive women who are geniuses when it comes to food. They shared their secrets for perfect pie, both savory and sweet, while I watched from the front row, scribbling scrupulous notes.

I grew up in a house where pies were taken seriously. I didn't even know you could buy such a thing as a pre-made dough until I started college and my mom's pies were so good that the entire family would request them for birthdays/holidays/made-up occasions. I've made my fair share of pies as an adult, and while most of them have come out well (with the occasional failed attempt being thrown in the trash), I'm certainly no expert. 

I had a great time at the class and came home with a handful of new tricks I thought I'd share!

Weigh your ingredients. Invest in a small kitchen scale (they're under $20), so that your measurements are consistent.

Don't cut butter too small. Instead of the typical "pea-sized," have an imperfect variety - some chunks the size of walnuts, almonds, sand, etc. It's good to have larger pieces of butter, because when the heat of the oven hits it, that's when it expands to give you that covetable flaky texture.

Ideally, dough should rest in the fridge before being baked (preferably for 30-60 minutes). But if you don't have the time, add 1/2 teaspoon of white wine vinegar to your ice water to speed up the process (it helps relax the gluten).

When rolling out dough, don't use too much pressure (Evan reminded us that we're not "laying asphalt"). First, tap the dough with your rolling pin to flatten it a bit, then start rolling from the middle and work your way out to the sides.

My favorite trick for baking the crust evenly - Spray two large coffee filters with vegetable spray and place along the top of the crust. Fill with pie weights (Evan and Sherry both use dried beans) and then par-bake. Once the outer crust is "blonde-colored," remove the top filter, including the beans. Then pop it back in the oven for a few more minutes, until it's slightly golden and you're able to peel off the bottom filter without it tearing the crust.

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