Pie stress. It’s a real thing. This time of year, women and men across America feel an anxious tightening in their chest at the thought of making a pie for Thanksgiving. Never mind the suggestion to make more than one kind, the pressure to deliver after spending hours watching Instagram foodie accounts is enough to make any person grimace.
Why all of this anxiety? Because making a good pie requires an excellent recipe that is executed flawlessly to turn out well. The result for most people who don’t spend most of their time baking? Pie Performance Anxiety.
Fear not! No matter what recipe you’re using, there are a few tricks and techniques to follow that will demystify this simple, yet elusive dessert.
1. Cold Ingredients
I don’t mean wine refrigerator cold. I mean ice cold. Freezer cold. Buffalo, New York cold.
Whether you are using shortening or butter, cut up the fat ahead of time in small cubes and place it back in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes, or as long as a few days ahead of time.
Why? Because cold ingredients create that flaky crust you saw on all those Crisco commercials growing up. However, we no longer have trans fat in shortening so don’t expect the same result as your grandmother. Stick with an all-butter recipe.
If your recipe calls for 6-8 TBSP of ice water, substitute half for ice cold vodka. Alcohol evaporates in the baking process which will prevent that overly wet, heavy pie crust. Extra flakiness ensues.
Why Vodka? Because it’s fairly tasteless and odorless. You’re more than welcome to use Whiskey or Bourbon, but don’t be surprised if your pie tastes like that night of really bad judgement at your cousin’s wedding.
3. 30 minutes
After chilling the dough in the refrigerator for 30 minutes, roll it out right away and make your pie.
Many recipes allow you to make dough ahead of time. Make it days ahead they say! Better yet, freeze it! What they fail to tell you is that rolling out the dough when it’s hard as a rock will cause it to crack and make you wonder what you did wrong.
Why not less than 30 minutes? Because less than 30 minutes and the dough will be much too sticky to roll out. 30 minute is just right.
The simplest tip out there. Whether the recipe calls for it or not, add 1 tablespoon of sugar for every two cups of flour.
Why? Because sugar is a natural tenderizer and will keep your pie crust nice and light. The sweetness it adds to the crust is also a nice touch.
Flour and more flour… and more flour.
Not in the recipe, on your board and rolling pin. A mistake often made is not flouring work surfaces when rolling out a pie crust. Pie dough tearing is usually followed by ‘I can’t do this!’ and a profanity laced trip to the grocery store for a store-bought pie.
Why flour it continuously? Because flour is like the oil for an engine when rolling out dough. It keeps the dough from sticking to the work surfaces and allows it to move freely and you work with it.
6. A Great Recipe
While these tips won’t promise a perfect pie this one time for Thanksgiving, they are helpful to keep in mind as you bake now and in the future. And now, your Pie Recipe. No recipe is perfect. Yet this is a pretty darn good one.
Ultimate Pie Crust
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling
1 cup (2 sticks or 8 ounces) unsalted butter, freezing cold, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons vodka
3-4 tablespoons ice water
1. Cut up butter into cubes and place back in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
2. Mix flour, sugar, and salt: Put flour, sugar, and salt into a food processor and pulse to mix.
3. Add butter and pulse until the butter is the size of peas.
4. Add ice water and vodka together. Slowly add to food processor, pulsing until the dough is moist and holds together, but still slightly crumbly.
5. Pour out mixture onto a floured surface and knead dough together. Divide into two disks, wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
6. After 30 minutes, roll out one disk on a lightly floured surface to a 12-inch circle, making sure to flour the surface and rolling pin to prevent sticking.
7. Roll the dough up into the rolling pin (like a roll of toilet paper!)
8. Unroll the dough out over the pie dish until it is covered.
9. Add filling to pie.
10. Roll out second disk over the pie in the same way as the bottom.
11. Design crust and make slits in the top pie layer for heat to escape.
12. Bake according to pie recipe directions.