I cannot tell you how proud I am of myself. I have learned to make pie dough. After almost 40 years of trying. The Mayhews are at the Harbins’ house in Knoxville a few weeks ago so Noah can visit UT. We are joined for supper by Noah’s friend, Buehler (his first name is Chris but nobody calls him that) and his girlfriend, Sarah, who just happens to be in pastry school. Making polite conversation with Sarah, I ask her about how to make pie dough.
“Are you opposed to shortening?” she asks. “Hell, no,” I answer. This is the secret to a good pie crust. A few days later, I’m listening to an NPR interview with Alton Brown. He admits on national public radio that the secret to a good pie crust isn’t taste (as in using butter, which all of his recipes do) but texture, which is why shortening is the preferred ingredient. This has been my downfall all these years.
About a million famous cooks have posted the directions on how to make pie dough. But my instructions will actually get you there because I’m an idiot and until two weeks ago I couldn’t make pie crust to save my life. But I’ve done it five times now and it’s turned out perfect every time. As Mark says, every blind hog finds an acorn every now and again.
Here’s the first thing. The recipe I use is the official Crisco recipe. Just print it out. The recipe says to put the Crisco in the refrigerator to get really cold, but I put it in the freezer for about half an hour. The next thing, and I learned this from some cooking show somewhere, is not to pack the flour into the measuring cup but to dump it in a bowl and measure it out, using a knife to level it at the top of the measuring cup (dry cup, not wet). I am not buying a kitchen scale to measure flour, as many experts suggest. Mark’s Grannie Belle made pie dough all her life without a measuring scale and I think she had the right idea.
Now, put the flour and salt into a food processor. Give it one pulse to blend it. Cut up the Crisco into half inch pieces (more or less – don’t go insane measuring them) and add them to the bowl. Pulse 3-4 times max for a second each pulse. Have your ice water ready in a bowl (you are going by the recipe so I don’t have to type it out, right?). Add 3 tablespoons of water and pulse once or twice. See if the dough holds together when you pinch off a piece. I always need 4 tablespoons of water. Once that dough holds together, STOP.
Dump the dough out onto a cutting board and gently shape it into a disk. Wrap it in Saran wrap and put it in the icebox for at least an hour. The next trick is rolling out it. This freaked me out, too. But the best way is to put the dough between a sheet of waxed paper, flour the dough just a little and then roll out it.
Once the dough reaches the ends of the waxed paper, it’s ready to put in the pie pan. Just peel back one side of the waxed paper, put your rolling pin at the beginning of the dough disk and carefully roll the dough onto the pin, peeling away the waxed paper as you go. Once you get the dough in the pan, use the thumb and index finger of one and and the index finger of the other hand to make little pleats.
Now, then, I’m going to give you the recipe for mincemeat pie so you have something to fill this thing with. It is Mark’s favorite childhood memory. Grannie Belle would make it for him every Thanksgiving. Mincemeat used to actually have meat in it, but it doesn’t anymore for the most part. It’s basically a spiced fruit filling. Grannie used None Such jarred filling and it’s still out there to buy. Here’s the recipe for the filling.
When you’re baking the pie, if the outer edges of the crust get too brown, just stick some foil around the pan until the rest of the pie is done. Here’s another thing I learned from national public radio. The pie is done when the filling boils in a thick and syrupy way.
So, here’s the end result. Now doesn’t that look good? I have to tell you that I made this pie yesterday and there is exactly one piece left today. Mark has eaten at least half of it. Noah’s eaten a fourth of it. And I have had just a touch of pie, myself. You know the best thing about pie? It’s not supposed to look perfect. The more homemade it is, the less perfect it looks. I can get behind a concept like that.