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Holiday pies start with great crust

With holiday pie season upon us, it's easy to be intimidated into outsourcing your crusts. • Face it, buying a boxed, refrigerated or frozen crust is easier and faster. Too bad it doesn't taste better. • If you want a truly wonderful pie crust, something truly worthy of the trouble you will go to when making the filling, the only way to go is to make your own. Here's an introduction to two styles. Alison Ladman, Associated Press



These two styles of crusts are the most popular for homemade pies.

Crumb: Crumb crusts are the easiest to master. They require no rolling. It's just a matter of making a crumbly mixture (often from ground-up cookies) and pressing it into a pie pan.

Graham cracker crusts are common, but you also can use chocolate or vanilla wafer cookies, butter or shortbread cookies, or even sandwich cookies. You even can add toasted and chopped nuts or spices to lend additional flavor.

As the name suggests, these crusts are crumbly and dry. They are best used with fillings that don't rely on the crust for structure, such as cheesecake, icebox pies and firm-set fruit pies.

Flaky: Flaky pie crusts take a bit more technique to pull off well, but the results are delicious. The flakes are made by smearing fat into the dough in layers. It is not fully blended, as in mealy crusts. It's a great choice for sweet and savory fillings, such as firm fruit, pecan and meat pies. It does not hold up to particularly wet fillings, such as cherry or custard pies.

This dough also is a bit more delicate to work with. The dough needs to remain chilled while being worked with and just before going into the oven. A flaky dough that is not properly chilled will shrink during baking and be tough.




Flaky crusts must be rolled, then fitted into a pie or tart pan. Crumb crusts are dumped into the pan, then pressed into place.

To roll a crust, it is best to start with chilled dough that has been allowed to rest after mixing. The resting allows the protein (called gluten) in the flour to relax. This prevents the dough from shrinking as you roll. Resting also allows the moisture in the dough to be absorbed, thereby requiring less flour on your counter and pin, and making a more tender crust.

Start by lightly dusting your counter and pin with flour. Place your dough on the counter and roll from the center, turning it every couple of rolls to prevent sticking and to keep it round. Hold your pie pan over the dough to test to see if it's big enough. The dough should extend about 2 inches beyond the pie pan all the way around.

To transfer the dough from the counter to the pie pan, fold it in half, then again to form quarters. Gently lift the dough and place it in the pan, with the point at the center. Unfold carefully to fully cover and fill the pie pan.

If it tears, it's okay! Just patch it with some scrap dough from the side. Pie dough is pretty forgiving if it's at the right temperature. If it gets too warm, put it back in the refrigerator (or freezer) for a few minutes. If it's too cold, let it sit on the counter for a few minutes. You should be able to pinch the dough together wherever you need to patch any mistakes.




Flaky crusts need to be edged.

The prettier the edge, the prettier the pie. When to edge is determined by the number of crusts used in each pie.

For double crust pies (meaning there is a bottom crust, a filling, then a top crust), the pie should be filled, then topped with the second crust before the edges are crimped. For a single crust pie (there is no top crust), the crimping should be done before the filling is added.

To crimp, begin by trimming the excess dough all around the pie so that you have just ½ inch of overhang. Gently roll the overhang underneath itself so that it sits on top of the rim of the pie pan.

For an easy and rustic look, gently press all the way around with a fork. For a more decorative and classic finish, you can pinch the edge of the dough between your fingers at regular intervals.




Whatever variety crust you use, it's a good idea to set the pie on a baking sheet when you place it in the oven.

First, this helps conduct heat to the bottom of the pie, ensuring the bottom of your crust cooks as perfectly as the outer edge. Second, the baking sheet makes it easier and safer to transfer the pie to and from the oven, as well as to rotate it in the oven during baking if needed for even browning.

Third, pies sometimes bubble over. It happens. And when it happens, it's much easier to clean the mess off a baking sheet than the bottom of your oven.




Some single-crust pie recipes call for "blind baking" the crust. This means the crust dough is placed into the pie pan and fully baked before the filling is added.

To do this, fit your dough into the pan and crimp the edge as desired. Refrigerate it for 10 minutes to prevent shrinkage.

Line the crust with a sheet of foil, then fill with 1 ½ to 2 cups of dry beans, coins or uncooked rice. Unless directed otherwise by your recipe, bake the crust at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, or until golden around the edges.

Remove the crust from the oven and remove the foil and beans, coins or rice. Lower the oven temperature to 375 degrees and bake for another 10 minutes, or until the crust is evenly golden.

Weighing down the crust is not needed with crumb crusts, which do not rise.




Most crusts can be stored until needed.

Virtually all rolled crust recipes call for preparing the dough, then shaping it into a disc, wrapping in plastic and refrigerating for a bit before rolling out. At this stage, the dough also can be frozen for months (thaw overnight in the refrigerator or at room temperature for 20 minutes) or refrigerated for about 36 hours.

The dough also can be rolled out, fitted into pie pans and edged, then wrapped and frozen or refrigerated for the same periods of time.

Crumb crusts come together so quickly that advance prep is mostly unnecessary. But the crumbs and any flavorings certainly could be prepared and blended ahead of time.


Chocolate Crumb Pie Crust

1 ½ cups finely crushed chocolate cookie crumbs

3 tablespoons sugar (granulated or brown)

6 tablespoons butter, melted

½ cup toasted, finely chopped nuts (optional)

In a medium bowl, toss cookie crumbs and sugar. Stir in the melted butter until all of the crumbs are moistened. Using the back of a spoon or the bottom of a measuring cup, press the crumb mixture into a pie pan across the bottom and up the sides.

The pie now can be filled and baked as directed, or blind baked. To blind bake the crust, bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.

Makes one 9-inch crust.

Source: Associated Press


Tuxedo Pie

For the white chocolate ganache:

½ cup heavy cream

8 ounces white chocolate chips

1 chocolate crumb pie crust, blind baked

For the dark chocolate ganache:

¾ cup heavy cream

5 ounces dark chocolate chips

For the vanilla mousse:

1 cup whole milk

1 egg yolk

1 whole egg

¼ cup sugar

3 tablespoons cornstarch

1 tablespoon vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste

1 ½ cups heavy cream

To prepare the white chocolate ganache, heat the cream until simmering in a small pan or a microwave-safe dish. Add the white chocolate and let sit 2 minutes. Stir until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Pour into the pie crust and refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes.

To make the dark chocolate ganache, heat the cream until simmering in a small pan or a microwave-safe dish. Add the dark chocolate and let sit 2 minutes. Stir until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Pour over the white chocolate ganache layer and refrigerate until firm, about another 30 minutes.

To make the vanilla mousse, heat the milk until simmering in a medium saucepan over medium heat.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together the yolk, whole egg, sugar and cornstarch. When the milk comes to a simmer, slowly pour it into the egg mixture while whisking continuously. Return the mixture to the pan and whisk continuously over medium heat until boiling.

Transfer the mixture to the bowl, press plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the custard, and refrigerate until no longer hot, about 30 minutes.

When the custard has cooled, stir in the vanilla extract or paste.

In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the cream to firm peaks. Fold half of the whipped cream into the cooled vanilla custard. Repeat with the remaining whipped cream, folding gently but thoroughly to avoid deflating the cream. Spoon the vanilla mousse over the chocolate ganache, then refrigerate until ready to serve.

Serves 8.

Source: Associated Press


Flaky Pie Crust

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, cold, cut in ½-inch chunks

¼ cup shortening

? cup ice water

In a large bowl, toss together the flour and salt. Add the butter chunks and the shortening, then use your fingers to smear them into the flour. The goal is not to mix the fat into the flour, but to break down the large chunks.

When the chunks of butter and shortening all have been pressed into the flour, drizzle the ice water into the mixture, tossing it together. It will not resemble a cohesive dough.

Pour the mixture onto the counter, then form it into a pile in front of you. Using the heel of your hand, smear the mixture against the counter. Work from the side of the mixture farthest from you and press away from your body, smearing a bit more of the mixture with each press.

Once all of the mixture has been smeared with the heel of your hand, gather it together again and repeat the process. At this point, your mixture should look like a shaggy dough. Gather the pieces and gently squeeze together into 2 discs, each about 1 inch thick. Wrap each in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

When ready to make the pie, on a lightly floured surface roll one of the discs into a 13-inch circle. Always roll from the center of the disc and turn frequently to prevent sticking.

Fold the dough in half, then again to form quarters. Lift the triangle of dough into your pie pan, putting the folded point in the center of the pan. Gently unfold the dough to cover the whole pan. You should have a generous overhang once the dough is all settled into the corners of the pan.

If using a top crust, fill the bottom crust with your pie filling as directed, then repeat the rolling, folding and moving technique with the other disc of dough.

Trim the overhang of dough to ½ inch beyond the edge of the pan. Fold the edge of the dough under itself, pinching to seal. Using either a fork or your fingers, crimp the edge of the dough around the pie and against the top of the pie pan.

If using a single-crust recipe, fill your pie after crimping the edges of the crust. Bake as directed for your pie recipe.

Makes 2 crusts (for 1 double-crust pie or 2 single-crust pies).

Source: Associated Press


Cranberry Almond Pistachio Pie

1 cup dried cranberries

1 cup water

1 cup dark brown sugar

1 cup maple syrup

1 tablespoon molasses

¼ cup heavy cream

¼ cup (½ stick) butter

6 egg yolks

½ cup slivered almonds, toasted

½ cup pistachios

1 uncooked flaky pie crust, bottom only

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Place a baking sheet in the oven.

In a small microwave-safe bowl, combine the cranberries and water. Microwave on high for 1 minute, or until very hot. Set aside to cool. Once cooled, drain and discard the water.

In a medium pan over medium-high, heat the brown sugar, maple syrup, molasses, cream and butter until boiling. Remove from heat.

In a medium, heat-safe bowl, whisk the egg yolks until smooth. While whisking continuously, slowly pour the hot sugar mixture into the egg yolks, allowing the yolks to heat up gradually until the entire mixture is incorporated.

Fit a single pie crust into a pie pan, trimming and crimping the edge.

Sprinkle the almonds, pistachios and drained cranberries evenly into the pie crust. Pour the filling mixture over the nuts and cranberries, making sure they are evenly coated. Place the pie on the baking sheet. Bake for 45 minutes, or until the filling is slightly puffed and the crust is golden.

Serves 8.

Source: Associated Press

Holiday pies start with great crust 11/20/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 8, 2011 1:22pm]
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