Pie crust tips, recipes for the holidays

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BOSTON TOWNSHIP, Ohio — You don’t have to suffer pie anxiety.

That’s the word from Chef Larkin Rogers of Hudson, Ohio, who earlier this month taught a cooking class simply titled “Homemade Crust.”

“We know everybody starts to get a little nervous about the pie thing” in the weeks leading to Thanksgiving, she said in a soothing tone to the small group.

“We’re really just going to concentrate on the crust,” she said, “because I think that’s where people fall apart.” Or they are afraid they will, she added.

Rogers, a Culinary Institute of America-trained chef, owned an award-winning restaurant in England before returning to the United States years ago.

During the class, she assured us that making pie crust is “really quick,” and you don’t have to go all high anxiety to make a flaky crust.

“The most important thing, bar none, is your ingredients have to be cold,” she said. She repeated this again and again, in some form or another, throughout the evening — her pie crust mantra, of sorts.

The nonprofit Countryside Conservancy sponsored the class. The nonprofit promotes local farms and offers cooking classes and other programs.

Rogers is executive catering chef for the Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park, which operates event venues in the park.

She told us that her go-to crust for pumpkin and other custard pies is a pate brisee with egg, a rich, slightly sweet dough that uses milk instead of water. Pate brisee is French for “breaking dough.”

The recipe is below, along with one she shared for sweet hand pie dough.

MAKING PERFECT CRUST

Rogers uses a food processor with the metal blade when making pie crusts.

First she combines the dry ingredients, and then adds the butter, egg and milk or other liquid, in that order. It is indeed a very quick process.

If you opt to mix the dough with your hands, move fast, quickly rubbing the cold pieces of butter between your fingertips and into the flour. Too much handling will warm the butter; you will lose flakiness and the dough will become tough.

Rogers also recommended using a food scale for more exact measurements.

She chills the dough in the refrigerator for at least 45 minutes after mixing it, and again for 30 minutes after rolling it out and putting it in the pie pan. This relaxes the gluten and firms up the butter in the dough, making for a flaky crust.

When you are ready to roll out the dough, let it sit at room temperature for a few minutes.

Lightly dust a clean board or counter and a rolling pin with flour. Quickly roll the dough in all directions from the center, rotating it to keep it from sticking and to assure an even thickness. Form a circle that is roughly 12 inches in diameter and about 1/8-inch thick. If the dough sticks, use a pallet or a spatula to lift it. If you add more flour to the surface, do so sparingly.

Wrap the dough around the rolling pin and unfurl it into a 9-inch pie pan. Trim, leaving an approximately 1/2-inch overhang. Tuck the excess dough underneath and crimp the edge between your thumb and index finger.

Chill the crust for 30 minutes in the refrigerator before filling and baking, Rogers said. She does not recommend blind baking (baking crusts before filling) for pumpkin or other custard pies. Rather, she heats a baking sheet to 425 degrees, places the filled pie on the sheet and then turns the oven down to the baking temperature.

Dough can be made ahead and refrigerated for 1 to 2 days or frozen.

Pate Brisee With Egg

1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups (230 g) all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon (10 g) sugar

Pinch salt 1 1/2 sticks (180 g) unsalted butter, very cold, cut into small pieces (touch the butter only as much as needed while cutting)

1 egg 1 to 2 tablespoons low-fat or whole milk, cold

Using a food processor, combine the dry ingredients by pulsing briefly, 2 to 3 times.

Add in the chilled butter and pulse briefly 2 to 3 times. The mixture should contain visible chunks of butter, coated by the flour mixture.

Then add in the egg, again pulsing 2 or 3 times.

With the machine on pulse, add milk and watch for the dough to start to form a ball. Check the dough by opening the lid, pinching off a small piece and seeing if the dough holds together. If it looks grainy, it probably needs a teaspoon or so of additional milk. (Be careful not to add too much milk.) Once the dough has barely gathered together, turn it out, scraping down the sides of the processor bowl and flattening it into a disc. Cover with plastic wrap or put in a plastic bag. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 45 minutes before rolling out.

Makes 1 pie crust, with leftover dough that can be used for lattice or other decoration on top of the pie.

Note: She does not recommend doubling the recipe. If two crusts are needed, make each separately. Recipe from Gidleigh Park restaurant, England.

Sweet Hand Pie Dough

3 2/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 cup granulated sugar

1 1/4 teaspoons salt

3 sticks plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, very cold, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1/2 cup water, ice cold

1 egg, beaten, for egg wash

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Pulse flour, sugar and salt in a food processor to combine. Add butter. Pulse briefly until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. With the machine on pulse, drizzle in the ice water. Pulse until the dough just begins to come together.

Form the dough into a flat disc, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Chill for at least an hour. The dough can be made up to 2 days in advance or can be frozen.

When ready to assemble pies, roll dough out on a lightly floured board to a thickness of between …1/16 inch and 1/8 inch, and cut 16 circles using a 3-inch-diameter cookie cutter to yield 8 pies.

Brush the egg wash on a circle and then place about a tablespoon of filling (mincemeat, blueberry pie filling, diced apple filling, etc.) in the center of the circle. Cap with another circle, and crimp with your hands. Cut a vent in the top. Just before baking, brush with a beaten egg and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for about 10 to 12 minutes, until lightly browned.

Makes 8 pies.

Recipe from Cynthia Wong, pastry chef at Butcher & Bee in South Carolina.