The first few weeks of the New Year are a perfect time for dining with friends. To make your dinners a little more festive you can dress up your desserts by whipping up a few creative tarts and pies. Chef Jerry Pellegrino has some great ideas.
Generally speaking, classic pie crusts are plain flavored, depending on a flaky texture to provide eating pleasure. Tart crusts are often sweeter, and not necessarily made from a dough. Crumbled graham cracker crusts are a good example.
Still folks will balk at going home-made. For many people it isn't the filling that is a deal breaker, it's the crust. You can buy very good pre-made pie crusts, but making your own isn't that hard. According to Jerry, this is the best description he has ever found on how to make great pie crust. Remember: keep everything cold.
Ingredients for one double-crust 9 inch or 10 inch pie:
1. 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour.
2. 1 teaspoon salt.
3. 2 Tablespoons sugar.
4. 3/4 cup (a stick and a half) unsalted butter, chilled, cut into 1/4 inch cubes.
5. 1/2 cup of all-vegetable shortening (8 Tbsp)
6. 6-8 Tablespoons ice water.
1 Put flour, sugar, and salt into the bowl of a food processor and pulse a couple times to mix. Add about half of the butter to the food processor and pulse several times. Then add the rest of the butter and pulse 6 to 8 times until the largest pieces of butter are about the size of large peas. Sprinkle the mixture with about 1/4 cup of ice water (make sure there are no ice cubes in the water!) and pulse again. Then add more ice water, a tablespoon at a time, pulsing once or twice after each addition until the dough just barely begins to hold together.
You know that the mixture is ready if when you pinch some of the crumbly dough together with your fingers, it holds together. Be cautious with the amount of water you add, too much and the crust will be tough.
2 Carefully empty the crumbly dough mixture from the food processor on to a clean, dry, flat surface. Gather the mixture in a mound. At this point, if you want, you can do what the French call fraisage: push down with the palm of your hand on the dough crumbles a few times. This will help flatten the pieces of butter into layers which will help your crust be flaky.
Divide the dough mixture into two even-sized mounds. Use your hands to form each one into a disk. Do not over-knead! Kneading develops gluten which will toughen the dough, not something you want in a pastry crust.
If you started with cold butter you should be able to see small chunks of butter speckling the dough. This is a good thing. These small bits of butter will spread out into layers as the crust cooks so you have a flaky crust!
Sprinkle each disk with a little flour, wrap each one in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for one hour or up to 2 days.
3 Remove one crust disk from the refrigerator. Let sit at room temperature for 5-10 minutes in order to soften just enough to make rolling out a bit easier. Roll out with a rolling pin on a lightly floured surface to a 12-inch circle; about 1/8 of an inch thick. As you roll out the dough, check if the dough is sticking to the surface below. If necessary, add a few sprinkles of flour under the dough to keep the dough from sticking. Carefully place onto a 9-inch pie plate. Gently press the pie dough down so that it lines the bottom and sides of the pie plate. Use a pair of kitchen scissors to trim the dough to within 1/2 inch of the edge of the pie dish.
4 Add filling to the pie.
5 Roll out second disk of dough, as before. Gently place onto the top of the filling in the pie. Pinch top and bottom of dough rounds firmly together. Trim excess dough with kitchen shears, leaving a 3/4 inch overhang. Fold the edge of the top piece of dough over and under the edge of the bottom piece of dough, pressing together. Flute edges using thumb and forefinger or press with a fork. Score the top of the pie with four 2-inch long cuts, so the steam can escape.