One of the first things I ever baked myself was a deep-dish peach pie. I was probably 12 or so, and I think I got some help from my grandma. I was pretty disappointed with the outcome, not because it tasted bad, but because I hadn’t realized deep-dish meant no bottom crust. I know some people eat pie for the fruit, but I’m willing to wager that most of us put up with mushy and/or artificially gooey filling as a vehicle for flaky, buttery pastry crust. However, I blame my real fascination with pie crust on Martha Stewart.
For the past ten years, I have been holding on to a copy of Martha Stewart Living because it contained one of my favorite recipes for a pate brisee or all butter pie crust. In her Pie Crust 101 feature, Martha (or her team of magical food styling elves) crafted some of the most amazing crusts I had ever seen - purple mincemeat peeking through a hundred tiny little holes, apples steaming under a bed of carefully sculpted autumn leaves, and cherries topped with perfectly symmetrical lattice work. It was at that moment that I decided I wanted to be Martha. And, like Martha, I started making pate brisee pie crusts, by hand.
Initially it really wasn’t an elitist thing; we didn’t have a food processor or shortening around the house, so I used a pastry cutter and cold butter. Also, “pate brisee” sounded impressive and French. However, eventually curiosity got the best of me–I really wanted to try this fabled shortening stuff. Supposedly, Crisco made a crust flakier than my wildest Lurpak butter dreams. Now, no one in my house baked, so I managed to make it to age 15 before ever laying eyes on a can of shortening. I was fairly horrified when I pulled back the metal top to reveal an oily, ghostly white, lard-eque substance. Most pie crust recipes call for something like 2/3 - 3/4 butter and 1/3 - 1/4 shortening. And it’s true, shortening does impart crisp and flake, but butter brings the tenderness and flavor. I was never impressed enough to become a shortening believer. Plus, I feel kind of weird baking with a solid fat that doesn’t require refridgeration and manages to be greasy and fluffy at the same time.
Somewhere in the move from Minneapolis to Washington, DC, I lost that copy of Martha Stewart Living and gained a food processor. And while that recipe has seen me through many pies (some better than others), I think I may have found something even better than the basic pate brisee. For the apple pie pictured above, I used this modified pate brisee recipe from Bon Appetit. It has reaffirmed my confidence in the all butter crust, and I am never going back. This dough came together beautifully in the processor, was very easy to handle, and had great flavor, color, and texture.
This crust is so good, it’s actually addictive. I found myself sneaking slices at all hours of the day, the mumbling to myself, “My God, it’s so good… why is this so good?! *munch, munch* Oh my God, I’m addicted to this pie. *munch, munch, gobble*” It’s a dream for a first-time baker, or for someone looking for a dough that stands up to some more complex shaping. I modified the recipe slightly by cutting the amount of salt in half, as suggested by reviewers. I am also afraid I failed to read “teaspoons” of cider vinegar and used a tablespoon instead, but it didn’t matter. This recipe is very generous–I made 1 double crust 10″ pie and had enough leftovers to make 2 free-form apple galletes.
But, perhaps the best part of the entire excercise (aside from the fact that Lee and I ate nothing but apple pie for a week) was that I was able to fufill my absurd dream of making a decorative pie crust a la Ms. Martha. Next it will be lattice tops, then, the world!