Column: The Life of Pie


Photo credit: Anna Allgeyer

I combined butter, salt, sugar, flour and ice water into a delectable pie crust.

The holidays. Whether you’re arguing about politics, wildly searching for grandma’s favorite Frank Sinatra CD or frantically cramming for finals while decorating the Christmas tree, you’re sure to be a little stressed out at some point. Now, I’m not saying that food is the answer to all of your issues, but I am suggesting that even just the process of making holiday treats helps remind us all of the magic that the winter months bring. While there may not be autumn leaves falling or a snowy December, there’s nothing wrong with a warm cup of hot chocolate or a slice of pie.

Pie is wonderful, perfect for any holiday occasion and undeniably the best part of any holiday occasion. The pride in seeing your beautiful pies laid out on your aunt’s Thanksgiving display is a feeling second to none, and watching your baby cousin dribble some apple pie down his bib is downright adorable and sure to put a smile on your face. But how is this wonderful feeling achieved?

Infographic by Cat Oriel '18.
Infographic by Cat Oriel ’18.

Like any good recipe, my pie crust, or Pâte Brisée if you want to be fancy, starts with fat, salt and sugar.  Precisely, too much butter and just enough salt to give a nice balance to the sweetness of the pie. I don’t use shortening because trans fats aren’t healthy and increase risk of heart disease, and butter is just delicious.

My main tip is to keep everything as cold as possible, which helps increase the flakiness of the crust. Work quickly and store most of the ingredients in the freezer, and you’ll be left with an enviable result. I also like to refrigerate my dough for at least an hour before rolling it out. This helps the dough keep its shape.

Now that the dough is done, it’s time to work on your filling. This Thanksgiving I made apple, gingered apple cranberry and pumpkin pies, along with an apple Tarte Tatin. It was a lot of work, but I enlisted some help from my friends to make sure the process went smoothly. I’d suggest asking family or friends to lend a hand because sometimes making a few pies can be a daunting task. The basic, ever-adaptable filling is apple pie.  So what is the secret to a perfect apple pie?

There is none. I’m not even going to leave a recipe for one here, as there are so many traditional and controversial recipes out there. Of course, there are the necessary basics, such as Granny Smith apples, some type of sugar, spices and crust. My secret formula is just to incorporate what looks right.

I add enough apples to tower over my pie pan, as apples shrink down when cooking and nobody wants to bite into a mostly crust pie. Then, I add some lemon juice and zest, a little flour to help stick things together and a pinch of salt to bring out the natural sweetness in the apples and some white sugar. I also toss in my favorite spices like ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and my secret spice, which I don’t even tell my closest friends and family — now I understand why chefs don’t give theirs away. Secrets are fun.

My gingered cranberry apple pie with a lattice top made for Thanksgiving. After you get the hang of making crusts, get fancy and try something creative like this.
Photo by Anna Allgeyer
My gingered cranberry apple pie with a lattice top made for Thanksgiving. After you get the hang of making crusts, get fancy and try something creative like this.

Roll out your bottom crust and transfer it into your pie pan. Add your filling, and then roll out your second crust and place it gently over the apples. Crimp the edges together to avoid spilling any filling, and then score the top of the pie with a few lines to help vent steam. Then, brush the top of the pie lightly with an egg wash to encourage a beautiful golden crust. Line your oven with a cookie sheet on the bottom rack to catch any mess, and pop your masterpiece into the top rack of your oven at 350 degrees for about an hour.  Make sure to watch it carefully though as different ovens have different cooking times.  If the edges of your crust start to turn deep brown, top them with aluminum foil to prevent burning.

I hope you try making some pies for your next holiday event or even just for fun.  I know I have a blast making these with friends and family, so whip out your apron and make a pie for your next party!