November is here (where has the year gone??) and the holidays are just around the corner - my favorite time of year. Now, for most people, the first thing that comes to mind is family reunions, presents, and hot chocolate. For me, it is pie - yes, pie. I just love to make pies for holiday celebrations (and really any other day of the year as well). They are rustic, homey, beautiful and, most importantly, delicious! Pie dough is an art, and getting it right can only be accomplished through repeated practice. I remember, four years ago, when I was just really getting into baking, we hosted our entire family at our house for Thanksgiving. My oldest cousin Tara is an amazing cook and baker and I told her I wanted to help in preparing all the dessert with her. I will never forget this: she spent the entire day with me, teaching me techniques, mixing and kneading and whipping side-by-side with me, explaining all the little tricks she uses to get her desserts just right. To have someone who really knows what they're doing and knows how to explain the process to you, to spend time with you and teach you - it is priceless; I will forever be in debt to Tara for that, and I hope to one day be able to pay it forward and pass along my techniques and tips to another willing learner. One of the things I learned was how to make the flakiest, lightest pie crust you will ever taste. Since then I've adopted my own little techniques and tricks that I like to use when making the crust.
For two bottom-crust pies or one bottom-and-top crust pie: 2 1/2 cups flour, 2 sticks butter, 4 tablespoons sugar (most recipes call for 2 but I like a slightly sweeter crust), mixture of 4 cup apple cider vinegar and I cup water with lots of ice, egg wash (one egg and three tablespoons water whisked lightly), granulated and sanding sugar
All-butter pie dough allows for both optimal flakiness and flavor. Not to be unpatriotic, but please do not use American butter. Please, I beg you, use Irish butter. Not just with pies but with every other dish as well. The quality and quantity of the fat in Irish butter is second to none. You can tell the difference just by the color, its scent and the way it cuts-I am fully aware of how weird it is that I know this.
Everything needs to be extremely cold if you want the end result, the baked crust, to be flaky and light. So, cut the butter into small cubes and place in the freezer overnight. Let the flour/sugar/salt mixture sit in the bowl in the freezer for a half hour before mixing the butter in.
Making the dough by hand is easier than most might think: Toss the butter pieces into the flour mixture. Then, take butter and flour mixture and squeeze in between your fingers in the same motion you would use to snap your fingers. What you are doing here is creating shards and slivers of butter.
When you mix in the wet ingredients, start with 8 tablespoons only, and mix it into the dough with your hands. Then mix in two more tablespoons at a time, incorporating into the dough after each addition, until you get the right consistency. You don't want dough that is too wet, you just want it to be able to hold when you press the dough together. Don't work the dough too much or it will toughen up. Knead it together just a little - those shards and slivers of butter should now look like streaks of butter in the finished dough. Cut into two pieces and shape into discs. The dough needs to "rest" in the fridge overnight so that it can properly absorb all the moisture.
Make sure the filled pie sits in the freezer for at least 15 minutes before baking it. There are two reasons for this: the butter in the dough will harden up which will result in flakier pie, and if you are crimping the edges of your crust the shape will hold while baking if it is frozen first.
The finishing touches are your opportunity to personalize your own style. You can get as creative or stay as traditional as you want with the slits in the top crust. The pieces for a lattice top can be as wide or as thin, as closely or loosely placed as you want. There are literally countless ways to crimp the edges. Do not forget your egg wash, which should be applied after the filled pie has sat in the freezer, and sprinkle a very generous amount of sugar on the top crust. You can even dust the finished baked pie with powdered sugar right before serving.
All this writing has made me starving! I am off, to go eat one piece of pie for every time I use the word "butter" in this article-lucky me!