Woohoo! I did it. I finally did it. I made a good pie crust. Not just an okay pie crust, or a so-so pie crust. But an honest to goodness good pie crust. One that is flaky and buttery and that you save a little piece to eat after you finish your slice of pie because it's just that good. No plastic texture, not overdone or underdone, and probably most amazing of all, made with no crying, screaming, or throwing things. You have no idea how impressed I am with myself.
When I share this pie crust with people I will not have to be embarrassed and apologize for the crust while telling them how much I suck at making pie crust. Instead I can serve it with pride because I know that when people bite into the crust they are going to be impressed too, and they are going to want more. I don't even like pie that much and I liked this crust.
Okay, so how did I do it? I actually give a lot of the credit to Deb from Smitten Kitchen. I have read countless articles, blogs, and pages in cookbooks about achieving the perfect crust, and I have learned a lot along the way. Alton contributed, as did my book Bubby's Homemade Pies, Dorie Greenspan's Baking From my Home To Yours, Cook's Illustrated and numerous coworkers, friends, family and fellow bloggers who kept trying to explain it all to me. I understood the concepts -- keep everything cold, not too much water, don't overwork the dough, a little acid (vodka, lemon juice and apple cider are the ones I've seen most commonly) helps -- but I could never make it all come together -- until this weekend.
I came very close a few weeks back using the gallete dough from Smitten Kitchen with the Crumb Topped Apple Pie, but it wasn't quite there yet. The trick for me, that I learned from Deb and that gallete dough, was to freeze the flour and the butter. It seems kind of silly, but a big part of my problem was that in an attempt to keep the water in the dough to a minimum, I was taking too long getting it to come together and the butter was getting warm, thus messing up my dough. Freezing the flour and using frozen butter bought me some time.
The second thing was using the food processor to cut the butter into the dough, being careful not to cut the butter too small. Sure it's not the purist way, but it bought me even more time. I also learned from my various past attempts (disasters) that you really have to work the dough to get it to come together, and having everything freezing cold allows you to really knead the dough until it comes together without softening the butter or adding to much water and ruining the crust.
Lastly, while the gallete dough that Deb used was pretty good, I opted this weekend to use the Good For Almost Everything Pie Dough from Dorie, but I put the dry ingredients and the butter and shortening into the freezer for several hours before starting. This will almost certainly be both the technique and the recipe I use for most future pies, because damn it's good. :)
Oh, and the maple nutmeg cream pie part? Freaking awesome! I mean really... maple. nutmeg. cream. pie. what could possibly be wrong with that? Which happened to be another Smitten Kitchen recipe that I have had on my list since last year because it looked awesome, but I was afraid of pie crust and never bothered to attempt it.
Pie Crust for a 9-inch single crust
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
3/4 tsp salt
1 1/4 sticks frozen butter cut into tablespoon size pieces
2 1/2 tablespoons frozen vegetable shortening, cut into 2 pieces
about 1/4 cup ice water
Put the butter and shortening in the freezer until frozen solid. Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a bowl and put it into the freezer until it's very cold, preferably for several hours or overnight.
Once those ingredients are very, very cold remove them from the freezer and put them all into the work bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times until the butter is mostly cut into the flour. Be careful not to overdo it -- you want at least a few really good size chunks of butter left. You can always use your fingers to break up the ones that are too big.
Dump the flour/butter mix into a large bowl and pour most of the water in with it. Toss the flour and the water with your fingers until it starts clumping together. Add more water a little at a time until you can get it to come together in a ball. I have to work the dough quite a lot to get it to stick together and it still looks kind of flaky and dry even when you have enough. Work it into a disc and wrap it with plastic wrap, then place it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. Only experience will teach you what is enough water and what is too much.
Once the dough is cold, put it on a lightly floured surface and roll it out -- turning it a quarter turn each time you go across it so that it doesn't start sticking to the counter. If cracks form, press them together the best you can. Once it's rolled flat, put it into a pie or tart pan of your choice and bake your pie. Good luck, because you're going to need it.
For the Maple Nutmeg Pie:
3/4 cup maple syrup
2 1/4 cups heavy cream
4 egg yolks
1 whole egg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 9-inch pie crust
Par-bake pie crust: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line pie refrigerated pie shell with foil or parchment paper and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until beginning to set. Remove foil with weights and bake 15 to 18 minutes longer or until golden. If shell puffs during baking, press it down with back of spoon. Cool on wire rack. Lower temperature to 300 degrees.
Prepare filling: In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, reduce maple syrup by a quarter, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in cream and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat.
In a medium bowl, whisk together egg yolks and egg. Whisking constantly, slowly add cream mixture to eggs. Strain mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a cup or bowl with pouring spout. Stir in salt, nutmeg and vanilla.
Pour filling into crust and transfer to a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until pie is firm to touch but jiggles slightly when moved, about 1 hour. Let cool to room temperature before serving.