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help me overcome by piephobia

i'm generally a pretty competent baker, but i have an irrational fear of making pies. or rather pie crust. i blame my mother, who convinced me at a young age that making a good pie crust was an inordinately difficult task that should not be tackled by a mere amateur baker.

but i'm finally ready to address my piephobia head-on. can anyone direct me to a good, simple-ish, summery pie recipe with which to begin my therapy? i'm thinking something with berries. thanks very much.

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  1. Martha Stewart's basic pie crust is standard 4-H, and if you have a food processor, it is as foolproof as it gets.

    Frozen bags of fruit work fine, and would be good to start out with - I mean instead of worrying about the peaches you just drove to the country to pick, or being scared to mess up the blackberries you just scratched your arms up picking, right? (I'm blackberry picking in the morning, yea!) Just toss the fruit in a little flour or cornstarch or potato starch (cooks illustrated's preference) a pinch of cinnamon, some sugar if your fruit needs it, and about a TBSP of butter cut up on top. I usually brush the top crust with milk and sprinkle with sugar. Good luck and please let us know how it goes.

    1. There are lots of good basic recipes out thre, and they're all the same thing:

      -fat (butter, lard, or shortening)
      -flour
      -salt

      Whatever recipe you end up going with, keep everything COLD! Cold butter, cold utensils, cold surface is possible. Run your hands under an icy faucet and dry off quickly before you begin. Chill the crust if you're in a warm kitchen and it begins to get soft. this made a heap of difference when I first started making pie crusts. But other than that, it's not hard and you don't need any special tools. Crust made with fingers tastes the same to me as crust made with forks, knives, pastry cutters, or food processors.

      1. You'll get a lot of responses, I suspect. I argue for 1/2 butter, 1/2 lard (or non-transfat-type shortening). Butter gives flavor, the lard makes the crust crisp. Some like all one or all the other - I think it's a personal preference (except to the degree to which my preference is right, of course). I find using an egg in the crust makes the dough particularly workable, most people don't bother. A touch of vinegar is another trick some people swear by and others forgo. I always use my fingers, because I have cold hands (pastry hands). If you have warm hands (bread hands), you might do better with a pastry cutter or two knives.

        What is essential? Pei is right - keep everything cold. Ice your water, have your butter cold and cut into chunks before you cut it into the flour. Then, don't overwork the dough. Gentle, gentle, handle as little as possible. A rest/chill before rolling is a good idea, as is a quick chill after rolling and before baking.

        The best little book for pies I've ever found is the Little Pie Company of the Big Apple's Pies and Other Dessert Favorites. They walk you through the details of crust-making for beginners. They also have great recipes for rumbs pies and so on. I've never made a bad pie from that book, and I never hear it mentioned, which is too bad. Great book for a beginner.

        1 Reply
        1. re: curiousbaker

          I don't have this book, but I can tell you they make some of the greatest pies I've ever eaten. Especially the sour cream apple.

        2. For a failproof and satisfying recipe, use more fat than your recipe calls for, if you want to be immediately rewarded with a tasty tender dough, or don't trust your ability to keep things cold. I made awesome crusts on a 100% humidity, 85 degree, electricity-free island for a year by using flour and animal lard... some of the best crusts I ever made, b/c I was *REAL* generous with the fat to flour ratio... just something to think about. In my experience, lard is also easier to work with than butter, for what it's worth.

          1. I agree with all the posts which say to use lard. However pure lard with no transfats isn't easy to come by unless you have a good Hispanic grocery. I made my own when we got a whole hog. Before that it was a slog to get the stuff.

            If you can't find lard, go with 100% butter which is delicious, just not as melt-in-the-mouth tender as a lard crust.

            4 Replies
            1. re: cheryl_h

              I use the Malgieri all butter recipe. He adds a 1/4 tsp. baking powder for a 2 crust pie. It helps a bit with the flakiness and crumb when the lard is left out.

              I used to swear by Crisco and have not tried the new trans fat free variety. Has anyone?

              1. re: Candy

                Yeah I used Crisco too, for years. I probably cut a few years off my life expectancy. No, I haven't tried the new variety. It'll take a while to work through my lard supply - by then the jury should be in on new Crisco.

                Interesting that such a tiny amount of baking powder will make a difference. I should try it with my next round of pies.

                1. re: cheryl_h

                  It surprised me the first time I tried it. I use Rumford BP and it is always quite fresh. It does help.

                2. re: Candy

                  I have tried the Crisco trans fat free, as well as some other trans fat free brand from Whole Foods. They both performed just as well as old fashioned shortening. Like cheryl h, I think the jury is still out on how much "better" it is for your health.