November 21, 2012

The Maine Ingredient: Traditional pies stand test of time

By Brooke Dojny

I don't know about you, but my family does not like deviation from tradition on Thanksgiving. We try, most years, to sneak in maybe a new vegetable side dish or two but otherwise, it's got to be the same beloved spread every year, up to and including the pies, which need to be the pure, classic, ungussied-up versions of apple and pumpkin.

A word on crust. Unless you do it regularly, it's not easy to make pie pastry. It's do-able – and a fun skill to master – but in my opinion there's no shame whatsoever in buying store-bought crust – not the shallow, pre-crimped frozen crusts but the rolled-out pastry found in the refrigerator case. By the end of the feast, people's taste buds are usually too jaded to taste much of any difference! 

MY FLAKY PIE PASTRY

This pie crust recipe uses half butter (for flavor) and half solid vegetable shortening (for crisper, flakier texture), and it's a great choice for just about any pie. If you need only a single crust, simply cut all the ingredients in half.

2½ cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

¼ pound (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut in 8 pieces

½ cup cold solid vegetable shortening, cut in 8 chunks

6 to 8 tablespoons ice water

In a food processor, combine the flour, salt and sugar. Pulse to mix. Distribute butter and shortening over the flour and process in short bursts until most shortening is about the size of small peas. Sprinkle 6 tablespoons of ice water over the mixture and pulse just until no dry flour remains and the dough begins to clump together. If dough is too dry, sprinkle on the remaining 2 tablespoons of water and pulse again.

Divide in half and turn out onto two sheets of plastic wrap. Shape and flatten into two 5-inch discs, wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Remove from refrigerator 10 minutes before rolling out.

APPLE PIE CLASSIC

Follow the suggested combination of readily available Granny Smiths and McIntosh, or use whatever local apples are fresh and good. Macouns and Jonathans make superb pies. If they're somewhat tart, add a bit more sugar.

One 9-inch pie

1 cup sugar

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

¼ teaspoon salt

3 cups cored, peeled and thinly sliced tart crisp apples such as Granny Smith (about 1 pound)

3 cups cored, peeled and thinly sliced juicy sweet apples such as McIntosh (about 1 pound)

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Pastry for a double-crust pie

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut in chunks

In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and allspice. Add apples and lemon juice and toss to combine thoroughly. Set aside for 15 minutes or so until apples begin to soften slightly.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

On a floured surface, roll out half the dough to a 12-inch round. Ease into a 9-inch pie plate. Spoon apple mixture in and distribute butter over the apples. Roll out the second dough disc to a 12-inch round and place over the fruit. Trim the overhanging dough to 3/4 inch all around; turn edges under, and flute or crimp to seal. Use a sharp knife to slash several steam vents in the crust.

Bake for 30 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350 degrees and bake until crust is golden brown and juices bubble up through the vents, 25 to 35 minutes. Cool on a rack for at least 1 hour. Serve warm or at room temperature, with scoops of vanilla ice cream if desired.

 

BOURBON PUMPKIN PIE

After trying a couple of times to make pies with "from scratch" pumpkin puree (cutting, roasting, scraping, mashing), I concluded that it's really not worth the trouble – in fact, canned pumpkin is superior in some ways because the puree has been cooked down to a properly thick consistency. Just be sure not to buy pre-sweetened and spiced pumpkin pie filling. This pie follows a rather classic formula, with a small slug of bourbon or rum added for interest (though it's fine, too, without the spirits).

One 9-inch pie; eight servings

Pastry for single-crust pie

1¾ cups pumpkin puree (from a 15-ounce can)

¾ cup sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon ginger

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup cream

½ cup milk

1 tablespoon bourbon or rum

Sweetened whipped cream for serving

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to a 12-inch circle. Ease into a 9-inch pie plate. Trim and flute the edges and prick the crust all over with a fork. Freeze for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Press a sheet of foil into the bottom of the pie shell. Bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes. Remove foil and continue to bake for 5 to 8 minutes until pale golden. If pastry starts to puff up, press the bottom gently with a large spatula or oven-mitted hand to flatten. Fill immediately or cool on a rack. (See note.)

In a large bowl, whisk the pumpkin puree with the sugar and eggs. Whisk in the cinnamon, ginger, salt, cream, milk and bourbon. Pour into prebaked pie shell.

Bake in the preheated oven until custard filling is set at the edges but still slightly wobbly in the center, 40 to 50 minutes.

Cool on a wire rack before serving at room temperature. Serve with whipped cream. (Can be refrigerated for up to a day.)

Note: If you don't mind a slightly soggy bottom crust (and, truth be told, the custard filling sort of merges with the crust anyway), skip the prebaking step.

 

Brooke Dojny is author or co-author of more than a dozen cookbooks, most recently "Lobster!" (Storey, 2012). She lives on the Blue Hill peninsula, and can be contacted via Facebook at: facebook.com/brookedojny

 

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