Love and Loss and the Secret to Perfect Fruit Pies

February is a complicated month for me. My youngest brother, Jake, was born on February 20th and died when he was 17. I miss him every day and I long for my son to have known him. My son was born on February 6th so we celebrated his 13th birthday yesterday with the above cherry pie. My husband and I went on our first date on February 14th (it was a cast party for a play he was in that happened to fall on Valentine’s Day!) 27 years ago.

 

I have a tendency to show love through food so there’s a lot of cooking and baking going on right now. As I’ve shared here a lot recently, when it comes to my son, that way of showing love has gotten a bit more complicated in the day-to-day. Birthdays, however, are still a pure joy. He tells me what he wants for his family birthday dinner and I get to work. And so it was when Jake was still alive and we children were all still at home. My mother would make us our favorite meals and I started taking birthday requests for cakes when I was about 12. I loved these occasions! I’d pour over the layer cake chapter in our old Joy of Cooking, dog-earing far more pages than the number of my siblings.

 

These days I make more pies than cakes and I’ve learned a few tricks over the years. My hands-down favorite pie dough recipe is the one below. I think it’s best with a little whole wheat flower in the mix. Somehow all that butter with the toasty, nutty flavor of some whole grain plus the salt in the butter (or added salt) is awfully good.

 

For the fruit pie specific tricks (especially those made with frozen and then thawed fruit), head over here and subscribe to the Collection and search for Cherry Pie to find the recipe. Use code love for one month of free access, and who knows, you may just get hooked. I hope you do!

 

With lots of love,

Katherine

 

Basic Pie Crust

–adapted from the now defunct ChezPim.com

 

I swear by this crust technique and ingredients—flour, salt, butter, water. It has an extra step but the results are worth it and after a time or two it becomes routine.

 

For flaky pastry dough; enough for two 9″ rounds, for top and bottom pie crust, or two tarts:

 

250 g (2 1/4 cup) all purpose flour or 100 grams whole wheat pastry flour and 150 grams apf

Scant ½ teaspoon fine sea salt (or use salted butter and skip the extra salt)

225 g (1 cup/2 sticks) cold butter (salted if you’d like and then omit the salt above)

60 ml (1/4 cup) cold water

 

Measure the flour and salt and dump it onto your clean countertop.  Cut the sticks of butter into slices ¼-inch thick and spread them out on top of your pile of flour. Toss the chunks so they are coated with flour.

 

Now, press the butter into the flour with the heal of your hand: the left one if you’re right handed, and vice versa. With your right hand holding the pastry scraper, scrape up some of the flour and butter and flip it over the pile.  Keep pressing and scraping until the butter becomes thin flakes pressed into the flour.  Keep working until you see more butter flakes than loose flour.  If your butter flakes are really big, break them up a little bit, you should end up with a combination of big flakes and some crumbs.

 

Make a well in the middle of the pile and pour the 1/4 cup of water into it.  Now, working quickly, use your finger tips or the bench scraper to gently blend and distribute the water evenly into the dough. Then, scrape up the dough again with the pastry scraper and press it into a somewhat cohesive lump of dough.  Gather it into a ball, and wrap tightly with plastic and let rest in the fridge for 20-30 minutes.

 

After 30 minutes, remove the dough from the fridge and unwrap it.  Flour the counter.  Place the dough on the board and lightly flour the top of the dough as well.  With a rolling pin, roll the dough out to an elongated rectangle. It will be crumbly and may only stick together in patches, which is just fine. Pick up one end of the rectangle, fold it 2/3 of the way in, as best as possible, again lots of crumbs are fine. Then pick up the other end and fold it over that section. Now you have a dough that is folded more or less into thirds.  The dough will crack and might even break, don’t worry about it.

 

Turn the folded dough 90 degree so that the seams are now on the sides, roll the dough out again into a rectangle, and repeat the folding again. You will see that the dough will become smoother and more pliable.  You can repeat this process once or twice more – I usually do it three times altogether.

 

What you’re doing here with the rolling and folding is working the dough a little bit to build the strength so that it is not so fragile when you roll it out later.  (Especially if you’re going to make lattice top, you’ll find this dough easy to work with.)  You’re also creating very thin layers or butter and flour, much like in puff pastry, so the dough becomes extremely flaky once baked.

 

Once you’ve done your three folds, or however many you want to do, roll the dough into a smaller rectangle. Cut it in half and shape the two resulting pieces roughly into rounds. Wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze, wrapped in a freezer bag, for 3-4 months.

 

 

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