I confess. Before I started making pies and selling them this year at the Westside Farmers’ Market (Thank you Michigan Cottage Food Law), I suffered from PIE Anxiety.
Pie Anxiety is a condition where people are afraid to make a pie because of a fear of failure. I would like to provide some reassuring kind words of wisdom to not worry and that everything will be alright, but I am afraid I can’t. You just have to take it one pie at a time.
I think the roots of Pie Anxiety come from the fact that pies, unlike other food items are a vey public food. Most pies are made on special occasion when our cooking is on the spot.
Pie is also a kind of sport in America with all sorts of contests, prizes and ribbons won for one’s craft of making a good pie.
In a food culture that is surrounded with fast food, processed food, industrial food and that has struggled to find an identity, pie making is one of the long-term endearing food traditions we have as Americans.
I avoided making pies and manage to slug through my pie requirement in culinary school with a few less than stellar examples. My crusts were tough and I was criticized by pie experts, older woman in my class who know how to really make a pie.
I retreated from pies to the fun, fancy food of the day, which was crazy plated desserts that used sugar sculpture and chocolate, sauces, cakes, ice creams, mousses and marzipan.
But fate brought me back to pies and I finally feel OK about making them.
I must being doing OK because pie experts at the market freak about my pies.
Part of the reason I feel Pie Anxiety exists is because the tradition pie crust is not very forgiving.
The butter has to be cold. You can’t over work the dough. The moisture has to be right or it will fall apart when rolling out. Any mistake and you will have a less than flaky finished crust.
So with that said, what I do is say heck with the conventional pie crust. In fact, I am not a big fan of the straight flour and butter crust anyway.
Yes. I said it.
There are two things that can make a pie crust easier to make.
The first is to use an egg. This adds some richness and moisture to the dough without adding water. Water and flour combine to make gluten, which is the protein found in flour. Over work the gluten and you can say good by to a flaky and tender crust.
My other suggestion is to use chilled alcohol like vodka instead of water. Alcohol provide moisture to the dough and it will be more forgiving with regards to gluten development than using the traditional ice water if you over work the dough.
Lastly, I use only butter. I feel people love my pie because I use only butter. We have been subjected to cheapen pies that use shortening for so long that one taste of an all butter crust will make us taste what we have been missing.
OK. I can already hear the peanut gallery scream the praises for lard. I honestly have not made a pie with lard. Even if it is great, I have found that finding good lard (that is not partially hydrogenated) in the store.
And again, pies making tends to be a public offering. This means that our pies usually are served at gathers like potlucks, parties or holidays. A pie made with lard cannot be eaten by vegetarians or a number of people who eat butter, but not pork fat.
I would make a pie with lard if I could find a good source and I was certain that most people could have it, but those two factors are rarely the case and most end my full butter crusts anyway.