Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Pie a Week

A savory tomato tart, last month

The last couple of weeks I've enjoyed making tarts and pies. One of my favorite thing about pies is the crust. Oh, the pie filling is important too, but for me it's always the crust. My mother made a pretty good pie crust, and I've been making pie crust since I was young.

An apricot tart, last summer

But the thing about pie crust is a lot of the skill comes from experience and the nuanced feel of the dough. If you don't make it often enough, you don't get the benefit of trial and error. I've decided I really want to perfect my skills, and maybe even go on to experiment with other, more challenging kinds of pastry.

A free-form plum crostata in July, 2007

So I've decided I'm going to make a pie a week.

Maybe sweet, or maybe savory; each week I'm going to make a pie.

A pear-custard tart, last Christmas

This week, I made an open-faced apple tart. I used the recipe from Judy Rodgers' Zuni Cafe Cookbook. It makes pie crust seem easy - you work the butter and the flour together by hand.

I increased the recipe by an extra 1/4 cup of flour and an extra tablespoon of butter, because my tart pan is large - the recipe calls for a 9" pan, but mine is about 11" in diameter. After you work the flour and butter together, you add cold water - and here's where it gets tricky.

You can't add too much water, or the dough will be too sticky to roll. You can't add too little water, or it will be too crumbly to hold together. I always seem to err on the side of adding too little.

My mother always used ice water for this step, and I've never done otherwise. The key to flaky pastry is keeping the fat cold, so pieces of it remains separate from the flour. Ice water helps keep a chill on the dough, especially if you've been handling it with warm hands.

I use a silicon baking mat to roll the dough on, and although I have had a nice maple rolling pin for years, I recently got a silicon one and use that one all the time now. For pie dough, I also use a piece of parchment paper between the dough and the pin, to keep it from sticking. This dough was too dry - it cracked and fragmented as I rolled it.

After lining the tart pan with the rolled dough, my recipe said to simply lay the cut apple pieces into the pan - they weren't macerated in sugar, as in most American apple pie recipes. Once in the pan, instructions said to sprinkled the fruit with a little bit of salt, and then sugar - the salt was to draw the juices to the surface of the fruit so it could mingle with the sugar.

The apple tart

It was a pretty tart when done - but very dry. The fruit was almost like dried apples - very tasty, but austere, not gooey rich and moist with sticky juice. The crust? delicate and buttery-delicious - but crumbly.

Clearly, I'm not there yet.

A fig and mascarpone cheese tart, last Thanksgiving

So - what kind of pie should I make next week?


ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

So - what kind of pie should I make next week?

I'd like all kinds of pie - in my house, of course!

I guess it's too early for pumpkin pie, but spinach (Spanakopita) might be nice.

Jason, as himself said...

I want more of the tarts like the tomato one--the kind you would eat with for dinner. Please.

These are fabulous.

smalltownme said...

Those look so delicious.

Peach pie sounds awfully good to me right now.

Karen (formerly kcinnova) said...

I think a dry apple tart sounds delicious. Moist and sticky-sweet is overdone. (For some reason I am thinking like my husband this morning!)
I'm pretty sure I'll eat anything you decide to bake. Perhaps something with herbs? Although smalltownmom's suggestion of peach pie is making my mouth water...

CaShThoMa said...

Ok, Aunt Snow....I'd like to order the fig tart right away. Please deliver overnight express to Seattle! I'm so impressed; I've got to learn how to make crust. That's one thing I didn't inherit from my Mom unfortunately.

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

Whatever fruit looks good at the market! The pignoli in the apricot pie are a nice touch. I'd consider making a mulberry pie, but I can never refrain from just scarfing the suckers down as soon as I pick them.

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

Oh, and what I wanted to say was rhubarb, with a little strawberry to cut the tartness.

smalltownme said...

My older son is baking a pie right this minute! Strawberry, with a lattice top. I'll be sure to blog about it!

Anonymous said...

Love your pie-a-week idea. I'm quite the pie maker, but don't think I could do one a week. I would be quite a chubby pie maker if I did. It's just my husband and me around to eat the pie, and I like pie more so than he does. Come on over sometime and check out my Red Wagon Pies. I'm still working on the concept.