Pie School: Lessons in Fruit, Flour & Butter

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Apple pie: everyone's favorite fall dessert. You've mixed and rolled, peeled and sliced, filled and chilled, baked and cooled and cut and What's a baker to do? Now, the first order of business here is to create the gap in pie that occasionally plagues all of us. I have some ideas for forcing this "error" as I make one of my favorite apple pie recipes ; let's see what happens. First, I'm going to really heap McIntosh apples in my pie crust. Macs are notorious for shrinking as they bake; so if I really pile them high before covering with pastry, there's every chance they'll cook down — while the crust retains its original loft.

Next, I make it easy for the crust to puff up as it bakes rather than settle down by not venting it anywhere. With no place for the apples' steam to go, the top crust will expand like a balloon. Here's the baked pie.


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Bubbling juice managed to seep out around the edge, but it looks like the crust is pretty much intact — and in basically the same position as when I put the pie into the oven. Once the pie cools, I warily cut it in half. I've never been so happy to see a failure. This is exactly the result I was hoping for: the gap in pie we all try to avoid. Now let's see how to prevent it.

The solidity of unmelted fat is part of what helps pie crust hold its shape as it bakes. Shortening has a higher melting point than butter; thus pastry made with shortening will hold its shape longer than one made with butter. The result? Pie crust made entirely with shortening will produce pie with a wonderfully crisp crimped edge, but also — potentially — a gap beneath the top crust.

A pie crust based on butter is less likely to make a gap in pie than one made with shortening. But wait — a wetter pastry makes a tougher crust. And a tougher crust translates to crust that holds its shape.

Pie School (Lessons in Fruit, Flour & Butter)

Which is NOT what you want as the apples underneath that rigid crust slowly settle into the bottom of the pan as they bake. For tender crust, use less water. See how dry this butter pastry looks? Squeeze it together, it still looks fairly dry; see the crumbs in the bottom of the bowl?

But after 30 minutes in the fridge — which gives the water a chance to fully hydrate the flour — the pastry rolls out beautifully. And produces a pie crust that's tender, flaky Good rule of thumb: for a tender, flaky pie crust, use more fat than water by weight. Back and forth, back and forth, rolling out pie pastry, back and forth The more you roll the pastry, the more you strengthen its gluten, the tougher the resulting crust.

Tips for effective pie-pastry rolling: Use a heavy rolling pin. Start in the center and roll outward, like the rays of the sun. Press down hard, and use as few strokes as possible to roll the pastry into the requisite-size circle. Here's a Ginger Gold apple on the left; a McIntosh on the right.

McIntosh apples make delicious pie, but boy, do they shrink as they bake! If you can't bear giving up on your Macs, at least mix them with apples that hold their shape better. For further advice on apple selection, read The very best pie apples: how to choose. Doesn't this top crust look gorgeous! But wait — something's missing. Remember the steam from the baking apples, and how it'll blow the top crust up like a balloon if it has nowhere to go?

Prick the crust all over with a fork, like you would shortbread ; or cut some slashes or crosses. Make a lattice , if you like. But whatever you do, don't bake your fruit pie with a solid, sealed-down top crust: you're just asking for the that "gap in pie" result.

Now that we've learned our lessons, let's make an apple pie whose crust snuggles up to its filling: no gap in this pie. This is an all-butter pie crust , made with a minimal amount of water. The filling is Ginger Gold and Granny Smith apples. Notice how well-vented the top crust is.

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I brush the top crust with melted butter. It probably doesn't make any difference as to whether the gap will appear, but it tastes good, and helps with browning. See how those apples inside are nearly flush with the crust? Looks like a winner. Let's bake it. You can see the crust sank some; was it enough to prevent a gap?

Good sign: I can see the apples. The McIntosh apples shrank as they baked, but the steps I took ensured that the crust would settle down with them. In addition to recipes, Lebo invites readers to ruminate on the social history, the meaning, and the place of pie in the pantheon of favorite foods. When you have mastered the art, science and magic of creating the perfect pie in. Kate Lebo has written a wonderful book celebrating the craft of baking fruit pies.

Kate Lebo is the teacher we all wanted in school, her kitchen a classroom for lessons in life. Sure, there's plenty of instruction here on the tasty metaphysics of fruit, flour, and butter. But good pie is so much more—it's imagination and art and love. Hooray for Kate Lebo and. Everyone should have a baker in their life—they are the sorts of friends worth cultivating.


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Treat your baker right or encourage one into action with a copy of. Pie can be intimidating, but Lebo demystifies and charms in this beautifully designed volume.

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It's the sort of school we would all be eager to attend. In Kate Lebo, you have a passionate, knowledgeable, unintimidating teacher who advocates intuition, interpretation, imagination and relaxation while making pie. Her friendly, encouraging voice speaks to nervous novices as well as experienced bakers looking for a fresh fix. This recipe book reaffirms a dedication to craft, brevity, and economy in both recipe and writing as a deeply connected physical and loving physical labor.

The best recipes themselves are a work of art. This is a great book for any any cookbook collection. Abbreviating her in-person, face-to-face pie-making course for the benefit of us all, Lebo is all about the how-tos of the handmade—no food processors, no other kitchen machines, and certainly no store-bought prepackaged ingredients.

The writing itself is almost enough to seduce. Once satisfied that she has taught the basics, Lebo regales with around 40 specific pie choices, imparting lots of advice geared to each pie.

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And demerara sugar is the preferred topping. A few of her other tempting selections include blue goose pie, mumbleberry mixed berry pie, and raspberry chiffon pie with chocolate cookie crust.

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