November 22, 2014

Everyday Gourmet: Easy as pie

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By Kim Dannies

Nothing makes me happier this time of year than a pie bursting with local summer berries enveloped in a buttery, flaky crust. The strawberry rhubarb season was one of the best in recent memory, and now sensational raspberries, peaches, and blueberries are taking their turn on the pie carousel.

There are a couple of easy secrets to a really good piecrust. The single most important thing is to use white pastry flour. Regular flour makes a decent crust, but pastry flour makes a sublime one.

Typically I buy pastry flour from a bin, but I recently splurged on a bag of local Nitty Gritty Grain white pastry flour. I was astonished at the superior quality of my crust. It formed and rolled out beautifully, held the oozing fruit in check, and melted in my mouth. I couldn’t stop eating the pie. I even did a side-by-side bake off with my traditional flour just to be sure, and there really was no contest. At $12.50 for a five-pound bag, it is dear—but definitely worth it.

The next secret is really good butter. Use the best butter you can afford in your crust, you WILL taste the difference. Vermont’s Cabot unsalted butter is a good place to start; if the pie is a super special one, go all the way with Vermont Creamery’s 86 percent butterfat butter.

The rest is easy. Add three generous cups of pastry flour to a food processor. Cut 1- pound of cold butter into 8 pieces and add to flour. Add a pinch of salt and pulse mixture 20 times to create a coarse mixture. Add 1/3 cup of cold water and hit long pulses until a ball forms in the bowl, about 1 minute. Add more flour if the dough sticks to the sides, or add more water drops if the mixture is not forming into dough.

Wrap dough in plastic. Chill for at least an hour or freeze until needed. I like to roll out my crust for a 9×12-inch rectangle baking dish leaving wide flaps all around the edges.

I add my filling, then pull the flaps up, crostata-style, with an rough opening in the center. I lacquer on some egg yolk and dust with raw sugar. The result is an earthy brown-berry-oozing wonder that serves 12.

Kim Dannies is a graduate of La Varenne Cooking School in France. She lives in Williston with her husband, Jeff; they have three twenty-something daughters who come and go. For archived Everyday Gourmet columns go to kimdannies.com.

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