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October 2009

Sunday in my Kitchen/House of Pie

The photos for this post are missing. But it's likely there'll be another pie post with more.

I'm pretending today is Sunday in my kitchen, for reasons too boring to go into. Last time I made pie, I froze an extra crust, and will be baking it today. The buttery crusts I make do well going straight from the freezer to the oven, though it's still important to guard against overbrowning.

Here is a great deal of blather on pie gathered in one spot, and as the season progresses there will be more. I'm making the "bluegrass" pie today, and will share a new picture later. 

I've always been a fair hand at pie but decided to start perfecting my crust techniques a couple of years ago. This first part is about having found a fairly perfect crust, and something new (for me) to do with it.

1. hand pies 

2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour 
3 teaspoons sugar for fruit filling, or 1 tsp salt for meat filling
1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (I used salted butter; always do for sweet crusts, preferring the balance)
1 large egg
1/3 cup ice water
1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar

3 cups fruit or meat filling

Put flour, sugar, and butter in food processor and pulse. Then mix the egg, water and vinegar together, and pour the liquid through the feeder tube, letting processor run until dough clumps together. Flip it onto a flour-covered counter, lightly knead it together for just a couple of turns, then make two discs, flatten and chill. It didn't seem to need chilling first time I did it, but it might another time. 

Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 375°F. Divide dough into 12 equal pieces and form each into a disk. Keeping remaining pieces covered, roll out 1 piece on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin into a 5-inch round (about 1/8 inch thick).

Spoon about 2 tablespoons filling onto center and fold dough in half, enclosing filling. Press edges together to seal, then crimp decoratively with your fingers or tines of a fork. Transfer empanada to a baking sheet. Make 11 more empanadas in same manner, arranging on 2 parchment-lined baking sheets.

Lightly brush empanadas with milk, sprinkle with sugar if making fruit pies, and bake in upper and lower thirds of oven, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until golden, about 20-25 minutes. Transfer empanadas to a rack to cool at least 5 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

2. bluegrass pie and more on crust 

A number of years ago, I was told of a famous pie, much celebrated in Kentucky, deemed better than any other. When I finally tasted that pie, I understood why it was so well-loved. It's a perfect and decadent combination of ingredients. That pie's name is copyrighted and the recipe heavily guarded. The owners are extremely proud of it, and also extremely litigious if any other pie is called by that name or is said to be made from the same recipe. Therefore, I will not do that company the honor or the disservice of even mentioning the name here in my post. But since it bears a similarity to a pie I once enjoyed on a visit to OL's home state, I have named the pie in the following recipe accordingly. If you ask the internet, you'll find similar pies with names like Kentucky bourbon pie, Thoroughbred pie, chocolate walnut pie, etc. This is a synthesis of three of those.

Bluegrass Pie

1 pie crust, recipe I used below.

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
generous 1/2 cup flour

1 stick butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 cup finely chopped walnuts that have soaked in bourbon for at least one hour
1 cup chocolate chips

Combine sugar, eggs, and vanilla, mix until smooth and light, add flour and incorporate well. Pour butter into mixed ingredients very slowly. Stir to combine. Add nuts and stir just until incorporated. Sprinkle chips into the bottom of the pie crust. Carefully pour mixture over chips, and bake at 325º for about one hour. Cool it for awhile to let the texture and flavors get all nice and settled, then serve slightly warm with vanilla ice cream.

For the crust I used pâte sucrée. It's similar to the pâte brisée I like to play with (both shown below,) but officially sweet. It's very important not to overprocess the flour or butter, and in this instance, you must go ahead and use cold, unsalted butter, and the cake flour rather than all-purpose. You can buy a little box of it in any grocery baking section. Or you can use any other crust you like, of course. 

You might wish to use a pâte sablée, which will more closely resemble the crust used in that secret recipe, and is a little easier to manage, actually. The butter is completely blended in, making the crust cookie-like, instead of only cut in, as is done for the more flaky crusts. So it is easier to roll out, but mind you don't overwork it. 

3. basic pie crust instructions 

Pâte Brisée

Dough:*
2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour 
1 tsp salt
1 stick cold butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes 

1 large egg
1/3 cup ice water
1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar

Make Dough: Sift flour with salt into a large bowl and blend in butter with your fingertips or a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal with some (roughly pea-size) butter lumps. Beat together egg, water, and vinegar in a small bowl with a fork. Add to flour mixture, stirring with fork until just incorporated. (Mixture will look shaggy.) Turn out mixture onto a lightly floured surface and gather together, then knead gently with heel of your hand once or twice, just enough to bring dough together. Form dough into two flat rectangles and chill them, each wrapped in plastic wrap, at least 1 hour. Dough can be chilled up to 6 hours total.

Pâte Sucrée 

2 1/3 cups cake or pastry flour 

1/3 cup sugar 

1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter, chilled, cut into small pieces 

2 egg yolks 

1 or 2 tablespoons heavy cream

In a food processor fitted with the steel blade, combine the flour and sugar. Add the butter and process until the texture resembles fine meal.

In a small bowl, whisk together the yolks and 1 tablespoon of the cream. Scrape into the machine and process until a ball begins to form, using the additional tablespoon of cream, if necessary. Remove the dough from the machine, and on a lightly floured surface, press down into a circle. (I divided it in half first.)

Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Makes two 9 inch crusts.