Making home-baked pastry has never been one of my stellar talents, so it was with some trepidation that I approached an entire book on the subject.
In “A Year Of Pies: A Seasonal Tour of Home Baked Pies” (Lark Publishing, $23.95, paperback) it wasn’t difficult to see that even a novice like me could in a pinch turn out a decent crust — because author Ashley English makes it so simple.
“The most important variable in having a flaky, buttery pastry crust is to always keep it cold while you are working with the dough,” says the author of several books who resides in Candler, N.C.
English says she even keeps her flour and butter in the freezer.
“And I don't pull it out until immediately before I start kneading and incorporating it as quickly as I can.”
Before she fills the pie crust, English chills it for at least an hour, then puts it in a very hot oven.
Asked her opinion on store-bought frozen pie crusts, she is diplomatic in her response but as a purist will still stick to homemade.
“Store-bought have their place if you are in a hurry and I would never cast aspersions on anyone who does buy them,” says English. “But the flavour of homemade cannot be matched plus most ready-made crusts are oil-based with processed shortening or canola oil.”
The book includes six essential pie crust recipes, crust troubleshooting tips, instructions for creating various decorative pie and tart crusts and ideas for selecting seasonal ingredients.
For example, she has recipes for a ginger-crisp crust, an almond shortbread crust and chocolate cookie crust to add variety to her collection.
One outstanding recipe for autumn is her Gingersnap Pumpkin Pie with Candied Pumpkin Seeds.
For winter, she has developed a decadent Chocolate, Coffee and Orange Marmalade Tart.
Fresh rhubarb stars in her springtime Lattice-Top Rhubarb, Lemon and Vanilla Pie.
Not content to treat her readers to dessert pies, English also offers savoury samples, such as her summertime Roasted Corn and Pepper Pie and Turkey Shepherd’s Pie — an ideal choice to use up leftovers from the Thanksgiving bird.
Follow English on her website at www.small-measure.blogspot.com
Here is her recipe for Basic Pie Dough (all-butter version) which she says is unrivalled for its flavour.
625 ml (2 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour
6 ml (1 1/4 tsp) sea salt
250 ml (1 cup or 2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
175 ml (3/4 cup) ice water
In a medium-to-large bowl, mix flour and salt together.
Using a pastry blender or 2 forks, incorporate butter until mixture resembles coarse meal.
Slowly drizzle in ice water. Stir with a large spoon until dough becomes a clump.
Transfer dough onto a floured work surface and, using your hands, fold it into itself until all the flour is incorporated into the fats. The dough should come together easily but should not feel overly sticky.
Divide dough in half, shape it into 2 balls and pat each ball into a 1-cm (1/2-inch) thick disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.
Proceed according to recipe instructions.
Makes enough dough for 1 double-crust pie.