Fall Baking & The Best Pie Crust

 Monday, October 1, 2012

For me, the ultimate baking season is Fall. I know a lot of people are awed by summer's bounty of fruits, and while I love fruit, I think most of them stand alone better than they do incorporated into a dessert. Fall fruits and flavors, however, beg to be made into a crisp, a cobbler, or pie. And that's just three of the very many options. There's also something about the cool Autumn air that makes me crave dessert. By December every year, I suffer from apple fatigue, but for the next couple of months, I'll be keeping my refrigerator stocked with cider and happily be churning out pumpkin cakes, apple crisp, and pear sorbet.

In order to lure me home a few days ago, my mom bought some different apple varieties and invited me up to bake something, have my laundry done, and eat some home-cooked food. Having subsisted on candy bars and accumulated a small mountain of laundry over the past week, I gladly took up the offer. When I got home, I found three different types of apples, including one I've never tried before, Calville Blanc d'Hiver, a French type of apples similar to a Granny Smith. There were also Empire (red, crunchy and sweet) and Honeycrisp (one of my favorites to eat). When I make apple pies or tarts, I like to use two to three different types of apples to give it a more depth and roundness of flavors. If you're stuck with the typical grocery store selection of apples, you can't go wrong with Granny Smiths, a solid choice for baking due to their firmness and tartness, and something sweeter like a Gala or Pink Lady.

I've been testing out fall menu items at the restaurant, but this was my first time this season baking at home, and I wanted to keep it simple to really showcase the flavors of the apples. I decided on a caramel apple tart. I threw together some pie dough, put it in the refrigerator to rest, and got to work peeling and cutting apples. Having a mandoline made slicing all the apples for the top of the tart super fast, and the rest of the apples I just cut into a small/medium dice. I made a quick caramel sauce (any recipe would work here) and tossed the diced apples into it. Once the dough chilled for about an hour, I rolled it out, lined my tart pan and placed it in the freezer to rest (chilling the dough after handling it allows for a more tender finished product). After about 20 minutes, I pulled it out, docked the dough, and blind baked it until it was a light golden color. Then I filled it with the caramel apples, and carefully layered the apple slices on top. The tart went back in the oven to finish baking until the crust was golden. Pretty simple, but really delicious.

The key to these simple tarts and pies is a really awesome pie crust. I don't know what it is about this dough, but it's so easy to end up with a dry, flavorless, or tough crust. Over the years, I've worked out what I think is the ultimate recipe and tricks to keep your crust tender, flaky, and full of flavor. The first key is to work with cold ingredients. Your butter, shortening and water should all be ice cold (but not frozen). You also don't want to handle the dough too much - it should come together quickly. I use a food processor, but you could also use a KitchenAid or do it by hand. And like I said earlier, you want to give the dough plenty of time to chill to relax the glutens (here comes my inner baking nerd...) that develop from mixing. So without further ado, here is my favorite recipe for pie crust.

Pie Crust
Makes enough for a double crust pie

2 1/2 c (11.25 oz) all purpose flour
1 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
3/4 c (6 oz) butter, cold, cut into pieces
4 Tbsp Crisco, cold
6-8 Tbsp ice water
  • Blend butter and shortening into the dry ingredients using a food processor, KitchenAid, or pastry blender until butter pieces are the size of a pea.
  • Add the water and mix just until dough comes together.
  • Wrap dough tightly in plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour.


Post a Comment