That is the question. I brought some sour cherries home from the market and announced my intention to bake a pie. My daughter, who's home from college for a month, asked if she could help. "I need to learn how to make pies."
Funny. Because just a few months ago my mother was visiting. And when she came, I told her I wanted to make pies with her--so I could learn, for once and for all, how to make a decent pie. Fact is, it makes a lot more sense for me to have faith in my mother's pie-baking acumen than it does for my daughter to hope to learn at my knee!
For starters, my mother wrote the book. Well, one of them--and it's the one I use (you can see how much). How could you not, when you have the author on auto dial for advice?
If you're going to make a pie, it makes no sense not to make the crust. That's really the main point. Otherwise, make a cobbler or a crisp. Or eat a bowl of iced cherries (though probably not sour ones). I basically follow my mother's recipe, though these days I use lard and butter instead of shortening and butter. Her ratio, from Chez Panisse Desserts (makes enough for one double crust pie):
- 2 cups flour
- 3/8 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon sugar
- 5 tablespoons cold salted butter
- 6-1/2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
- 3 tablespoons lard
- 3 tablespoons plus (if needed) 1 teaspoon ice water
I tend to be shy about pressing together the dough, fearing a tough crust. That means my dough often falls apart. I've long since come to terms with the fact that any perfectionist pastry chef genes that run in my family skipped me. Just because I can't make a pretty pie to save my soul is no reason to go through life pieless. So I persevere. Because while I can't make a perfect looking pie, if you're going to err with pie dough, err on the side of flaky, falling apart crust rather than perfect looking-tough eating crust.
For my filling I combined one quart pitted sour cherries and 5 large apricots, sliced. To that I added 3 tablespoons flour, and 2/3 cup sugar. And a capful of kirsch. (Incidentally, David Lebovitz just wrote about using kirsch with summer fruits)
I piled the fruit into the chilled pie crust,
Topped it with a chilled pie crust lid, and waited for it to soften enough to crimp the edges together.
Here's where I put my non-perfectionist genes to work, crimping the edges together as best as I can, knowing that however it comes together, in the end, I'll have a cherry pie. The top gets brushed with an egg yolk/milk wash.
I don't think Grace will learn much from me about baking pies. If pressed, I'd co-op a local motto into pie-baking advice: Just do it! Don't wait for a special occasion. Make that crust. Don't worry if it's not pretty.
I'd rather advise her in an area closer to my heart: eating pie. If there's a pie in your midst, with a flaky crust, and plenty of fruit, drop everything. Except for a fork.