Remember last week, when I got all up on my high horse about how everyone was making a mess of their homemade burgers and had to enforce a necessary code of ethics to limit screw-uppery when it came to such a majestic dish?
That was nothing compared to the rules I’m about to lay down regarding one of the most legitimately fearsome and laden-with-potential-disaster dishes known to humanity: PIE.
In this specific case, cherry pie, which is made even more challenging as a dish because not only is pie-making already a finessed skill to begin with, but cherry pie is something that many people have (unfairly) assigned a negative connotation to. A connotation forged from too many goopy, cloyingly sweet, unnaturally red imitators of cherry pie. But fear not, for neither of today’s blog contenders can even stand alongside those duplicitous cherry pie doppelgangers of the past. These pies hold their little crusts high and declare to the world that cherry pie could very well be the best pie.
At least they will if you follow a few crucial tenets of pie-making…
1. Everything must be cold AF.
It is truly one of the cruelest jokes that prime pie season lands smack dab in the middle of unbearably-hot-and-sticky season. Heat is the enemy to pie right up until the moment that the pie is actually getting baked. And ensuring a cold environment on a hot day is a constant race against time. Perhaps one of the most helpful things you can do for yourself when pie-making during a heat wave is to keep returning things to the fridge/freezer periodically to firm up and regain some of the chill that inevitably gets lost from warm hands and warm surfaces. No ingredient/item is as crucial to keep cold as the butter itself. Making pie with butter that is anything less than extremely cold (yet not frozen!) is a travesty that must be stopped. Remember that a pie with no chill literally has NO CHILL.
2. Dough is a delicate flower.
So don’t read too much into words like “knead” when it comes it pie. In the case of pie crust, “knead” really means “touch this as little as possible while still allowing it to come together into something malleable”. Same thing goes for rolling. Roll gently and with even pressure across all areas. Turn the dough by ¼ turn constantly to avoid over-working particular zones.
3. Pie needs to cook for way longer than you think.
This might mean that the edges get golden-brown long before the filling and base are cooked. In this case, it is imperative that you allow the necessary cooking time while also being a good advocate for the crust and its right to shade. Aluminum foil is your friend and there’s nothing wrong with tenting off the edges (or indeed entire top of the pie) in order to avoid having a soggy-bottomed pie with a blackened crust.
4. Don’t get hung up on semantics.
Every pie recipe since time immemorial has described the pre-moistened texture of pie dough as resembling “small peas”. Meaning that when you cut in your butter, you are looking to create pieces this size. I don’t know about you, but in my mind peas are already small and to further stipulate “small” peas seems like an impossible standard to meet. I prefer to think of achieving either a very coarse cornmeal, or butter chunks the size of small beans. Beans are a much more standard-sized item compared peas, which I have grown before and found can range from the size of a pen tip to the size of a quarter. Whatever unit you end up identifying with, don’t get too hung up on semantics or uniformity. Slightly bigger is always better than slightly smaller when it comes to butter cutting.
5. Keep your cool.
A fresh-from-the-oven pie is to be seen and not touched. A hot pie slices messily and unsatisfyingly. The best slices come from a pie that has cooled long enough to gel but not long enough for every last bit of warmth to have evaporated. I find 3 hours is usually good, but it depends on how juicy your fruit was to begin with. Juicier pies tend to benefit from longer setting periods.
6. Your pie crust is no yogi – don’t let it stretch, it’ll just do itself an injury.
When fitting dough to your pie plate, your mantra should be the word “slump”. Everything about the dough should slump. It should slump into the pie dish with no tautness anywhere. The crust should just lazily slump over the edge of the dish, without stretching to make it past the rim. Stretching your pie dough will simply result in your crust shrinking, possibly to the point where it sinks right to the level of the filling. If you find that your dough has not been rolled widely enough to cover your dish, it is better to gently roll more dough and carefully patch it on to the spots that were left a bit bare.
Now there’s just one more thing to clear up…
Do you fancy sour…?