I am not a fan of pies. I thought I was, and was super excited when we first moved to Chicago and saw that there was a diner chain dedicated to pies, called Bakers Square. Blechh! (It might be that I’m not a fan of pies to begin with, or that this place has turned me off of pies, but Zach didn’t seem enthused about pies after we ate there that one time either.) In general, I find pie crust dry, bland, and boring. The fillings are either too sweet or have a weird viscous texture that just wiggles in your mouth. Apples and other fruits are either too soft or undercooked. I’m not into the crisscross opposites in food that people seem to drool over, like sweet and salty or à la mode, so adding ice cream to pie still didn’t win me over. Maybe I just haven’t had a GOOD pie yet.
Pie is a staple desert in the US and with the abundance of stone fruits, squashes, and nuts in the late fall/early winter and the many holiday gatherings, I’m bound to run into pie this season. Every year I try different pie recipes to maybe convince myself that pie isn’t so bad, and every year I’m disappointed again. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some flakey puff pastry (especially wrapped around mini weenies) and I can tolerate tarts if the moisture from the filling has made it soft and cookie-like after a few days in the fridge. I’m just not a fan of your normal butter and flour pie crust.
In my quest to make myself like pie, I specifically experimented with a few crust recipes through out this year (I had determined the main reason why I don’t like pie is the boring crust). I tried the ever trusty Martha Stewart, flawless Julia Child, a few recipes from highly tested blogs, and even the one from the back of the Crisco package, but no dice. No matter if it’s made from butter, shortening, by hand, by machine, or freezing all the equipment and ingredients, it was still boring. UNTIL this past Thanksgiving, I discovered adding sour cream to the mixture and I may be starting to turn a new leaf.
I actually don’t think it’s only the sour cream that makes this pie crust better. I think the real magic is in the process of cutting the butter and mixing in the liquid by hand (instead of relying on the efficient food processor). You get to control the process and make your own judgements as to if it’s too wet or too dry. See, the favorable characteristics I’m looking for in pie crust resembles puff pastry, where it’s flakey and buttery, but still holds its own. To achieve this you need the butter to still be in little chunks in the not so wet dough so that when the butter melts in the oven, it creates layers with the flour mixture. The sour cream also helps to create this flakey texture and makes the crust tender and delicate.
I used this dough in individual pecan pies this past Turkey Day and I actually went back for a second serving (maybe 3rd and 4th within the weekend), so to me I think it was a success. I’m still a skeptic when it comes to pies, but I think I’m on the verge of conversion, or at least acceptance. Give it a try to see if you are a potential convert or if you’re a pie lover, what do you think? Happy pie baking this season!
For the Pie Dough (adapted from Smitten Kitchen Bourbon Peach Hand Pies)
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
16 tablespoons (2 sticks, 8 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into
1/2 cup sour cream
4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup ice water
makes 24 mini pies (about 3 inches round)
1. In a bowl, combine the flour and salt. Add the butter to the flour/salt and, using a pastry blender, cut it in until the mixture resembles coarse meal (I used my fingers to squish the butter into the flour at times). Make another well in the center. In a small bowl, whisk together the sour cream, lemon juice and water and add half of this mixture to the well. With your fingertips, mix in the liquid until large lumps form. Remove the large lumps and repeat with the liquid and flour-butter mixture (I tend to not use the whole amount of liquid as it seems to be too wet, so judge and make sure to add only the amount that you need so that the mixture barely comes together). I usually pour the dough onto plastic wrap and form it into a ball with the plastic wrap and then cover and refrigerate for 1 hour. If preparing ahead of time, the dough can be stored at this point for up to one month in the freezer.
2. Divide the refrigerated dough in half. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out one half of the dough to 1/8-inch thickness. Using a 4 inch-round biscuit cutter (or the lip of the individual pie cups), cut 12 circles out of the rolled dough (reroll scraps and cut again if necessary to get 12). Press the circles into the pie cups and place cups onto a rimmed baking sheet, and place in the refrigerator to chill for about 30 minutes. Repeat the rolling, cutting, and chilling process with the remaining half of dough.
This pecan pie filling is FULL of nuts and not too sweet, so it’s a winner in my book.
Pecan Pie Filling (from Martha Stewart)
4 large eggs
1 cup light corn syrup
1/3 cup packed light-brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups pecan halves
Preheat oven to 375 degrees
Make filling: In a large bowl, whisk eggs, corn syrup, sugars, butter, vanilla, and salt until smooth; mix in pecans. Pour mixture into chilled pie crusts (that are already on a rimmed baking sheet). Bake until filling jiggles slightly in the center when gently shaken, 40 to 50 minutes.
Best if eaten the day of baking, but can be stored up in air tight container for a few days.