I have found that in the food processor age, pie baking can be faster and easier than it was in the good ole days. And since homemade pies are rare, they're impressive.
PHOTOGRAPH: JOHN PARISH; FOOD STYLIST: TRISH DAHL
How to prepare and cook pies. When your son asks, "What's a rolling pin?" it's time to put him to work using one.
Not long ago I sent my mother a card showing a '50s photo
of a June Cleaver look-alike rolling out a pie crust. The
inside caption read, " I don't know what she's doing
either. Must be some kind of ancient household ritual."
Which brings me to why I'm writing about pie-making in the
fast-paced '90s. Besides the fact that my editor and I both
love pies, the truth is that I fear for the ancient
household ritual of how to prepare and cook pies. As soon as the year 2000, rolling pins
could become artifacts. (Just the other day in an antique
store I heard a teenage girl ask her mother the purpose of
this artifact.) At this very moment my teenage son is
rolling out a pie crust and muttering words that aren't
allowed in this house. All because I don't want homemade
pies to be nothing more than a happy memory because the art
died out with his generation of the Vassal-Bokram clan. I
don't think my two sisters could make a pie to save their
lives. (Bye, bye Miss American Pie) I don't want future
generations to think that pies are born in bakeries.
When I was first married, I used to make lots of pies. I
pursued my pie-baking hobby after buying a vintage rolling
pin at a flea market. I found it relaxing, rolling out the
dough and seeing if I could make it resemble a circle.
(I've often thought I could make millions by inventing a
square pie pan.) Back then I was big on whole grains,
natural sweeteners, and tons of butter. For '90s pies, I've
had to cut back on fat and time since I'm not hanging
around the stove all day. For those reasons, I rarely make
a double-crusted pie. I usually resort to quick-bake,
no-bake, or an occasional store-bought pie shell. But I
have found that in the food processor age, pie baking can
be faster and easier than it was in the good ole days. And
since homemade pies are rare, they're impressive. (Wow,
Herbie, did you see that fabulous round thing that Phyllis
made?) So dig out that rolling pin and relax a little.
Don't forget, you're leaving a legacy.
Here are some easy, basic pie crusts.
Food Processor Whole Wheat Pie Crust*
Makes one 9-inch crust
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour (or unbleached white flour if pastry flour is unavailable)
1/2 cup unbleached white flour
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, well chilled
3 tablespoons soy or safflower margarine, frozen
pinch of salt
2-3 tablespoons cold water
Put all the ingredients in a food processor except the
water. Pulse the dough about 4 or 5 times until there are
pea-sized butter balls. Drizzle a little water and pulse
until it starts to clump together a bit, adding more water
if necessary. Don't over mix; the dough should have little
bits of butter in it. Empty the dough onto a large sheet of
wax paper and shape it into a ball. Flatten the ball into a
half-inch circle and wrap it in plastic wrap. Freeze for 10
minutes if you're going to roll it out immediately.
Otherwise, the dough can be refrigerated for up to a week
or frozen for up to two months.
*For a non-dairy, vegan crust, replace soy margarine for
Processed by Hand Pie Crust (For an upper body workout.)
Have a large, shallow mixing bowl and a pastry blender
handy. (A pastry blender is a hand-held utensil with
whisk-like wires for mixing. A strong fork will also work
in a pinch.) The butter and margarine don't need to be as
cold since there's no danger of over-processing by hand.
Mash the butter and margarine into the flour with the
pastry blender until there are pea-sized balls of dough.
Add just enough water to get the dough to stick together.
Empty out on wax paper and work the dough just until it's
blended. Roll into a ball and proceed as above.
Roll, Roll, Roll Your Pie Dough
Here's the part that scares some people but it's really
quite easy; just regress a bit and pretend it's Play-doh.
Here we go:
• Place the flattened dough circle on a large piece of
wax paper with another piece covering the top. Roll and
press the rolling pin from the center of the dough away
from you. Then turn the waxed paper an inch or so clockwise
and roll again. Keep it up until you are all the way
• You now have a weird looking circle. Don't panic.
Peel off the waxed paper and put it back on the dough. Flip
over, peel off the other piece, and put it back on. (The
waxed paper gets crumpled, and this will fix it.) Repeat
the rolling ritual until the circle is one inch bigger than
the inverted pie pan.
• Keep cutting off any pieces of dough that deviate
from the circle and use them to patch up the bare spots.
Eventually you'll end up with enough of a circle to call it
a pie. Try not to work the dough to death because that will
toughen it. Peel off the top waxed paper and invert the
dough onto the pie pan, centering it before peeling off the
other waxed paper.
• Pat the dough into the pan. Turn the ragged edges
under so that they're even with the rim of the pan. Here's
the fun part, crimping the edging. There are a number of
ways to do it; here's my method. Press your left index
finger against the inside rim of the pie while your right
thumb is pressing the outer rim on an angle. Keep moving
the pan counterclockwise until the pie is finished.
A Partially Baked and Baked Crust
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Lay a piece of foil inside
the crust and covering the rim. Press down lightly so the
foil is pressing against the dough. Some cooks weigh the
foil down with uncooked beans, but I don't usually bother
with it. If the crust puffs up anywhere, just press it down
or deflate it by poking a hole with a fork. For a partially
baked crust, bake for 7-8 minutes. The crust will be puffy
and starting to harden. Remove and cool a few minutes
before adding the filling. Bake according to directions.
For a baked crust, do all the above and remove the foil
(beans) after 7-8 minutes. Stab the bottom of the crust a
few times with a fork and bake for another 5 minutes or so
until the crust is lightly browned. Remove and cool on a
rack. Add the filling and refrigerate according to
Graham Cracker Crust
Why use a store-bought graham cracker crust when this is so
easy and tastes so much better? I use a natural graham
cracker such as "Hain" or "Frookie."
1 cup crushed graham crackers (about 6 whole crackers)
2 tablespoons brown sugar, packed
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons melted butter
Break up the crackers into small pieces. Place in a food
processor and pulse until there are fine crumbs, not
powder. (Or . . .Put the crackers in a large, zip-lock
freezer bag and crush with a rolling pin.) Add the rest of
the ingredients and pulse 2-3 times just until blended.
Using a 9-inch pie pan or springform pan, pat the crust
around the sides up to the rim, making a flat edge with
your fingers. Make sure the edge isn't too thin, or it will
burn easily. Evenly pat down the bottom of the crust. Bake
for 20-25 minutes at 325 degrees Fahrenheit until it starts to brown.
The crust will still be a little crumbly. Add filling and
bake, or cool first before adding the filling for a
Or . . .Chocolate Graham Cracker Crust.
Some pies taste better with a chocolate crust. Just use
chocolate graham crackers and omit the cinnamon.
Key Lime Pie Recipe
Graham cracker crust in a 9-inch springform pan, baked (see
4 egg yolks
2/3 cup fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon grated lime rind
1 (14-ounce) can low-fat sweetened condensed milk
1 pint whipping cream
2 tablespoons sugar or to taste
I teaspoon vanilla
Bake crust and let cool on a rack while you prepare the
filling. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a mixing bowl, whisk
the yolks until creamy. Whisk in the rest of the
ingredients. Pour into the crust and bake for 30 minutes
until the center of the pie is as firm as the exterior.
(Touch with your finger.) Let cool for one hour at room
temperature. Then refrigerate until serving. Just before
serving, whip the cream and spread a thin layer over the
pie. Decorate each piece with a lime slice or lime zest.
It's best eaten the same day since, after a day or so, the
crust will soften.
Vegan Apple Cider Pie Recipe
It's up to you if you want to peel the apples. I don't like
to take the time and waste the fiber so I choose
thin-skinned apples. (A store-bought Granny Smith has a
thick, tough skin.) Usually I use whatever apples are left
out in my root cellar such as Pippin, Fuji, Gala, Empire,
Prepare one 9-inch whole wheat pie crust and partially
bake. (See above.) Leave the oven temperature set at
425 degrees Fahrenheit.
10 medium-sized firm apples
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/2 cup apple cider (I use unfiltered cider.)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon arrowroot flour
Cut the apples in quarters, cut out the seeds, and slice
across into quarter-inch slices. Put in a large, nonstick
skillet with the maple syrup, 1/4 cup of the cider,
cinnamon, and nutmeg. Cover and cook on medium heat for 10
minutes, stirring every few minutes. Meanwhile, in a small
bowl, whisk the arrowroot flour into the remaining 1/4 cup
cider. Add to the apples and cook on medium-high heat
uncovered until the juice bubbles and thickens. Remove from
heat and let cool for a few minutes before evenly spooning
the filling into the pie shell.
1/3 cup each: brown sugar, whole wheat pastry flour,
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons soy margarine or butter, well chilled
Cut the margarine or butter into small cubes. In a food
processor, pulse the sugar and flour. Add the rest of the
ingredients and pulse until small pebbles are formed (or
use a hand pastry blender). Remove and press evenly onto
the pie. Put your hand over the edge of the crust as you
get near the edges so the topping stays on the pie. Place
the pie in the center of the oven with a piece of foil on
the bottom shelf to catch drips. Reduce oven temperature
from 425 degrees Fahrenheit to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake for 40-45 minutes until
browned. Cool at least one hour on a rack before slicing so
the juices can solidify.
Whiskey Sweet Potato Pie Recipe
The whiskey really makes this pie, but you can make it
without the booze. This was a good way to use up some
liquor that was left at our house.
Prepare one 9-inch whole wheat pie crust and partially
bake. (See above.)
3 cups sweet potatoes; cooked, peeled, and mashed
1/4 cup real maple syrup (or honey is OK)
1/3 cup brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon allspice
2 tablespoons Scotch whiskey
Start cooking the sweet potatoes while you prepare the
crust. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the 3 cups mashed
sweet potatoes in a blender when they've cooled. Add the
rest of the ingredients and blend until smooth. Pour into
the pie crust and place in the center of the oven. Bake
50-55 minutes until an inserted knife in the pie's center
comes out almost clean. Cool for at least one hour on a
rack before slicing. Place a spoonful of whipped cream on
each slice if you wish. Refrigerate any leftovers.
Mocha Ice Cream Pie Recipe
This is the world's easiest pie so have the kids help you
on this one. You can use whatever ice cream flavor you
prefer so go ahead and experiment.
1 chocolate graham cracker crust (above)
2 pints coffee, espresso, or cappuccino frozen yogurt or low fat ice cream
1/4 cup chocolate chips (I use barley malt sweetened.)
2-3 tablespoons milk or soy milk
I prefer a 9-inch springform pan for this recipe because
it's easier to serve, but you can use a pie pan if you
like. Press the chocolate graham cracker mixture into the
bottom of the springform pan and about one inch up the
sides. Bake according to the above directions and cool
thoroughly. If the ice cream is rock-hard, let it sit out
for 10 minutes or so until soft enough to handle.
In the meantime, make the drizzle by melting the chocolate
chips in a small sauce pan on low heat. Whisk in the milk
until the chocolate is thin enough to drizzle off a spoon
and remove from heat. Spoon the ice cream carefully into
the crust until you've emptied the cartons. Smooth out the
ice cream with a spoon or spatula. Heat up the drizzle
topping again. Coat a teaspoon with chocolate and drizzle
zigzag lines across the whole pie until it's covered. (If
you put too much chocolate on the spoon it'll leave
chocolate puddles instead of lines.) Freeze an hour or two
until the pie is hardened. Let it sit out a few minutes
Yogurt or "lite" sour cream.
The Great Pie Crust Dilemma
When it comes to pie crust, we have one little
problem—the fat. I'm not even trying to make fat-free
pies. I'll settle for less fat and easy on the sugar. Now
the dilemma: which fat should I use? As I roam the Midwest
in search of the perfect pie (and I came close at a diner
in northern Wisconsin), the pie experts tell me that lard
makes the best crust. No argument there, but I'm not crazy
about using a highly saturated animal fat in my food. (Only
tropical oils and butter beat lard when it comes to the
saturated fat percentage.) We've read about how evil
saturated fat is raising the bad LDL cholesterol in our
blood. Butter is a saturated fat that makes a tough crust.
So we'll substitute margarine, right? That depends.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest is trying to
confuse us by reporting that trans fatty acids (margarine)
are no better than butter. Margarine contains large amounts
of chemically altered (partially hydrogenated) vegetable
oils. Adding hydrogen atoms to liquid oils to make them
more solid creates trans fatty acids. Altering the fat
causes it to act like it's saturated fat in the
bloodstream, increasing our risk of heart disease.
So now what; should we fling pies at each other like "The
Three Stooges"? While that may be a healthy (but messy)
solution, it's not likely that we'll overdose on trans
fatty acids because we make an occasional pie. (Just as
long as we don't eat the entire pie ourselves.) I like to
use a little butter in the crust for flavor, and the rest
of the fat is margarine. If you don't mind using animal
fat, use lard. Life is for living, pies are for pleasure.