The fondest memory I have from my childhood is one that I hold dear to my heart. Fitted with an over-sized apron and a smile from ear to ear, I was six years old on a stool rolling out pie pastry along side my Mom. While she made the large pies for the family, I rolled out pastry for miniature imitations formed to the confines of empty, metal chip-dip containers. I was very proud and happy to be a part of the preparation for such a wonderful treat.
Pies are a very traditional way to end a meal on certain holidays throughout the year, and especially at Christmas time. Pumpkin is always a favourite pie among many for the holidays, but numerous different pies can and will be made and enjoyed.
Pies are basically made up of a shell or crust, with a flavourful filling, and can be divided into two groups: baked or unbaked. Baked pies are obviously ones with raw pie shells that are filled and then baked. The unbaked category represents prebaked pie shells that are filled with a prepared filling and then chilled to set before serving.
The pie dough that makes up these shells can also be divided into two categories: flaky dough or mealy dough. Flaky dough is usually a pastry that has a mixture of shortening and butter that is “cut in” so that there are small chunks still left in the finished product. This aids in creating steam, which helps with the leavening process and thus creating the flaky texture. Mealy dough is one that is usually made with butter that is mixed in more thoroughly, and when baked has a texture much like tender shortbread. This is because the flour particles are more coated with fat and thus less gluten is formed.
Once you have decided on the type of crust to make, it is time to decide on the filling. Basically there are four choices: fruit, custard, cream, or chiffon. All fillings require the existence of a starch or stabilizer to ensure that it holds together when sliced. Fruit and cream fillings use starches, such as cornstarch for their stability, while custard filling use the stabilization of eggs coagulation for their firmness. Examples of custard pies are ones such as pumpkin, pecan, and key lime pies. Chiffon pies usually use a combination of starch or gelatin with whipped eggs whites folded in.
Baking is a science and recipes are the formulas. For the reasons listed here and for many others, it is important to follow these recipes exactly in order to have a successful outcome. Whatever pie or other dessert you choose to finish your holiday meals with, I wish you, your families, friends, and loved ones all the best in health and happiness this upcoming holiday season.
Dear Chef Dez:
I have heard and known that it is best to keep pie pastry as cold possible to prevent melting the butter and shortening pieces. What is the best way of doing this?
Douglas C., Langley
The best way of doing this is to first focus on your ingredients. Make sure you are using ice water instead of cold water, and frozen butter grated into the flour mixture is ideal. The frozen butter particles then are already the required size from the grater and will not suffer from the warm friction of too much mixing or “cutting” it in.
Secondly, try not to touch the dough with your hands, as the warmth from them will melt the butter. It is best to form the dough by folding it over consistently with a metal dough cutter (bench scraper).
Once the dough is formed, wrap and place it in the refrigerator until thoroughly chilled. Remove and proceed with rolling, ideally on a chilled marble surface. Once shaped, refrigerate for approximately 10 more minutes before baking.
I have even heard that using vodka from the freezer (instead of the ice water in your recipe) will produce a flakier crust.