Wednesday, March 16, 2011

It's All in the Dough

My Mom can always tell when I've been near a pie. The crust might be slightly lopped off in some places, hastily reconstructed in others. There's no way around it, I love pie crust. I'd like to say that I love pie, the whole thing, but the sweet just gets to me so half the time I'll end up scraping out most of the filling and just eat the crust. One of the few and most favorite desserts of mine was just leftover pie dough after the pie was made, cut into strips with some butter spread over and then a little sugar and cinnamon sprinkled on top. The cinnamon toast of pie dough, if you will.

Baking has always been my greatest challenge. I've always been very fly by the seat of your pants when it comes to cooking (add a pinch of oregano here, let's try some aji with that there) and baking is just not conducive for that attitude, which has gotten me into trouble... on more than one occasion. I've only recently purchased dry measuring cups, if you can believe it I've been using my wet Oxo measuring cup (a fantastic purchase btw) anytime I needed to bake. For me it's just soooo tediousss to follow directions word for word and measure by measure but I've recognized this weakness and tried to improve. This is where my bread baking resolution stemmed from and why I'm always the first to sign up for bake sales. Forget the charity, this is great practice.
My rustic (read interesting) tempeh and eggplant potpies. The dough got me though this tempeh experience
But there is one baking recipe that I don't mind making, and from start to finish I know with absolute certainty that the end result will be a perfectly flaky, light, and flavorful pie dough. That's it, just pie dough. Your basic flour, shortening, salt and water combination (though I have been known to half and half that shortening with some butter for more depth, though that is definitely not vegan friendly for me right now). Sounds simple enough but it's the forming of everything that makes it into an art. Combining the fat and the flour to form the perfect pea sizes, or even smaller, before adding the water, putting in enough salt so that the dough doesn't fall flat but not too much to make it seem like you're eating a salty cracker, and just enough water to bring it all together, but not too much that it weights down the dough and it doesn't flake. But this I can do and do well.
I'd like to think the ability to create the perfect pie dough is something in my blood passed down from the women in my family going back generations, making the perfect pie dough through the years. My Mom, of course, makes an amazing dough and there's something about the way she does it, just enough flour, salt, fat and water with no double checking, no reviewing the recipe. She learned from her step-Grandmother, who told her that the fat and flour should be the texture of cornmeal, that the water should just barely bind it all together, that your hands should hardly touch the dough lest the oils in your fingers affect the consistency. I can just imagine my Mom, watching, questioning, and eventually emulating. It's much like my own memories with my Grandmother, watching her make peach cobblers (and I'd like to think they were just for me when I was young) which were my favorite. The best part about it for me was the flaky wonderful dough on top, picking up just a hint of the peach. And though she wasn't my blood Grandmother (my Mom's step-mother) I think I have her to thank, along with my Mom, for my everlasting love of pie dough. And my step-Grandmother's mother for instilling it in my Mom as well, because it's not about blood all the time, sometimes it's just about love.

Pie Dough
2 1/4 c. flour
3/4 tsp. salt
2/3 c. shortening (can make that 1/3 and 1/3 shortening and butter)
8-10 Tsp ice cold water

1. Combine flour and salt. Add pieces of fat, as cold as possible and with a fork or a dough mixer combine until it has the consistency of small peas, or even better, cornmeal. Add in the water, 1 Tbl at a time and barely mix to combine.

2. When the water just barely binds the dough together, using either wax papaer or saran wrap, wrap it up into one ball. You can chill this if the dough has warmed (you always want the fat to be on the cold side). When ready to use transfer using wax paper or saran wrap and dust both the dough and the rolling pin flour and roll out to the desired shape and size.


  1. I love this! I too have the gift of making and eating pie dough! :)

  2. Thank you! Good pie dough is so delicious...



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