I’m so excited about today’s guest, Erica O’Rourke and not just because she makes a mean pie crust. She lives outside Chicago with her family, including two very bad cats. She is the winner of the prestigious Romance Writers of America Golden Heart award for Best Young Adult Manuscript. The first novel of her YA paranormal trilogy, TORN, is available now. To find out more about Erica, you can visit her blog at ericaorourke.typepad.com, or follow her on twitter: @erica_orourke.
Take it away, Erica!
When I set out to write Torn, I knew that I wanted Mo’s mom to own a diner. It made sense for a number of reasons – I wanted Mo to work in her family’s business, and I wanted them to be solidly working class, despite the fact that Mo attends an exclusive private school. Also, if there is a more demeaning job for a high school girl than serving patty melts to your classmates while wearing a hideous apron and kerchief, and then getting crappy tips, I can’t imagine it. But the other reason Mo works at The Slice is Right is because if I know one thing about baked goods, it is pie.
My sister and I grew up helping my mom bake pies for every family occasion. Even now, it is assumed that she will make the Thanksgiving pies, regardless of whose house dinner is at. Apple, cherry, pumpkin. But when we were growing up, pies were a year-round affair. My favorite was rhubarb pie – mouth-puckeringly tart filling contrasting with the short crust. Even now, I am a sucker for a piece of rhubarb pie, though it’s increasingly hard to find. Most of the time you can find strawberry-rhubarb, but that is not the same thing at all, and frankly, an abomination in the sight of right-thinking folks everywhere.
So, I was raised to make pie crust from scratch. People are always amazed by this. “But it is so much easier to buy the premade ones at the store,” they tell me. But I have wrestled those things into pie tins, and they routinely break along the fold lines. Furthermore, store-bought crusts taste the same as the cardboard boxes they come in. It takes maybe twenty minutes, tops, to make a crust from scratch. You can roll it out to fit your preferred dish exactly, it’s easy to mend if it should rip, it tastes like actual food, and it makes people fall in love with you. (I’m not saying my husband proposed because I make pie crust from scratch. But it certainly didn’t hurt.) It’s one of those things that looks like it requires a tremendous amount of effort, so people are thoroughly impressed and deeply touched. But you and I know the truth. It’s easy-peasy.
My recipe is adapted from the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook – you know, the one with the red and white gingham cover that your mom has above the stove? That’s it. I always make the pastry for a double-crust pie, even if I don’t need both crusts. Better to have too much than too little. I’ve also adapted it a bit – I use unsalted butter instead of shortening, because I always have some on hand, and also because I know where butter comes from. The same cannot be said of shortening.
The trick to a really flaky pie crust is to use ice cold water – and by ice cold, I mean that you throw a bunch of ice cubes in a bowl of cold water, and scoop out tablespoons as needed. I don’t know why it works – I leave such things to Alton Brown – but it is essential.
My last advice would be to use one of those wire pastry blenders, or in a pinch, two knives. You CAN use a food processor, but it’s terribly easy to overprocess the dough into something tough and tasteless. Better to go slowly, by hand, for the first few pies.
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
2/3 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
6-7 tablespoons of ICE COLD water
Filling of your choice (see notes, below)
1. Stir together flour and salt. Add butter, using pastry blender to combine until butter is pea sized.
2. Sprinkle one tablespoon of water over mixture, blend. Continue adding water, one tablespoon at a time, until moistened dough just holds together.
3. Divide dough in half, form each into a ball. On a lightly floured surface, flatten one dough ball. Roll out to desired size. If dough sticks to rolling pin, flour the pin, too. (Don’t roll it out too thick, or it’s a pain to transfer.)
4. Transfer dough to pie pan by wrapping it around rolling pin, then unrolling it directly over pie pan. Put in the fridge until you’re ready to fill the crust.
5. Roll out second crust, transfer to top of filled pie pan. Cut slits in top to allow steam to escape.
6. Trim the edges, then fold top and bottom edges under to form a neat line. Pinch edges together. (I would tell you how to make this look pretty, but it’s hard to describe. Essentially, you pinch your thumb and forefinger together so they make a V, and place them on the outside edge of the crust. Then you place your other thumb on the inside edge of the crust, and smush it into the V. Really, as long as the edges get smushed together somehow, all the way around the pie, it’s okay. And no one has ever complained about homemade pie crust, in my experience, even if it looks a little wonky.)
7. Take the extra bits you’ve trimmed off, roll them flat, and sprinkle liberally with cinnamon and sugar. Then cut them into long, thin triangles and roll them up with the pointy part last. Bake them with the pie (you’ll need to pull them out a little early.) These are your reward for making a crust from scratch, and there’s no need to share if you don’t want to.
8. Bake your pie at 375 until…well…it’s done. Time will vary depending on your filling, but start checking at about 50 minutes. If the edges are getting too brown, cover them with foil.
A note about filling:
I don’t believe in using premade fillings. They are gloppy and grody and not found in nature, even if they do contain fruit. Far tastier is to take the fruit of your choice, add a spoonful of flour and some sugar to taste, and a dash of lemon juice. Let it sit for 20 minutes or so. Make the filling before you start the crust, and by the time you roll out the dough, it’s ready. If you want to make something fancy, like pecan or lemon meringue, of course, consult a cookbook.
A note about apple pie:
I have STRONG FEELINGS about apple pie. Namely, that one should use tart apples meant for baking, because mushy apple pie is a crime on par with high treason. We have never gone wrong with Jonagold or Granny Smith at my house, and I’ve heard that Galas are good, too. When you make your filling, as described above, throw in a little cinnamon. The other thing I do is take an extra-fine grater and grate some cheddar cheese into the pie crust before I add the water. It adds a nice savory touch to the crust without being overtly cheesy. I can’t give you a specific amount, sadly, as I tend to eyeball it. You want the dough to be flecked with cheese. You do NOT want the dough to resemble a pizza.
Erica is including a giveaway – one commenter will receive an autographed copy of Torn, along with a swag pack – bookmarks, character trading cards, and a full set of postcards. They also include a secret code that will take the reader to a hidden scene on my webpage. Because of the wonkiness of the posts showing up, y’all have until Tuesday night to comment.