Pie. Something everyone seems to love. They can be sweet or savory. Snack, main meal, or dessert. And, I have no doubt many of us have eaten pie for breakfast more than once. Especially during the holidays.
Pie in form or another has been around for millennia. The original pies had crusts that were several inches thick that were simply used as cooking vessels. The crusts weren’t actually eaten. Historians say that the roots of pie can be traced back to the Egyptians of the Neolithic Period, around 9500BCE. These early forms of pies were essentially free-form made with oat, wheat, rye, barley, and filled with honey baked over hot coals.
The first pies were called “coffins”, meaning basket or box. They were savory meat pies with tall, straight-sided sides with tops and bottoms. Open crust pies were known as “traps”. These were baked more like what we now know as a casserole and were made with meats and sauce. Again, the crust itself was the cooking vessel and was inedible. A tradition of these early pies was carried on by the Greeks. Historians believe that the Greeks actually originated pie pastry. The pies during this period were made by a flour-water paste wrapped around meat; this served to cook the meat and seal in the juices.
The Romans, sampling the delicacy, carried home recipes for making it (a prize of victory from a conquered Greece). The wealthy and educated Romans used various types of meat in every course of the meal, including the dessert course. According to historical records, oysters, mussels, lampreys, and other meats and fish were normal in Roman puddings. It is thought that the puddings were a lot like pies.
English women were baking pies long before the settlers came to America. Pie was an English specialty that was unrivaled in the rest of Europe. Two early examples of the English meat pies were shepherd’s pie and cottage pie. Shepherd’s pie was made with lamb and vegetables, and the cottage pie was made with beef and vegetable. Both are topped with potatoes.
The Pilgrims brought their favorite family pie recipes with them to America. The colonist and their pies adapted simultaneously to the ingredients and techniques available to them in the New World. At first, they baked pie with berries and fruits pointed out to them by the Native Americans. Colonial women used round pans literally to cut corners and stretch the ingredients (for the same reason they baked shallow pies).
Pioneer women often served pies with every meal, thus firmly cementing this pastry into a unique form of American culture. With food at the heart of gatherings and celebrations, pie quickly moved to the forefront of contests at county fairs, picnics, and other social events. As settlers moved westward, American regional pies developed. Pies are continually being adapted to changing conditions and ingredients.
(Some historical information from http://whatscookingamerica.net/History/PieHistory.htm)
A few notes on making pie crust: Pie crusts are fundamentally easy to make. However, they are also one of the most seemingly complicated recipes to master. There are so many things that could keep you from pie crust success: overworking the dough, a crust that shrinks when baked, a crust that isn’t flaky.
Pie dough, for the most part, if your treat it right, is quite forgiving. If it tears, it’s easily patched. You can trim it and add to places that don’t have enough dough (especially for the rim of the crust). If the crust gets soft while you roll it, you can wrap it and place it back in the refrigerator to rest. It’s easily frozen.
There are just a few rules to follow when starting a crust:
1. Make sure the fat you use (lard, shortening, butter) is cold. The reason for this is that the fat doesn’t melt when you work it into the dry ingredients.
2. Use ice water. This will also keep the fat from melting. However, don’t use too much because your dough can become tough. Too little, the dough won’t hold together.
3. Don’t overwork the dough. If you overwork the dough, you’ll develop the gluten (fine for bread, not for pastry).
4. Give the dough adequate rest time. This allows the gluten proteins to rest and the moisture to distribute evenly in the dough.
5. When you make the dough, you want to see bits of fat and keep it as cold as possible until you put in the oven. As the crust bakes, the fat melts and creates steam. The steam in the dough is what creates the flaky crust.
There will be more tips as you go through the recipe.
Mixed Berry Pie with Lattice Crust
2 2/3 c. (12 oz.) all purpose flour (the best flour for pie crusts)
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 lb. ( 2 sticks) plus 2 tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into approximately 1/2″ pieces
5 – 8 tbsp. ice water, as needed
7 c. fresh washed berries (you can use any mix of berries you like, or just one berry)
3 bags frozen mixed berries (ditto.)
3 tbsp. cornstarch
3 tbsp. tapioca
6 tbsp. tapioca flour
1 1/4 c. sugar
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4″ pieces
1 egg yolk mixed with 1 tbsp. water
1. Make the crust: If you are making the crust by hand, mix together the flour, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl
Weighing the flour.
Add the butter and press it between your fingers into the flour. You want to have little disks of butter. Add in just enough ice water (about 5 tablespoons to start) and carefully toss the ingredients together. You want the dough to just come together when you press it in your hand. If the dough is dry, add more water, a tablespoon at a time, until the dough holds together.
If you’re using a food processor (as I did for this recipe), pulse together the dry ingredients:
Dry ingredients pulsed together
Add the butter:
Butter ready to be incorporated into the flour
Do 2 or 3 quick pulses to break down the pieces of butter and begin incorporating it into the dry ingredients:
Butter & Flour after pulsing
You want to have pieces of butter visible. This is what helps make the crust flaky:
The pieces of butter in the flour.
Add 5 tablespoons of the water and do a few more quick pulses. Add more water if needed, 1 tablespoon at a time. Again, you just want the mixture to come together:
After the water has been added
The dough just coming together after being squeezed in my hand
2. Separate the dough into two equal pieces. I like to weigh the dough so I’ll get the disks as even as possible:
Weighing the dough
Press the dough into disk shapes and wrap them tightly in plastic:
The dough ready for the refrigerator. Notice the pieces of butter in the dough. This is what you want to see.
Place the dough in the refrigerator and let it rest for at least 2 hours.
3. Meanwhile, make the filling. (If you are using fresh berries, do this just before you roll out the crust; if you’re using frozen, do this about an hour before rolling out the dough.)
In a large bowl. toss the berries with the cornstarch, tapioca, sugar, ginger and nutmeg.
The berries and spices, etc. ready to mix
Berries after mixing. Now, let them sit. Stir occasionally.
Set the berries aside and let them macerate. Be sure to stir the berries occasionally so the dry ingredients are distributed evenly. The have a tendency to settle at the bottom of the bowl otherwise.
4. Remove one of the disks of dough from the oven and let it sit for about 5 to 10 minutes to warm and soften slightly. (You want the dough to be firm when you roll it out, but not rock-hard.)
Unwrap the dough and lay one disk on a lightly floured surface. If you like, you can place a piece of plastic or wax paper over the top of the dough as well.
Getting ready to roll the dough
5. Roll out the dough starting at the 12 o’clock position. Roll away from you and then back towards you at 6 o’clock.
Rolling the dough.
Rotate the dough 1/4 turn. Repeat. By doing this, you’re making sure the dough doesn’t stick at the bottom (lightly flour if necessary) and you’ll roll out the dough more evenly.
Picking up the dough and rotating it 1/4 turn as I'm rolling
Be sure to apply equal pressure over the whole surface of the dough to keep as even a thickness as possible. Just roll up to the edge of the dough, not over.
Rolling the dough.
Still turning the dough 1/4 turn after each pass with the rolling pin. This will also help you better gauge if you need any more flour as you roll. If you add too much, the dough can become dry and tough.
6. Remove the plastic or wax paper (if using) from the top of your dough. Place your pie plate upside down in the center of the dough to measure it’s diameter. Ideally, you want the dough to extend out at least 3 inches on all sides.
Measuring the rolled dough. It's about 1/8" thickness at this point
Take the pie plate off the dough and set aside.
Very lightly flour the top of the dough. Take the rolling pin from one end and begin to carefully to roll the dough around the pin:
Rolling the dough over the pin.
Take the pin to the pie plate, hold it over one side and carefully unwrap the dough by again rolling the pin across of the top of the pie plate. (Don’t press down on the edge of the plate. You’ll run the risk of cutting the dough.)
Transferring the crust into the pie plate
7. Start shaping the pie dough into the pie plate by lifting the edges and setting the dough into the plate. Don’t press or stretch the dough. Not only will it tear, but it will also shrink during baking.
Shaping the dough into the pie plate
Shaping the dough into the pie plate
Pie crust in the pie plate. Ready for the refrigerator.
Once you have the pie crust in the pie plate, trim the outer edges to a 1″ overhang. Use the scraps to patch any holes or cracks in the dough. Place the pie plate in the refrigerator to rest as you roll out the second piece of dough.
8. Unwrap the dough and follow the same rolling instructions from Step 5.
9. Either by eye (if you can do this, more power to you) or with a ruler (my preferred method), cut 10 strips of dough 3/4″ wide each.
Measuring & cutting the dough for the lattice top
Because I'm terrible at spacial stuff
10. Mix the berries one more time (and you should’ve been doing this all along anyway), and remove the pie plate from the refrigerator. Carefully fill the pie plate with the berries and dot the top with the butter.
The berries after a bit of maceration time.
Berries and butter in the crust ready for the lattice top
11. Lay five strips of dough across the top of the pie, spaced evenly apart. Be sure there is some overhang off the sides, especially the center.
Beginning the lattice top
Pull back alternating strips of dough and place a piece in the center:
Pulling back alternating strips of dough
Laying the top piece.
Lay the strips back down. Again, fold alternating strips of dough and lay another strip of dough across. Do this 3 more times. Then, you’ll have a lattice top:
The lattice top. Almost finished.
Trim the edges back to a 1″ overhang, tuck the edges back under the rim of the pie crust and crimp the edges as you like.
All shaped, glazed, and ready to go.
Brush the crust with egg wash and, if you like, sprinkle on a little turbinado (raw) sugar or crystal (decorating) sugar. Place the pie in the refrigerator for an hour or in the freezer for 20 minutes.
12. Meanwhile, line a large baking sheet with foil and place it in the oven. Preheat the oven to 425F. Carefully take the pie out of the refrigerator or freezer and carefully place it on the baking sheet in the oven. Immediately turn the temperature down to 375F. Using the preheated baking sheet helps the bottom of the pie seal quickly.
Pie ready for the oven. The foil around the edges of the pie is an option. My oven bakes hot, so I like to use them.
If you like, you can wrap the edges of the pie with some foil to keep the edges of the crust from browning too quickly. If the top is browning too quickly, you can place a piece of foil, shiny side up, to keep it from over-browning.
Bake the pie for 60-75 minutes. You want to see juices bubbling from the center, that way you know the pie is cooked through.
By the way, there will be a lot of juices and this pie will be a little messy. Hence the foil on the baking sheet.
13. Carefully remove the pie from the oven and let cool for at least 2 hours to let the pie set up.
The finished pie. Notice the lovely juices. Yummy.