Pie Dough 101

It’s time for Christmas baking, and check out my assistant:

My mega mixer
My mega mixer

This is the $700 industrial model, the same one I had at cooking school. It was on sale at Costco for $299. I couldn’t afford it but I wasn’t about to pass that deal up.

This should make things like pie dough much easier. I am starting to get arthritis in my hands and long bouts of mixing and kneading can be painful. And pie dough is a pain in the ass, which I discovered when I took my basic cook diploma last year. It sounds simple, only three ingredients – flour, shortening and water, yet I managed to take these ingredients and formulate a substance that could be substituted for brick mortar.

First you sift your flour, then drop the shortening in by bits you pinch off. Then you work it through the flour either with your hands or a pastry cutter until you have a bowl of product resembling beach sand. Then you add the water literally a teaspoon at a time – apparently pie dough has the sensitivity of a reality show diva. You work in the water until desired consistency is reached, then put it in the fridge for a half hour. Pie dough works best when cool.

My first attempt started out ok. Everything was sifted, bitted, sanded and trickled upon. The dough looked like it had come out right until I tried to roll it out. It was stiff. It cracked. It stuck to the table, even though it was bone dry, and to the roller, even though that was dusted with flour. Multiple additions of flour to the table surface and the roller only dried the damned thing out more, which by that time resembled a clay pigeon. Everyone else had their dough rolled and were working on their apple filling; I was reworking and reworking this stupid ball of dough, adding water, then flour; nothing worked. I was so frustrated I had tears in my eyes for a good ten minutes. The chef’s assistant came over and helped me with it and we finally managed to roll out enough dough to make two small mini-pies. They tasted ok but the pie crust was way too thick, and you could bang on the top crust with a knife and it didn’t even crack it. I was expecting it to be hard as a rock, but it was eatable. But no blackbird was pecking its way through that pie without a jackhammer.

I got a second chance with another batch of pie dough that had a slightly different ingredient list and process, and that time I was deliberately reckless with my water, making the dough too sticky on purpose. After I took it out of the fridge and dusted it with flour for rolling, it actually turned out way better than my first effort. Still not perfect, but I could roll it much easier and I made four apple turnover-like things out of it that we then deep fried and rolled in brown sugar – a favorite recipe of the Southern States, where the instructor originally hailed from. I’m not sure what they were called since I was still contemplating leaving the kitchen to cry in the parking lot when Chef handed out the recipe, so I didn’t hear a word he said and never even read what they were called. They tasted good, but I’m not sure I’m a fan of deep fried pie.

I remember I did make my apple fillings well – that part tasted great. My husband and kids tasted everything and they thought it was all good, although they agreed with me the pie crust was a bit thick and heavy, but surprisingly no-one said it tasted bad, or dry.

Now that I have my monster mixer, I’ll be giving this pie dough thing another go, and paddle that bitch into submission. No smug bowl of wheat dust is going to get the better of me.

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