Upper Crust: Pie, demystified

Story by Marisa McClellanFor most of my life, I believed that pie was special occasion food, reserved for big family dinners and primary holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. Because of that, I developed a parallel opinion that making pie was extraordinarily hard. Why else would it be trotted out only once or twice a year?

But I’d always had a suspicion that pie didn’t need to be as trying as I’d made it out to be. So, last June, I decided it would be my summer of pies. I set out to conquer the category and made more pies than I could count. My friends and family were happy to gobble up my experiments until I had found my happy pie groove.

After all of that baking, the only thing I don’t really understand is why we make such a fuss over the difficulty of pie, as it’s actually one of the easier desserts out there. You don’t need much to make a good one--just flour, butter, fruit, sugar and a few spices. Once you get the hang of rolling out pie dough (for success, always chill the dough before rolling), it’s as easy as filling, topping and crimping.
Make this your own summer of pie. I’ve included my standard pie crust recipe here, as well as three fruity variations on how to use it. Whether you go with basic blueberry, strawberry-rhubarb or peach with crumb topping, your belly will be happy and you’ll wonder why you waited so long to try. 

Marisa McClellan is a food writer, canning teacher and dedicated farmers market shopper who lives in Center City. Find more of her food (all cooked in her 80-square-foot kitchen) at her blog, foodinjars.com.

Basic Pie Dough

Makes one double-crusted pie

2     cups all-purpose flour
1/2  cup whole wheat flour
1     Tbsp. sugar
2     tsp. sea salt
2     sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1/2  cup ice water

  • Pour flours, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to combine. Add the cold butter cubes to the bowl and pulse until incorporated into the flours, and the largest butter bits are pea-size.
  • Then, with the motor running, slowly stream the ice water into the bowl using the tube. Stop once you’ve added ¼ cup of water and test the dough by squeezing it. If it just barely sticks together, it’s done.
  • Divide the dough in two and wrap in plastic wrap or waxed paper. Store in the refrigerator for at least an hour before using, or overnight; freeze for up to a month.
  • If you don’t have a food processor, pie dough is still within your grasp. Combine the flours, sugar and salt in a large bowl, and whisk together. Grate very cold butter on a box grater. When it’s all grated, combine with the flours in the bowl and work together using a pastry blender or your hands. Add water drop by drop until the dough comes together. Divide and store as recommended above.