In her award-winning book "H Is for Hawk," Helen Macdonald tells the story of training a vicious predator after her father's death.
“People are so scared of the dough. It has this crazy mythology that if you didn’t have a grandmother or great-aunt that held you by the hand and said ‘oh here, honey, this is how you do it.’ Well I did not have that. And I think I make a pretty good pie crust.”
Gunst gives us seven tips and her recipe for pie crust, as well as recipes for three of her favorites pies.
Kathy’s Note: This is a no-fail pastry for pies, crostadas, and tarts, perfect for those who have a fear-of-making-homemade-pie-crust. You can make the pastry several hours ahead of time and refrigerate it until ready to roll out and bake. You can also freeze it for several months, tightly wrapped in foil.
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 to 2 sticks butter, well chilled, and cubed (depending on how rich you want it to be)
About 1/4 to 1/3 cup ice water
Place the flour, salt, and sugar in the container of a food processor and whirl several times to mix. Add the butter, coating it well with the flour and pulse about 15 times, or until the butter resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Add the ice water very slowly, and only add enough until the dough starts to adhere and pull away from the sides of the food processor. Wrap the dough in a large sheet of foil and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before rolling out and baking.
Makes enough dough for 1 pie with lattice topping, or 2 pie crusts, 1 tart, galette, or crostada.
Kathy’s Note: You can use fresh or frozen fruit for this pie. You don’t need to let the berries thaw if they are frozen. Plan on letting the crust chill for at least an hour or two before rolling it out. And once the pie is assembled, you should chill it for around 30 minutes.
Ingredients for the crust:
2 1/2 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
3 to 6 tablespoons ice cold water
1 egg, lightly beaten, optional glaze
Ingredients for the filling:
3 1/2 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen (if frozen, do not thaw)
1/4 cup maple syrup, plus 1 tablespoon
1/4 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
To prepare the crust: Mix the flour, sugar, ginger, and salt in a large bowl. Add the butter and, using a pastry cutter or your hands, break the butter up into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Mix in the 3 tablespoons of the water, adding more if needed, until the dough begins to come together and there is no excess flour in the bottom of the bowl. Add another tablespoon or two of water if needed. Divide the dough in half and mound them each into a round, flat disc, and wrap each in a large piece of plastic wrap. Chill for at least an hour, or up to 48 hours.
To prepare the filling: Gently mix the blueberries with the maple syrup, lemon zest, flour, and vanilla and ginger until the blueberries are well coated.
Sprinkle a clean work surface with flour. Remove one of the chilled dough circles and roll it out to a circle about 11 inches across. Place the circle into a 9-inch pie plate, allowing the edges to fall over the sides of the pie plate. Place the blueberry mixture inside the dough. Roll out the other piece of dough to a circle about 11 inches across. Using a pizza cutter or a small, sharp knife, cut strips about 1/2-inch thick out of the dough. Place the strips on top of the fruit filling, creating a criss-cross lattice pattern. Trim off any excess crust and crimp the edges of the dough together, creating a decorative pattern.
Place the pie in the refrigerator for at least 15 to 30 minutes and up to several hours.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place the pie on a cookie sheet and brush the pastry with the beaten egg, if desired. (It will make the crust shiny and golden.) Bake for 40 minutes. Reduce the heat to 325 and bake another 10 to 12 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and the filling is bubbling. If the pie begins to brown too fast, cover loosely with a sheet of aluminum foil. Let the pie cool slightly before cutting.
Kathy’s Note: What are the holidays without nut pie? You can use walnuts or pecans or a combination. Although there is light corn syrup in this recipe, the maple flavor is what comes shining through.
1/2 recipe Simple Pie Pastry, above
2 tablespoons melted butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1 3/4 cups pecan halves, or walnuts or a combination
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Roll out the pastry and line a round 9-inch tart pan or 4 small tartlet pans. Place on a cookie sheet.
In a large bowl, whisk the eggs. Add the melted butter, vanilla, maple syrup, and corn syrup and beat well. Add the pecans/walnuts and pour the mixture into the pie shell. Place on the middle shelf of the oven and bake about 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool completely.
Kathy’s Note: This crostada (also called a galette) looks like a rustic French tart, with the sweet, tart flavor of apples. The galette can be served immediately from the oven or room temperature. Serve within several hours.
2 tart apples, peeled, cored, and cut into thin slices (1/4-inch at thickest side)*
1 pear, peeled, cored and cut into thin slices
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 1/2 tablespoons apple cider
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons sugar, plus more for dusting crust
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
Pinch ground allspice
1/2 recipe Simple Pie Pastry, chilled
*Use a variety of tart seasonal apples. They don’t need to be the same variety.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicon baking mat and set aside.
In a large bowl, mix the apples and pears with the lemon juice and cider and half the cinnamon, ginger and allspice and set aside. In a small bowl, blend the flour, 2 tablespoons sugar, and remaining cinnamon, ginger and allspice together.
Roll the chilled dough out into a circle about 1/4-inch thick and 10-inches in diameter. Transfer the crust to the baking sheet. Sprinkle about half the flour/sugar mixture onto the center of the crust, leaving the outer 2 inches empty. Mix the rest of the flour/sugar mixture into the apples and pears, and stir to blend. Pile the apples into the center of crust, over the flour (or arrange in concentric circles, if you have the patience). Fold the empty edges of the crust up and over the apples in roughly 4-inch sections, using your hands to press each section to the preceding layer of dough. (You can also use a little water to help the dough stick together.) If the dough is soft, refrigerate 30 minutes, until firm.
Sprinkle the dough with sugar, and bake for 45 to 60 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and the apples are soft and browned on top. Let cool 10 minutes on the baking sheet, and then transfer to a serving platter.
Serves 4 to 6.
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
It's HERE AND NOW.
Thanksgiving is almost upon us. So are your experiencing pie panic, worrying about a crust that falls apart or filling that spills out into your oven? Or petrified of trying something different, maybe a tart or a crostata?
Well, HERE AND NOW resident chef Kathy Gunst has been pondering pies, tarts and crostatas, and joins us in the studio with some of them and with thoughts about them. Kathy, welcome.
KATHY GUNST, BYLINE: Hello. I was going to say I've been doing more than thinking about them.
YOUNG: Yeah, you have. You've been making them (unintelligible).
GUNST: I've had so much fun baking.
YOUNG: So why isn't pie easy as pie for some people?
GUNST: People are so scared of the dough. It has this crazy mythology, that if you didn't have a grandmother or a great aunt that held you by the hand and said, oh, here, honey. This is how you do it. Well, I did not have that, and I think I make a pretty good pie crust. There are just a few rules.
YOUNG: Well, so, you're saying it might be psychological, in part? What are those rules?
GUNST: The number one thing is that pie dough does not like heat. And we are warm beings. So you don't want to over handle it. You don't want to be touching it a lot and patting it, and look at this and playing with it - as little contact as possible.
YOUNG: When you work it too much, you can feel it get oily.
GUNST: You can feel it get oily. But also, you're releasing glutens, and we're going to get to that in a minute. Essentially, what I have come to do - and it's no fail. I have a food processor. And if you don't have one, don't tune out, because we're going to talk that through.
But I take two cups of flour, a pinch of salt, put it in the food processor, whirl it. I add a stick and a half of very, very cold butter. Why are we using very cold ingredients? We want to avoid heat. Some people start with frozen butter. I start it with really well-chilled. I cut it, put it back in the fridge, so that when I add it, it's really chilled. I pop that in. I pulse it 15 times, badoom, badoom, badoom, badoom.
GUNST: Fifteen. That's my magical number. You want it to look like coarse cornmeal. Then, here's the other trick: as little liquid as possible. I put a post on Facebook. I said: What are your pie tips? And Michael Jubinsky, who owns Stone Turtle Baking up in Maine, says use as little as possible, because water and handling develop gluten and causes the dough to be tough.
So he says to use a good quality vodka for some of the ice water, because alcohol doesn't develop glutens. Some people like to add lemon juice or vinegar to their dough for exactly the same reason. But if you don't over-handle it and you have very chilled ingredients, I don't even think you need to worry about that. So you've pulsed your very chilled butter. And then you're going to add as little as possible of ice-cold water.
YOUNG: What is that, usually, that amount of water?
GUNST: For me, like, a third of a cup - sometimes less, sometimes a little bit more. It depends. But if you want to do it by hand, you can do the same thing, where you're going to crumble the butter in. But if you're like me and you run hot - middle-aged woman here - you know, you've got to work fast. You've got to put your hands in the freezer. Put it under cold water. You don't want the heat of your body to melt that butter and develop more glutens once you start adding the water. You want to work quickly.
YOUNG: Well - and does it help to put - sometimes I make it and ball it, and then put it back in the fridge.
GUNST: Oh, we haven't gotten to that yet.
YOUNG: Oh, OK. All right.
GUNST: OK. You've made your dough. You put it into some plastic wrap or foil. You put it in the refrigerator for at least an hour. If you don't have an hour, throw it in the freezer, 10, 15 minutes. You want it to be well-chilled. You're going to roll it out on a well-floured surface. You're going to put it into your pie plate. And then you're going to put it back in the refrigerator, because what's happening is it's getting warm again.
And then you're going to fill it. And then I do all my beautiful little crimping around the sides, and sometimes I put a second pie crust on top. Or in front of you is a blueberry-lemon pie, where I did a lattice crust. That's the crisscross, and I love doing that. It's like braiding a child's hair or something - in-out, in-out. And we have some pictures that show you how to do that, and that's a really fun thing to do.
And then I put the pie back in the refrigerator, preheat the oven. And when the pie goes into the preheated hot oven, it is cold. Otherwise, what's going to happen is the pastry is just going to droop and sag and get sad, and you're going to feel you've wasted your life.
YOUNG: Yes. People take this personally, you know, if the pie just falls flat.
GUNST: Well, because there are great pies you can buy in stores, but there's nothing more rewarding than making a beautiful, simple pie and bringing it to someone's house for dinner and sharing this beautiful thing you made.
YOUNG: Yeah. And, by the way, we spoke with physicist Amy Rowat about the science of pie-making. She talked a lot about the heat and the water and the gluten.
YOUNG: She also talked about brushing the top crust with an egg wash, egg mixed with cream, so it browns.
GUNST: I do it sometimes. Sometimes I just do an egg yolk and water or milk. It gives it a beautiful sheen, and it does look more bakery-like. But, to me, it's kind of extra calories and another step, and I try to avoid fuss. I'm trying to convince people that they can do this, so I want as few steps as possible.
YOUNG: By the way, you have almost, like, a pocket pie over there. That's...
YOUNG: Is that the crostata?
GUNST: That is a crostata. It is essentially the exact same pie crust that I just described to you that I made. You just roll it out. You make a round, a big circle. And you don't - you fill it with fruit, but not along the edges. And then what you do is you fold in the edges. And it's a very rustic pie. They're very popular in Italy and France. And it's absolutely fabulous, because you don't have to worry about being too careful with the pastry. You roll one big circle, you fold the sides in and you're done.
YOUNG: The pie crust becomes the plate, as well.
GUNST: Exactly. And this has apple and pear in it, with a little bit of apple cider, ground ginger, cinnamon and allspice. And, if I may say so, it's delicious, and you have a little bit on your plate there.
YOUNG: Well, allow me to say so for you.
GUNST: Yes, I will. Who am I to say so? I made it.
YOUNG: Well, look at this. You have three things you've brought for us to taste, and only two are left. What happened here?
GUNST: She cheated, people. She cheated.
YOUNG: Well, I tasted...
GUNST: I walked into the studio, and one of the pies was gone. We don't have to talk about that. But we have a traditional blueberry-lemon pie with a lattice topping. We have the apple-pear crostata. The third thing I made for you is a walnut-maple syrup tartlet. It's just a little tart in a tart pan. And, again, it's the exact same pastry. But I just wanted to show you how adaptable this one super-quick pastry is. Now you can say yum.
YOUNG: You know what I love about your pies? This isn't too sweet. It tastes like fruit.
GUNST: Thank you. I don't add a lot of sugar. I want the ingredients to be what speaks to you. I didn't add any white sugar to that maple syrup.
GUNST: None. It's just maple syrup, wild blueberries that I picked this summer and froze, and then grated lemon zest. And what happens is that the lemon brings out the tartness of the blueberries in a really nice way. The crust is rich, so you want the filling not to just be about sugar.
YOUNG: Well - and staying with filling, how do you know - apple pies, sometimes you want to pile it all the way up, so you have a big mound that rises.
YOUNG: How do you know when it's too much?
GUNST: Well, if all of a sudden you have to make a tower to put your top crust on, that's a lot. It's going to cook down. So, more is better than less, because as the water evaporates, as the fruit begins to cook, it does settle down. It's really a matter of taste. I've had amazing apple pies that were sky-high, and I've had really flat tarts that were absolutely beautiful.
The most important thing is that the fruit be the highest quality you can find, and make that fruit filling be something that's just delicious to pop into your mouth. Apples this time of year are extraordinary. They're juicy. But I added a little bit of apple cider, just to give it that extra bit of moistness.
YOUNG: OK. As you said on your Facebook page, you asked for suggestions. Can you just tick through some of your favorite?
GUNST: Oh, they're great. Yeah. A lot of people talked about the lemon juice. Some people said lard. Some people said no Crisco. Some people said no, no, no, butter, butter, butter. A really good rolling pin, people talked about. Another friend wrote: Make sure you serve the pie while it's warm, and not hot. That's a very good point. When they're hot, pies fall apart. They need to sit for at least 10 or 15 minutes. So, room temperature or warm is best.
YOUNG: OK. Well, I know you'll want other people's thoughts, as well. We'll link people up at hereandnow.org, where we'll also have recipes for pies and pictures. Kathy Gunst, author of "Notes from a Maine Kitchen: Seasonally Inspired Recipes." Kathy, one last note, a Thanksgiving note: You're due to join us again Monday before the big day to answer listener questions.
GUNST: We're going to have a live Thanksgiving chat with everybody's questions, and really attack that turkey.
YOUNG: So bring it.
GUNST: Bring it on.
YOUNG: Kathy, thanks.
GUNST: Thanks, Robin.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
YOUNG: From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young.
MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI, HOST:
So many pies, so little time.
YOUNG: I know.
CHAKRABARTI: Let's wrap up. I'm Meghna Chakrabarti. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.