Pie crusts are bastards.
They're persnickety. Wishy-washy. Temperamental. Most of all pie crusts are a natural curiosity. How can something as simple as butter, flour, a sprinkle of sugar and salt, and some cold water go so incredibly wrong?
My history with pie crust is a tumultuous one, a long haul over unfriendly terrain where many times I've left stranded in the middle of nowhere, arms raised to the heavens and screaming to the gods in frustration about how once again perfect pie crust had eluded me.
My first ever pie crust was mush. It lay apathetically under rhubarb and berries and when moved became like a petulant child going limp when you tried to pick it up. Once it was in your mouth it aggressively stuck to the roof of your mouth in protest. Warm hands, hot water, and no chilling in the fridge had ensured it would be crust most contentious.
My second, third, fourth, and even fifth weren't soggy but rather sheetrock-like. I can't really say that one was actually worse than the other but only because no matter how you slice it the three others were identical to it. Though I do believe that at one point when I tried to cut thought the crust of the third, a cherry pie if I recall, that when my fork finally punched through it it sent one piece flying across the room splattering red juices across my white wall and couch. This was fighting crust. A bastard of a crust.
However - unlike with violin lessons I took as a child - I did not give up. This last weekend I decided I would make pie crust. Again. I had watched Elise make it plenty of times before. I didn't have a fancy-shmancy food processor to do the work for me, but I had gusto and a pastry cutter. Bring it.
During the process the dough had issues. The butter stayed clumpy, it wouldn't form into a ball, I was adding way too much water. It seemed that my crust was bust. In fact, I almost took the whole thing and threw it in the trash, but as my crumbly dough filled hands hovered over the trash can though I decided that, heck, maybe I'll get lucky and it would turn out. I mushed it into a disk as well as I could, then wrapped it up in plastic wrap and popped it in the fridge to chill.
The next day I rolled it out. I half expected it to suddenly crumble to dust but nothing happened. It... it just rolled out. Like nothing was wrong with it. I curled it over the rolling pin, flopped and shaped it into the pie plate, and I placed it in the freezer to set.
I was... confused. All was going too well. Still, I had little faith. The other doughs had been just as malleable, but this one felt different. The thickness, the texture, its heft of flour and dotted blobs of butter all seemed to be aligned in some cosmic baking way as if the spirit of Saint Betty Crocker was somehow guiding my hands.
I prepared a quick maple pear filling one similar to the pie recipe I did at Simply Recipes (where Elise made the crust and I made the filling) and spread it into the prepared crust. Into the oven it went.
Forty-five minutes later I had a finished pie. But was it a good pie? Was this another failed crust? I held the Pyrex dish to the light inspecting the bottom and sides to look for signs of seepage or breaking as if somewhere I would find the key clue to solving a horrific crime scene. There was none.
Sixty minute later it had cooled. I cut out a piece, plopped it on a plate, and let my fork dive in. There was a bit of resistance and then the sound of aluminum tines striking ceramic. *tink* Not mush, not sheetrock.
I took a bite. It was flaky. Sweet. Buttery. It was perfect pie crust. Holy shit. I finally fucking made perfect pie crust. I. MADE. PIE CRUST! That didn't suck!
Sure it might not have been the prettiest thing (we'll call it rustic), but the texture and flavor were dead on what it was supposed to be. Oh lord, it's true what they say, I can't go back to store bought. This pie crust wasn't a bastard but a sweet, darling, buttery pastry angel.
I'm still not sure if the whole thing was a fluke or not. It very well could have been. Still, I've had success now. I'm more than willing to try again and again until I can do this with my eyes closed. After all, homemade pie dough may be a crusty bastard, but when right it makes for perfect pie.
The recipe I used for this pie was this one I did at Simply Recipes. I didn't have a deep dish pie plate so I cut the filling ingredients by a third. Elise's pate brisee recipe is fabulous. I know I'll be using it again.