Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Pie Makers' Secrets

There's no doubt that the best fruit-filled pies are made during the height of summer when fresh fruit is at its prime, but what other secrets do the pie experts have? Don't you want to know? I do. I'd love to have the inside scoop from people who really know what they are talking about when it comes to pie. Pie crust especially is somewhat of a mystery to me.

That's why when the front page of today's FOODday detailed a recent Portland Pie-Off, I sat straight up in my seat. The photograph of mouth watering, golden-brown, lattice topped fruit pies resting side-by-side caught my eye immediately. The actual details of the Pie-Off were not that fascinating to me, but the Pie-Makers' secrets, that was the information that drew me in.

Here is what the 2009 Pie-Off contestants had to say about perfecting pies....I hope you find it as enlightening as I did:

For tender crusts:
  • Use chilled ingredients: ice water, cold to frozen butter. Store flour in the refrigerator or freezer so it will be cold whenever a pie baking mood strikes. (I had heard about chilled butter and ice water...but the flour? Who knew?)

  • Add a splash of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice to the flour-shortening-water mix to help prevent toughness. (Again, who knew?)

  • Use real leaf lard, which adds great flavor and flakiness, for part or all of the shortening, which can be found at specialty butcher shops. (I'm not sure I'm heading to the butcher to get some lard...I believe them, but lard? Really?)

  • Shred frozen butter into the flour with a cheese grater. It saves time, adds flakiness and prevents overworking the dough. (I have never done that...do you think the food processor would work just as good?)

For better fruit fillings:

  • To keep peach pies from turning runny: Sprinkle sliced peaches with sugar, let sit, then drain off juices. Thicken with a few tablespoons of potato starch, which is sold in the bulk section. (Great idea!)

  • Reduce sugar by one-third in recipes. "I'd rather have a scoop of ice cream on top than have it be overwhelmingly sweet on its own," says one of the Pie-Off contestants. (Isn't that the truth!)

  • Balance sweetness with acid. Think blueberries with lime juice, peaches with lemon juice, etc.

General Tips:

  • Use the freshest local ingredients.

  • Instead of just sweetness in a pie, strive for balance. Add a pinch of salt or a squeeze of citrus juice, or combining tart and sweet ingredients in the same filling, can make all the difference. (I never thought of that before, but so true!)

Okay...now I'm off to the grocery store. I have a pie to make and I'll let you know if the secrets really paid off. The grand prize winner was Cucumber-Honeydew-White Chocolate Icebox Pie....hmmm....I'm not sure what I think about that yet.


Mary Lou said...

As a general rule, when a recipe or tips from an expert specify using a grater, use a grater. When a food processor, a food processor. The two are not interchangeable as some people believe. There is quite a bit of heat that is transferred to the food swirling in the food processor that you do not want transferred to your other ingredients....hence storing all ingredients in the freezer. :)

Mamahollioni said...

You are absolutely right!! I hadn't thought about the heat transfer from the food processor. Funny how I love the tips from the experts, but want to stick to my old ways:-) Great point. Thanks!