Pie Pastry - Bah! (anniversary repost)

I'm taking this opportunity to say that these pies, the ones in this story that caused me such grief, turned out to be some of the best Thanksgiving pies I ever made.

The past two days I've been in a hot place with pie pastry...and I don't mean the kitchen.

Yesterday it was bad, very bad. Daniel, my baby, was crying from the playpen and I was wrestling with the devil dough on the counter, trying for the love of heaven to get it to roll out smoothly. Finally, as Daniel continued to fuss ever more loudly, and the cold pastry cracked and split beneath my frustrated hands, I sang out maniacally for my husband to, "COME HOME! Just...COME...home! Get yourself HOME...RIGHT NOOOOW!"

The kids were outside, and they came to the door, "Where's Papa? Is he home?" Then they saw my wild eyes, the pastry stuck to the rolling pin, and the flour monsoon in the kitchen and retreated, giggling and keeping a good distance.

By the time Matthew got home, it was all over. The pies, for better or for worse, were in the oven. And they weren't even the Thanksgiving pies. They were my test dummies for the real pies.

I was trying this new pastry recipe that's called Foolproof Pie Pastry. I wanted to compare it with my usual nightmare butter dough - that demon dough that tastes like heaven but gives you hell to roll it out. Well, this foolproof recipe called for part butter/part shortening and, of all things, vodka! You use the vodka in place of part of the water - makes the dough moist so you can smooth it out into a perfect geometric circle, but then the alcohol evaporates in the oven and voila! Flaky yet tender pie dough.

Well, that recipe ain't foolproof, and I'm the fool that proved it.

Because as I was rolling it out, I was still muttering at it and insulting it and threatening all kinds of demises for it that didn't involve a sweet filling and a nice warm visit to the oven. Yes, yes...it was technically easier than the butter pastry, but the dang dough still flaked and chipped, cracked and ripped. Stupid thing!

In light of the foolproof recipe defeat, I began looking for excuses: It's this dang desert climate - too dry! I said. I don't have a food processor like all my friends! I whined. My kitchen's too small! I cried.

But then I thought I knew the problem: I hadn't cut the butter small enough with the pastry cutter. I'd rectify it, and the dough for my pies would be perfect. Just perfect, I vowed.

Today was another day. I combined the ingredients, cut the butter just so, and tried to flatten them gently into the perfect "four-inch diameter" discs the recipe calls for before I placed them in the fridge to cool. An hour or so later I drew them out, and I knew with my first glance the battle would be the same as the day before. And if I wasn't careful, this time the pastry would win.

The mumblings began anew as I blanketed the dough with parchment paper, caressed the dough with floured fingers, and did my best to placate the dough with the careful push-push of the rolling pin. But, no - NO! The stupid thing couldn't be reasoned with, and I had to take it and literally plop it off the parchment into its pie pan, shoving tattered bits and pieces into the holes that mocked me. I didn't want to overwork it. Heaven help me, I know the bitter revenge of overworked dough.

Thank God Matthew was home today. Still the kids tried to bug me during the process, and many times I cried out in desperation, "Don't come in here! Don't talk to me! Can't you see I'm battling with pie dough?"

Berto commiserated.

"Wow, Mama. That does look hard!" he said, as I huffed and puffed over the monster I had created. "It is hard!" I wailed. "It's the hardest thing in the world! And it's stressful, so stressful..."

"Don't encourage her!" Matthew said sharply, bouncing Daniel in his arms. "Nobody encourage Mama in her tirade!"

After a litany of sighs and grunts, I did finally get the fresh pies in the oven, laying the top crust on in chunks. But, hey, the dough wasn't overworked (I think), and I covered its many imperfections with a liberal sprinkling of cinnamon and sugar. I also remembered to put all the ingredients in the filling. Too bad I baked them at the wrong temperature, though. Nothing like flaky crust and undercooked fruit in a Thanksgiving pie!

Why does she bother? you ask. Don't they have prepared pie crust in the grocery store? you say. Okay, so they do, but I want to be the Pie Lady, the Pastry Queen. I want my sons to propose to their girlfriends someday on bent knee, and say, "Before I give you the ring, there's something you should know: my mom makes the best pie. Just the best. Yours can never compare. Not ever. And mom says you can't have the recipe. But I love you anyway, and we'll go to my parents' for Thanksgiving."

Alright, so that's not right of me. Maybe that's why every time I go to make a pie, I find myself eating the humble variety. But I still want a solid pastry recipe and technique to pass down to my daughters. My mom made the best pies, you see, and I want to, too. This Thanksgiving, I'm just hoping they're decent.


More food adventures in Holiday Tales of Horror - Stuffed Couches and Stolen Chocolates

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