Calculating the Perfect Pie

Be it custard or fruit, mousse or chiffon, a pie is only as good as its crust. Drawing as much passion as it does ire, the art of crafting the perfect pastry is a contentious subject among bakers and eaters alike. Everyone has an opinion about this essential dessert foundation, ranging from the most minimalist approaches inspired by the sage advice of grandmothers the world over, to high-end culinary graduate specifications that require a firm grasp of the scientific intricacies of baking to appreciate. There’s more than one way to go about the circumference of the dough, but there is one important rule that must be obeyed: Never let the hype go to your head.

When you find a solid formula, stick with it. There will always be new suggestions to explore, such as the substitution of vodka instead of water, or coconut oil as the primary fat, but if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.

Since Pi Day, March 14th (3.14) is right around the corner, now has never been a better time to strengthen your pie making prowess. That all begins with the crust.

What follows is the crust that’s seen me through the stickiest of fillings, the most temperamental of ovens, and the hottest of summers. This “Old Reliable” is a baker’s best friend, capable of standing and delivering anything loaded into it. The ingredients are nothing noteworthy; it’s all a matter of how they’re combined for the magic to happen. Keep everything, including bowls and utensils, as cold as possible so as not to melt the fat. Though a point of contention, I do adhere firmly to the belief that an all-“butter” crust is best. You may lose a little bit of flakiness, but the added flavor and crisp texture is worth that small sacrifice. For a lighter texture, feel free to sub out half of the butter for pure vegetable shortening, and proceed as written otherwise. Do not be tempted to play around with coconut oil or any liquid oils in this one, as the structure simply isn’t built for that kind of tinkering.

Even when I’m planning to make a single-crusted pie, I always use the double-crust proportions, to make the most of my time. The extra disk of dough can be frozen for up to 6 months with no harm, as long as it’s thawed gradually in the fridge before use. That way, you’re always prepared to whip up a pie at a moment’s notice.

Continue reading “Calculating the Perfect Pie”

The World is Flat

When it comes to pizza, flatter is simply better. Having been raised on nothing but thin and crispy New York-style crusts, it seems like sacrilege to even consider deviating from that delicious formula. Never has this household seen the likes of deep dish, an abomination of doughy flat bread and vast pools of sauce. Perish the thought! Quite the contrary, the pizzas my dad rolls out for special occasions are so ethereally thin, each slice can sometimes seem like no more than a delicate wafer cracker, brushed with just a whisper of the red stuff. Thus, it’s a scandalous, shameful thing I have done in the name of dough just recently… Forgoing the rolling pin and long waits for the dough to rise, I made a quick and dirty pan pizza.

Lacking the grace of a paper-thin pie, it however makes up for this shortcoming in ease of preparation. Practically instant, there’s no down time waiting for the dough to rise, and you can go from zero to dinner in just about 30 minutes. Pleasantly chewy and sturdy enough to support whatever toppings are piled on, I think there’s room in my heart for this thicker, heftier crust, too.

Inspired by Vegalicious, I found the idea of a super-speedy white sauce completely irresistible, and with a container of plain, unsweetened soy yogurt sitting patiently in the fridge, it was clearly meant to be. Laughably simple yet complex in flavor, it’s subtly cheesy, almost gooey, and all too perfect to keep to myself. Who needs tomatoes on pizza anyway? You’ll forget all about that red spread with this gem of a sauce.

White Pan Pizza with Mushrooms

Pizza Crust:

1/4 Cup Oil, Divided

1 Cup Warm Water
2 Teaspoons Instant Yeast, or 1 1/4-Ounce Package Rapid Rise Yeast
2 1/2 Cups All Purpose Flour
1 Teaspoon Granulated Sugar
1/2 Teaspoon Salt

White Sauce:

3/4 Cup Unsweetened Plain Soy Yogurt
1 Tablespoon Nutritional Yeast
1 Tablespoon Dried Parsley
1 Teaspoon Onion Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Garlic Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Mustard Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
Tiny Pinch Ground Nutmeg

1/2 Pound Button Mushrooms
1/4 Pound Shiitake Mushrooms

Fresh Parsley or Basil

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees, and use 1 tablespoon in each of 2 9-inch round cake pans. Set aside.

Place all of the ingredients for the crust into your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or food processor, and start on a low speed or pulse to combine. Once everything is more or less incorporated, allow the machine to run and “knead” the dough for about 5 minutes. Allow the dough to rest for 15 minutes while you prepare the sauce and toppings.

In a medium bowl, stir together the soy yogurt and spices so that you have a smooth, homogeneous mixture. Slice the mushrooms and chop your herbs, and then set both aside.

Pull the dough out of the machine, and cut it into two equal pieces. Roll them briefly between the counter and your hands to round out the lumps, and then place one in each of the oiled cake pans. Use your finger tips to smooth the crusts into the bottom of the pans, so that they’re evenly covering the entire bottom. If the dough resists and pulls back, just leave it alone for 5 or 10 minutes and then try shaping it again. Brush 1 tablespoon of oil cross the top of each round of dough, and slide the pans into the oven.

Bake for 10 minutes and pull them back out. Distribute the white sauce equally between the two pizzas, and smooth it evenly across the surface, leaving just a small edge bare so that you can pick up the slices later. Sprinkle your sliced mushrooms on top, and return the two pies to the oven. Bake for 8 more minutes, and then switch to the broiler. Broil for 5 – 8 minutes longer, until the crust is golden brown.

Let cool for at least 5 minutes before sprinkling your fresh herbs on top, slicing, and digging in.

Makes 2 9-Inch Round Pan Pizzas

Printable Recipe

A Berry Refreshing Reinterpretation

Bubbling away furiously in the blisteringly hot oven, it was quickly becoming clear that my supposedly simple little tart was not going to behave according to plan. Baking up to a beautiful golden-brown around the increasingly crisp crust, but still almost entirely liquid in the center, something definitely went wrong in the recipe writing process. Disappointing, frustrating, and absolutely humbling, it’s an inevitable occurrence when baking from scratch, but every failure still stings all the same. Of all things, a most ordinary pastry got the best of me- What a blow to the ego!

Removing my mess carefully so as not to slosh that rich magenta berry juice onto the kitchen floor, I was stewing in my own juices, too. Time has been limited every since I took on a full course load of photography classes, and now a day’s worth of edible experimentation would be for naught. Such a sad waste of sweetness.

Like a child sulking at the tail-end of a tantrum, I left the unruly, half-baked dessert to cool and think about what it had done. It’s unlikely that it got the message from my cold shoulder approach, but it gave me time to think, because I wasn’t about to trash everything that easily. It wasn’t until nightfall when inspiration struck, but suddenly, I realized I may just yet have the makings for a stunning summer dessert on my hands.

An overnight rest in the freezer did the trick, completely transforming the once unservable slop into something worth remembering. Now perfectly firm and easy to slice cleanly, it also gained the added element of a refreshingly chilly temperature, making it ideal for these last few hot days of the season. Turns out my initial blunder may have been a blessing in disguise.

Since it was initially conceived as a quick way to clean out the fridge a bit, feel free to improvise with what you have on hand. Any mixture of berries and any flavor of jam will get along just fine in this lightly sweetened, malted crust. I personally can’t get enough of that indescribable malt flavor, but if you can’t get a hold of the flour, an equal measure of cocoa powder could create a delectable chocolate pastry shell instead.

Yield: Makes 10 - 12 Servings

Frozen Berry Tart

Frozen Berry Tart

Perfectly refreshing for a steamy summer day, fresh berries meet a malted pastry crust in beautiful frozen harmony.

Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Additional Time 7 hours
Total Time 8 hours 5 minutes

Ingredients

Malted Pastry Crust:

  • 1 2/3 Cups All Purpose Flour
  • 6 Tablespoons Cup Barley Malt Flour
  • 2 Tablespoons Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
  • 1/8 Teaspoon Salt
  • 6 Tablespoons Vegan Butter, Chilled and Cut into Pieces
  • 6 Tablespoons Vegetable Shortening
  • 1 – 2 Tablespoons Ice Water

Mixed Berry Filling:

  • 4 Cups Fresh or Frozen Mixed Berries
  • 1/2 – 1 Cup Granulated Sugar*
  • 3 Tablespoons Cornstarch
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1/2 Cup Apricot Jam or Preserves of Choice

Instructions

  1. Beginning with the pastry, combine both flours, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Add in the both fats, and use a pastry cutter or fork to cut them into the dry goods, until the mixture becomes a fairly coarse meal-like consistency with a few lumps, no larger than peas. Drizzle in 1 tablespoon of water, stirring well (I find this works best with your hands, to make sure everything is being thoroughly incorporated). If the dough is still too dry to fully come together, slowly drizzle in the remaining water until you achieve a cohesive ball. Press it together firmly, and shape into a flat round. Wrap with plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before proceeding.
  2. When you’re ready to bake, preheat your oven to 375 degrees and lightly grease and flour a 9-inch round fluted tart pan with removable bottom.
  3. Toss together the berries, sugar (to taste), cornstarch, pepper, and salt in a large bowl, until the fruits are evenly coated and distributed. Set aside.
  4. Retrieve your chilled crust from the fridge, and quickly roll it out on a well-floured surface to prevent it from warming up too much. It is a very fragile dough, so don’t panic if it tears or threatens to completely fall apart. Just move it as best you can into the prepared pan, and use your fingers to press it evenly into the bottom and up the sides, patching holes as necessary.
  5. Spread your jam evenly across the empty pastry shell, and finally, top that with your berry mixture. Smooth down the filling so it’s not mounded up in the center, and bake for 40 – 45 minutes, until the crust is golden brown. The filling may still be very liquid, so handle it with care.
  6. Let cool completely before covering and carefully moving into the freezer. Let freeze overnight, or at least 6 hours, until firm.

Notes

*Depending on what berries you choose and how ripe they are, their sweetness can vary greatly. To make sure that your tart isn’t too sweet or too sour, add the lesser amount of sugar at first, give the filling a taste, and adjust as desired.

Any mixture of berries and any flavor of jam will get along just fine in this lightly sweetened, malted crust. I personally can’t get enough of that indescribable malt flavor, but if you can’t get a hold of the flour, an equal measure of cocoa powder could create a delectable chocolate pastry shell instead.

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Nutrition Information:

Yield:

12

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 570Total Fat: 14gSaturated Fat: 7gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 6gCholesterol: 19mgSodium: 127mgCarbohydrates: 104gFiber: 8gSugar: 20gProtein: 11g

All nutritional information presented within this site are intended for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and any nutritional information on BitterSweetBlog.com should only be used as a general guideline. This information is provided as a courtesy and there is no guarantee that the information will be completely accurate. Even though I try to provide accurate nutritional information to the best of my ability, these figures should still be considered estimations.