Sunday, January 29, 2012

alan carter's pie pastry

I remember making an apple pie as a freshman in college and serving it to my roommates and several gents.  Of course, I hadn't tasted it beforehand so we were all tasting for the first time and right about now you might expect me to say that it was the most delicious masterpiece I had ever created.

I    wish    I    could    say    that.

The filling was ok, I think it was store bought.  But the pastry was awful.  It had no flavor and was dry and pretty much resembled an inside-out cereal box.  I mean, I was chewing it and swallowing it as nonchalantly as I could all the while I was thinking these poor boys thought they were going to enjoy an apple pie like their mothers made.  I clearly remember the look on J's face, he was trying so hard to be nice as he ate that awful pie.  Sorry guys, I had no idea what I was doing, and I was embarrassed.  I mean, it clearly scarred me because, as you can see, I remember the details of this moment.

Ever since then, I had been in search for the perfect pie pastry.  I had been given a few recipes here and there that turned out ok, but none of them met my expectations.  What I wanted was a pastry that when you took it out of the oven, it looked like something you had purchased from a bakery that had been around for over 80 years; flaky, buttery, golden and beautiful.  A pastry that would have made those boys ask me to marry them on the spot.

Then, one day as I was devouring my November 2010 Better Homes and Gardens magazine I came across this:
A pie pastry recipe by Alan Carter with pictures on the previous pages of scraggly, flaky, delicious-looking pies.

People wait in long lines for slices of his pies?  Sour cream and vinegar in the pastry?  I was intrigued.  So I tried out Alan's pie pastry recipe and when I took out that apple pie from the oven...

I knew I had found THE ONE.

Yes folks, this is the pie pastry I'd been looking for, the one that had eluded me for 15 years!  I wanted to fly out to California right then and there and give Alan a big fat kiss on the cheek and tell him through tears he had changed my (pie-making) life forever.  Maybe some day...

For now, I'm going to share the recipe with you as well as some tips from Alan, plus some things I've learned along the way because honestly, this isn't your typical pie pastry.

You'll need all-purpose flour, sugar, kosher salt, baking powder, unsalted butter, ice-cold water, sour cream and vinegar.

 Mix the flour, sugar, salt and baking powder in a large bowl.  I just use a pastry blender to mix it together.

Cut the cold unsalted butter into large chunks with a knife and dump it into the flour mixture.

Cut in the butter with a pastry blender until you have small chunks of butter the size of peas.

Here is a close up of what it should look like.

Combine the ice-cold water, sour cream and vinegar; whisk it all together.

Add the liquid all at once to the flour mixture.

Quickly but gently stir to distribute, but DO NOT OVERMIX!

This is what it should look like.

Gently gather the dough and press it together in the bowl.  It will be quite crumbly, not something you're used to with your typical pie pastry, so don't freak out.  Cover and let it rest in the fridge.

 Once it has rested, divide it into three portions.  I take the dough and weigh it so I can divide it equally.

See?  It's a pretty crumbly dough.  For this particular recipe that I was making I only needed one pie crust, so I placed the other two portions in a resealable plastic bag and put them in the freezer for another use.

 Take your dough and gently shape into a disk on a lightly floured surface.

With your floured rolling pin, start to roll out the pastry, giving the pastry a quarter turn with every roll.  The edges will get crumbly so just press it back onto the disk as you roll it out; this part requires a bit of patience.  If you can, flip the disk over about half way through as you are rolling it out.

 Once it's rolled out to about a 1/4 inch, you are good to go.

 Here's a close-up, see the blotches of butter in the pastry?  That's what makes it so incredibly flaky!

Follow your pie recipe the rest of the way.  Here is a picture of a tarte tatin I made using the pie pastry.  The crust was flaky, buttery, golden and delicious - just like I had imagined!

Alan's Pie Pastry
recipe by Alan Carter of Mission Beach Café, BHG Nov. '10

3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 to 1 tablespoon kosher salt*
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 3/4 cups cold unsalted butter
2/3 cup ice-cold water
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 teaspoon vinegar

In a very large bowl, combine flour, sugar, salt and baking powder.  With a pastry blender, cut in butter leaving chunks the size of peas.  Always use chilled, not frozen or room temperature, butter.  Butter should feel like clay to the touch.  Combine ice-cold water, sour cream and vinegar.  Acid helps pie dough set up.  A little vinegar and sour cream added to the water does the trick.  Add liquid all at once to the flour mixture.  Quickly stir to distribute; do not overmix.  Do not overwork your pie dough.  Stir the wet ingredients into the flour and butter, then stop.  As it rests the dough will come together.  The dough should be slightly crumbly.  If your pie dough is ugly and lumpy with butter knots the size of peas, it's perfect.  Let rest in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or overnight.  The finished dough should break, not stretch.  Divide into three portions; shape into disks.  You want a generous crust, so don't roll it too thin.  About 1/4 inch is good.  Always butter the pie dish.  Sometimes, especially with fruit pies, the juice sneaks under the crust and acts like glue, bonding the crust to the pan.  To prevent shrinking do not stretch the dough into the pie plate or over the top of the pie.  Use at once or wrap and refrigerate up to 3 days.  Or freeze up to 1 month.  Thaw overnight in the refrigerator if frozen.  Makes 3 single-crust pastries.

*Alan enjoys the contrast of a salty crust to sweet filling (as do I!).  For a more neutral crust, use the lower amount of salt.  Be sure to use kosher salt!  If you only have table salt on hand, reduce the amount of salt by half.

P.S.  Even though I love, love, love this pie pastry, it isn't practical for when you need to pre-bake a pie crust.  Because it has a lovely amount of butter, the crust will just melt to the bottom of the pie plate.  So either fill the entire pan with pie weights, don't pre-bake it at all (I'm sure it will be fine) or use a different recipe.  Same goes for making hand-held pies, just use a different recipe.  Or, perhaps you can use it for hand-held pies if you cut back on the butter but I'm not about to experiment with that.  This pie pastry is perfect just for pies in a dish.

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