Learning and pie crust

"Learning is fun!"  

Not true.  Learning is frustrating, exasperating and painful!  Knowing!  That's the fun part!

“Learning is fun”!  We’ve all heard this, read it, assumed it to be true, although experience never quite seems to confirm it. I think of a time in my very earliest driving days when I tried to drive a VW beetle up a steep hill. It seemed logical that a higher gear meant more speed and surely, more power. When it didn’t transpire as expected, I geared up even higher. Predictably, fourth gear failed me and I rolled, sadly, backward, to the bottom of the hill. Parents rolled their eyes. They just assumed that everyone understood the ups and downs of the manual transmission.  This experience confirmed for me that learning isn’t fun. Knowing is fun. Learning is the painful process of getting to the fun that is knowing. 

As time rolled on, I put my faith in 4-wheel drive. So much safer!  There were a few frightening skitters before I got to the joy of knowing how that worked!  Like too many people, I was crashing around merrily assuming that 4-wheel drive meant that I was somehow invincible.  Magic!  Who knew that the instant I put my foot on the brake, I was driving a curling rock like everyone else? Learning, in this case, is essential.  I strongly recommend a fun day at Capital City Speedway learning the essentials of winter driving: http://www.motorsportreg.com - search “winter driving”.   You won’t regret it! And sign those teen drivers up too. Remember that on the road, learning is fraught with potential oopsies. 

Learning cooking techniques is not quite so hazardous, but it’s important to avoid disappointments along the path to knowing.  Young cooks are often overly cautious. They don’t want to drive too fast. Often they fear heat. Knowing that to heat a pan to hot before adding oil and only then adding the food to the hot oil, will keep food from sticking, is a good example. The answer is heat – not Teflon. Or checking and stirring rice every few minutes “just to be on the safe side” until it is a sad gelatinous unappetizing mass. Or overworking pastry to “get it just right” and then wondering why their mother’s recipe for her ethereal pie crust would break a tooth. There is a speed, a quickness, a gentle assertiveness that comes with knowing. Understanding when to go fast, and when to go slow, when to simmer and when to put the pedal to the metal.  

It’s all about not just learning to drive, to follow the rules and stay between the lines.  It’s about knowing how to drive under all conditions. It’s the knowing that’s fun!

Try pie crust again. I beseech you! One more try to get to the knowing.  

Keep everything as cold as possible. Touch as little as possible!  


2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled or actually frozen, and cut into small pieces

1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water


In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour, salt, and sugar. Add butter, and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal, 8 to 10 seconds.

With machine running, add ice water in a slow, steady stream through feed tube. Pulse until dough holds together without being wet or sticky; be careful not to process more than 30 seconds. To test, squeeze a small amount together: If it is crumbly, add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time.

Divide dough into two equal balls. Flatten each ball into a disc and wrap in plastic. Transfer to the refrigerator and chill at least 1 hour. Dough may be stored, frozen, up to 1 month.

I recommend watching a few pie making videos while your dough chills, just to get mentally prepared. There are many great ones to choose from. 

To roll out, start with cool dough. Flour a board or your counter.  Flour your dough disk. Use a rolling pin, but if you don’t have one, a wine bottle works fine, or, in a pinch, a cold can of beer. 

When the moment it right, begin!  Roll deftly, but firmly and gently from the center out, turning the dough disk a quarter of a turn, roll, repeat, checking to be sure that there is no sticking. If there is, add a whiff of flour. Keep going until you have a thin, round sheet of pastry. 

You see?  That wasn’t so hard, now was it?  Roll the dough onto your rolling pin, and unfurl onto your pie pan. Urge it gently into the pan. Portico with a fork. Fill with whatever you are doing, dot with butter, add another rolled pie round over the top, unless you actually give a hoot about your diet. In which case, sprinkle with something oaty and crumbly.  Brush the pastry with some briskly mixed egg to get a nice, golden brown finish and pop into a hot oven. 400 degrees. 

Much like driving, or diving, or yoga, once you get the trick of it, once you get past the irritating, frustrating unpleasantness of learning, you can relax and enjoy the knowing!  And the pie!