The perfect pie crust recipe and the importance of calibrating your oven!
Have you ever noticed that some people fling a bunch of ingredients together and magic happens? The rest of the world stands back in wonder, trying to detect “the secret”. Perhaps the ingredients are organic! Surely that’s it! No, it’s his range. He’s using gas. That must be it! Oh. She’s using an electric range. So is that it then? It’s the oil! Good quality olive oil! Or peanut oil! Canola! A special salt perhaps? Pink Himalayan? Maldon? The flour! It must be the flour! Is it old? Dry? Unbleached? Never been bleached? Fresh herbs are surely important. Yet some people create magic with dried herbs. It must be the garlic! It must be fresh. The broth! Is it bone broth? And yet… I follow her recipe slavishly but it’s never the same somehow. Perhaps they forgot something in the recipe – an ingredient or an essential step.
Well perhaps. A recipe is simply that magician taking the time to write down, as precisely as they know how, exactly what they have done. A good recipe is a fine thing. A perfect recipe is impossible. And this is simply because there are too many variables in the equation.
How every oven is calibrated is a big one. A recipe can’t, in all conscience, say, “Bake at 350 for 30 minutes”. Or even 30-35 minutes. Ovens vary widely. You have to know your oven and adjust your times accordingly. Calibrating your oven isn’t much of a trick. Put a cooking thermometer into the oven. Set the temperature at, say 350. When the oven is hot, check the temperature on your thermometer. You may be surprised. The magical cooks know their ovens. But they don’t know yours. Your 350 may be 325. Or 375. It makes quite a difference. How can you repair it if it is not accurate? Don’t worry about it. Just adjust your cooking temperatures and times accordingly and all will be well. I recently needed to replace my former range. We had gotten along nicely for many years. It ran cool. I knew that. I adjusted. We understood each other. Over time, it ran more and more cool until there was hardly a detectable pulse and it was time for the knacker man. The new range was the same brand, newer model. I assumed no adjustment would be necessary. Repeated protestations from the smoke alarm cleared that up for me in a hurry and once the smoke cleared, we learned to get along.
This simply illustrates the challenges of the recipe writer. He has no idea how hot your oven runs, or how dry your flour is, or the freshness of your garlic or your oil, or the age of your baking powder, or your eggs or heaven help us, your yeast. Considering the plethora of variables, it’s a wonder any recipe works at all.
Next, the beleaguered recipe writer has no way of guessing what sort of shenanigans you might get up to. You might decide to eschew sugar in baked goods in a desperate bid for eternal life and use honey instead. Slow your roll! If you do so, there are considerations. (With thanks to thekitchn.com for their help here). For every cup of sugar, use ½ to 2/3 cups of honey. Honey is also about 20% water, so for every cup of honey, you’ll want to reduce other liquids in the recipe by 1/4 cup. (If it’s not a cup, some math will come into play here). And you’ll need to add baking soda. Seems that honey is naturally acidic, who knew?, so the baking soda helps balance the acidity and allows your baked good to rise properly. The general rule is to add ¼ teaspoon for every cup of honey used. Math again if the amount of honey is more or less. That sounds like a lot of fiddling! And we’re not done yet. The higher sugar content in honey means that it burns faster than sugar, so you’ll need to lower that oven temperature by 25 degrees and keep a close watch. Especially if your oven runs hot.
So you can see that, especially in baking, a casual substitution can spell disaster for the unwary recipe follower. Before you substitute shortening for butter, almond flour for all-purpose wheat, or zero fat yogurt for full-fat sour cream, skimmed milk for cream… I could go on, you’d best get your Googler going
to avoid disappointment.
The following is a perfect pie crust recipe. Tested. Repeatedly.
Pressing the dough into a disc rather than shaping it into a ball allows it to chill faster. This will also make the dough easier to roll out, and if you freeze it, it will thaw more quickly.
Makes 1 double-crust or 2 single-crust 9- to 10-inch pies or two galettes.
· 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
· 1 teaspoon salt
· 1 teaspoon sugar
· 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces BUT for a PERFECT texture, replace ¼ of the butter with ¼ cup of lard. Trust me.
· 1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. Quickly, without touching it too much, 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.
Now, provided you and your oven have come to an understanding, you have a reliable recipe. Unless