Deep Dishes, Deep Pie, Deep Dough, Deep Thoughts

Deep Dish

Historically in my family, my dad’s mother has been the only person in the world who could successfully make pastry for pies. My mother and I have never been lucky enough to absorb her gift. I am still, however, determined to perfect my technique, and so, five years too late, I am using the Cooks Illustrated vodka pie crust recipe, which I borrowed from Smitten Kitchen.

I had gotten an email from my dad this morning (Monday) saying that my grandmother was unwell, and would I please send her a letter? So I was going to make a pie and take pictures and tell her all about how I had mastered this new skill. Or how I had failed. Either way, it would have been entertaining. Unfortunately, she passed away while I was making the dough, so I didn’t get that chance. She was 102, and healthy to the end. None of us can live forever, but she will nonetheless be missed. So in honour of Barbara Linklater Bell, the Queen of Pastry and all things baked, I present my own deep-dish pear and apple pie.

So we start with the crust.

Whisk together, in a medium-sized bowl, 2 1/2 cups flour, 1 teaspoon salt, and 2 tablespoons granulated sugar. Next time, I would probably leave out the salt, as it didn’t dissolve and I kept hitting little grains of it when I ate it.

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Now, you add your cold fat.  This recipe calls for 1/2 cup vegetable shortening and 3/4 cup butter.  Both being very cold.  That is key.  Cut those up into small cubes.

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Using a pastry cutter (though you could use a food processor if you wanted), start blending the fat into the flour.

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Keep going …

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Until you get this powdery, crumb-y sort of material.

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Now sprinkle in 1/4 cup very cold water and 1/4 cup very cold vodka. If you’re worried about the booze content, remember that vodka is tasteless and odorless, and all the alcohol in it will evaporate during cooking. This is what gives us that lovely flaky crust.

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Fold that in with a rubber spatula, until things start to come together. This will take some time, so be patient. Resist the urge to add more fluid.

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Eventually, you will be out of powdery stuff and have all these curd-like clumps. That was good enough for me.

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Now pour half that mixture onto a piece of plastic wrap.

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Gather the edges of the wrap and use it to squeeze the pastry into a ball.

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Flatten the dough into a disk, wrap it tightly, and do the same with the other half of the dough.  Refrigerate those disks for at least an hour.

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In the meantime you can prepare your fruit.  Peel and cube up about 4-5 pears and 5-6 small apples.

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Now, I decided to cook my fruit a little bit beforehand.  In hindsight, I shouldn’t have done that, as the fruit obviously cooks while in the pie.  But nevermind.

So toss your fruit with 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1 pinch nutmeg and 1 pinch ground cloves.

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Add in as well 2 tablespoons butter and 1/4 cup brown sugar.

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And 2 tablespoons flour.

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Now, when your dough is chilled and ready you can start rolling it out for your pie pan.  I took this nifty tip from Smitten Kitchen to roll the dough (which, with the vodka, will be slightly stickier) between two pieces of plastic wrap.  It certainly saves chipping up cemented flour on your countertop.

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The Pie helped with the manual labour. Just make sure to remove the folds in the plastic wrap as you roll. It makes everything smoother.

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Oh, and preheat your oven to 400°F while you’re at it.

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Fit one of the rolled out sheets of dough into your pie plate and tuck it in.  Chuck that in the fridge while you do the other one, which will be the top. The plastic wrap is a godsend here in terms of transferring the dough from one place to another. I am never using any other method.

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When you are ready to assemble the pie, take the bottom out of the fridge and toss in your fruit (cooked or uncooked, up to you).

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Flop the top piece onto the pie.  Fold the edges of the top piece under the edges of the bottom piece. Man I really wish I had more light in my kitchen. Or that my lightbox were bigger.

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Crimp the edges with your fingers or a fork and cut some holes for escaping steam.

Brush lightly with milk, and sprinkle with demerera sugar (optional).

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Bake for 45-60 minutes, or until your crust is firm and golden-brown and the innards are all bubbly.  And, as my husband says, “your pies never look all that great, but they always taste great.”  He’s not being mean — it’s true.  I make an ugly pie.

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Allow to cool on a rack and warm to serve.  What a lovely, flaky crust!

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We had ours with Fussells, a present from Fussellette.

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Knitting with Four Needles, for the second time

So two weeks ago we learned how to cast on and create a ribbed cuff on four needles for a mitten.

Today we are going to learn how to increase our stitching in order to accommodate for the thumb.

When we cast on, we did ten stitches on the first needle, ten on the second, and then eight on the third.  The third is where this thumb will go.  The unique thing about these mittens is that the thumb doesn’t stick out the side — it comes in front, like it actually does with your hand.  So when you’re making the mitten for the other hand, you would want to reverse the order of your needles, and have it go eight, ten, ten, instead of what we’ve done here, which is ten, ten, eight.  Sorry, I know that’s confusing.  It makes sense later.

Try your cuff on to see if it’s long enough for your liking.

So in the next row, you want to start with the plain knit stitch.  Apparently I knit upside-down, according to my grandmother, so I have to do it in purl.  As you are knitting, you want to increase two stitches on each needle.  I can’t really illustrate this properly, so for good diagrams on increasing your stitches you can look here or here.

On your third needle, the one with the eight stitches, knit the first four stitches, and then purl one, knit two, and purl the last one.  The reason you do the purling here is to mark where the thumb is — it creates a line as it gets bigger and makes the thing easier to find.

So now that you’ve increased you want to knit an entire row (that’s going around the needles twice).  Make sure to keep purling those two stitches to keep the line going.

When  you get to the thumb marking, increase two more stitches inside the purl stitches, and purl the last one as usual.  Knit two rows plain again, remembering to keep up marking those purl stitches.   You can see here what my increased stitches look like.

Next row increase two more stitches in the thumb area and then knit two rows plain and so on until you have 8 stitches between your purl markings.

Continue knitting rows, keeping your purl markings, until you reach the place where the thumb meets the hand.

You can see our thumb line here (from the purling).

More next time!

Knitting with Four Needles

My grandmother makes the best mittens of all time.  There is no question.  And it was her maid when she was a girl who taught her.  Sounds pretty fancy, doesn’t it?  Well these mittens are anything but fancy.  They are comfortable and last for ages.  I still have a pair that belonged to my uncle when he was a child and they’ve held up remarkably well.  My grandmother is also the only person who can make mittens that will fit my tiny carnie hands.  Unfortunately, due to growing pain in her hands due to arthritis my grandmother is no longer knitting, and so my mother and I have taken it upon ourselves to learn all her secrets.

This post is part of the process of learning the magic mitten “recipe.”  First we had to learn how to knit with four double-ended needles.   Easier said than done.  Though she makes it look pretty easy.

You have to keep track of not two but FOUR slippery slide-y needles that will get in your way and cause a ruckus. If you think you can handle that, then we can move on.So you start first with two needles, and you want to cast on ten stitches.Then you want to start to cast on an eleventh stitch, but stop just before you get to the point where you put the stitch on the first needle.Just like that you’re on to the next needle.  Stick another needle through that one and start casting on again.Cast on another ten, and then an eleventh and start again on the next needle.On the third needle we’re just going to cast on eight stitches.This next step is very important.  You take the dangly bit of wool from the first knot you tied when you started casting on and you tie that firmly to the strand of wool you are working with.  What you will see in the below image is incorrect.  As you can see, the cast-on rows are all twisted and higgledy-piggledy, and the knot should be flush with the stitched rows so you have a tight triangle.Make sure the rows on all your needles are facing the same way before you tie a nice tight knot.
Now you can start your knitting, and, because your needles are all connected now you can start where you left off and end up in a circle.  Start knitting, knit two, purl two, switching from needle to needle as you go through, and you will see the cuff of your mitten emerging.It’s hard at first to adjust to the other two needles just sitting there and getting in your way while you work on the first one but you get used to it.  Keep going until the cuff is as long as you’d like it to be.And that, so far, is all I have learned.  Stay tuned!