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.
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.
Using a pastry cutter (though you could use a food processor if you wanted), start blending the fat into the flour.
Keep going …
Until you get this powdery, crumb-y sort of material.
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.
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.
Eventually, you will be out of powdery stuff and have all these curd-like clumps. That was good enough for me.
Now pour half that mixture onto a piece of plastic wrap.
Gather the edges of the wrap and use it to squeeze the pastry into a ball.
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.
In the meantime you can prepare your fruit. Peel and cube up about 4-5 pears and 5-6 small apples.
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.
Add in as well 2 tablespoons butter and 1/4 cup brown sugar.
And 2 tablespoons flour.
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.
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.
Oh, and preheat your oven to 400°F while you’re at it.
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.
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).
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.
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).
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.
Allow to cool on a rack and warm to serve. What a lovely, flaky crust!
We had ours with Fussells, a present from Fussellette.