“The best way to make pie is to learn how to trust yourself and follow your nose — and the rest of your senses. That’s a poet’s advice too.” ~ Kate Lebo
Some of you may remember when Seattle pie poet Kate Lebo visited Alphabet Soup back in January to talk about A Commonplace Book of Pie (Chin Music Press, 2014) — a delightfully quirky collection of prose poems, recipes, baking tips and ephemera. *licks lips*
In essence a fantasy zodiac that upends our assumptions about what poetry is and can be, her pie poems invited us to look at ourselves, face our fears, and articulate our desires.
Now we can delve even further into our tantalizing pie obsessions with Kate’s brand new cookbook, Pie School: Lessons in Fruit, Flour, and Butter (Sasquatch Books, 2014), a between-the-covers sampling of her popular Pie School pastry academy classes. Oh, what a beauty it is!
Sure, there are many good pie cookbooks out there with tasty recipes and advice about how to fashion the perfectly tender flaky crust. But how many of these contain chapter intros and recipe header notes that read like prose poems? How many that serve up pie making process, social history, personal anecdotes, gorgeous photos, vintage chic, sass and class with such verve and heart?
In Kate Lebo, you have a passionate, knowledgeable, unintimidating teacher who advocates intuition, interpretation, imagination and relaxation while making pie. Her friendly, encouraging voice speaks to nervous novices as well as experienced bakers looking for a fresh fix.
Those of us who’ve
tried struggled agonized over the perfect pie crust know that the “easy as pie” cliché is bunk. Crust is tricky at best, even temperamental (“pie dough has a personality”). Kate’s detailed, step-by-step crust-making primer comes with an important caveat. Just like the opening quote says, you have to tune into your senses, remain flexible, and trust yourself. This also means good quality fresh ingredients, using your hands to get a “sense of the dough,” and making what you can with what you have.
Pie is a slow food, better handmade in small batches than churned out by machines.
The heart of Pie School is devoted to Kate’s forte, fruit pies. Her simple, rock solid advice: “the best pies use the best fruit,” so “choose the best fruit that’s in season.” Luring us to try her tempting recipes with a twinkle in her eye, Kate rhapsodizes about rhubarb, blueberries, cherries, peaches, blackberries, apples, and plums (do you think William Carlos Williams would approve?):
I’m in love with a plum. A different plum than you might find stacked in candescent magenta and yellow piles at the grocery store. My plum’s skin is deep purple with a blue beard that rubs off beneath your thumb. It’s yellow-fleshed and firm, too plump and cleft to be exactly almond-shaped, about the size of a skinny apricot.
This is what happens when a poet writes a cookbook! For Peach Whiskey Pie, she says:
Each bite is like a long talk on a summer porch, crackling with sugar, spinning with alcohol. An easy satisfaction that’s all the more interesting when enjoyed without a shadow of regret.
And did you know “nectarines are peaches with a recessive gene for baldness”? 🙂
Have no fear, gluten-free people. In addition to five wheat crust recipes, there are two gluten-free crust recipes (almond flour, buckwheat flour). To channel your inner retro, check out the chiffon pies calling for cookie crumb crusts. And when the winter winds blow and fresh fruit is scarce, whip up a “Snow Cupboard Pie” (Shaker Lemon, Coconut Chess, Banana Cream) that embraces shelf-stable ingredients.
There are about 50 recipes in all, just in time for holiday baking. You can stick with the classics or live dangerously and mix it up a little (Blueberry Lemon Verbena Galette, Plum Thyme Pie, Marionberry Pie with Hazelnut Crumble).
I was happy to see 10 recipes for apple pies, both sweet and savory. I thought a good place to start would be with Kate’s basic apple pie – a template that can be modified with your choice of fruit combos, sweeteners, or flavorings.
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You’re the Apple of My Pie, or, Looking for Lard in All the Wrong Places
I’ve made quite a few apple pies in my time, but never with lard. For crusts, I’ve gone the all butter route, and have had good results with half butter, half vegetable shortening.
But since a half butter, half lard crust is Kate’s “very, very favorite,” that’s what I wanted to try. She says “lard is nostalgic,” and that “it has no equal when it comes to pastry flavor and texture,” and it’s “a champion of flake in pie dough.”
But. Kate recommends not just any lard, but leaf lard, “a purer fat that pads a pig’s kidneys” available at butcher shops. Ho-kay. Apparently cheaper lards taste and smell like pork. Wouldn’t want a porky apple pie. But — no butcher shops in our area, and the butchers working behind supermarket counters looked at us funny when we asked for leaf lard. Sigh.
I never thought I’d long for lard, but there you have it. I’ll have to keep searching. Oink.
Instead, I tried Kate’s All-Butter Pie Crust which was delicious. I cast aside my trusty pastry blender and combined butter bits and flour with my fingers. A light touch, tossing, till all the flour was incorporated.
Then a drizzle of ice water, more tossing, more ice water. Tested the dough by throwing a small fistful into the air and catching it, then chilled the disks I’d formed for an hour.
Meanwhile, my eager leprechaun sous chef peeled, cored and sliced 3 Granny Smiths, 2 Ginger Golds, and 1 Bartlett pear. Added lemon juice, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and flour. Packed the slices nicely into the pie dish, dotted the filling with butter, then put the top crust on. After brushing it with milk, into the oven (I didn’t sprinkle any demerara sugar on top).
I’ve made pie crusts using my food processor, made them completely by hand as I did this time, and most often, used my pastry blender. The amount of ice water is the trickiest part for me — a humid day requires less water, a dry day (especially with the heat on indoors), requires more. I usually measure the water by spoonfuls — this was my first time pouring a little stream from my measuring cup.
I probably could have added a little less water and handled the crust a tad less for an even tenderer crust. This one was good, but not perfect. Clearly, I need more practice. Like we said before, pie dough has a personality. But the more time you invest in getting a sense of your dough, the more at ease you will be, and the better things will turn out.
I loved this pie, my pie. Shared it, ate it up. Pie is never just pie. There’s love in every bite. ♥
- 1 recipe any double-crust pie dough
- 3 Gravenstein or Granny Smith apples, peeled if desired, cored, and thinly sliced
- 2 Akane, Ginger Gold, or McIntosh apples, peeled if desired, cored, and thinly sliced
- 1 any variety ripe pear, cored, and thinly sliced
- juice of 1/2 medium lemon, or more (1 to 2 T)
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- Big pinch of salt
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 2 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
- Egg white wash (1 egg white beaten with 1 teaspoon water) or use milk
- Demerara sugar, for sprinkling
1. Make the dough and refrigerate it for at least an hour, or overnight. Roll out the bottom crust and place it into a 9 to 10-inch pie plate. Tuck the crust into the plate and trim the edges. Refrigerate the crust while you prepare the next steps of the recipe.
2. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
3. Put the apple and pear slices in a large bowl and squeeze the lemon juice over them to prevent browning. Stir in the granulated sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Taste and adjust the flavors as needed. Stir in the flour and set the filling aside.
4. Roll out the top crust and retrieve the bottom crust from the refrigerator.
5. Using a slotted spoon, put the apples in the bottom crust, pressing them down gently to pack them into the pie. Pour the liquid from the filling over the apples and dot the filling with butter. Drape the top crust over it, trim the edges, and crimp or flute them. Cut generous steam vents, brush the crust with the egg white wash, and sprinkle it with the demerara sugar.
6. Bake the pie in the middle of the oven for 15 to 20 minutes, until the crust is blond and blistered. Rotate the pie from front to back and reduce the heat to 375 degrees F. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes more, until the crust is deeply golden and the juice bubbles slowly at the pie’s edge.
7. Cool on a wire rack for at least an hour. Serve warm or at room temperature. Store leftovers on the kitchen counter loosely wrapped in a towel for up to 30 days.
ALL-BUTTER PIE CRUST
- 2-1/2 cups flour
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup (2 sticks) well-chilled unsalted butter
1. Fill a spouted liquid measuring cup with about 1-1/2 cups of water, plop in some ice cubes, and place it in the freezer while you prepare the next steps of the recipe. The idea is to have more water than you need for the recipe (which will probably use 1/2 cup or less) at a very cold temperature, not to actually freeze the water or use all 1-1/2 cups in the dough.
2. In a large bowl, mix the flour, sugar, and salt. Cut 1/2-to-1 tablespoon pieces of butter and drop them into the flour. Toss the fat with the flour to evenly distribute it.
3. Position your hands palms up, fingers loosely curled. Scoop up flour and fat and rub it between your thumb and fingers, letting it fall back into the bowl after rubbing. Do this, reaching into the bottom and around the sides to incorporate all the flour into the fat, until the mixture is slightly yellow, slightly damp. It should be chunky — mostly pea-size with some almond- and cherry-size pieces. The smaller bits should resemble coarse cornmeal.
4. Take the water out of the freezer. Pour it in a steady thin stream around the bowl for about 5 seconds. Toss to distribute the moisture. You’ll probably need to pour a little more water on and toss again. As you toss and the dough gets close to perfect, it will become a bit shaggy and slightly tacky to the touch. Press a small bit of the mixture together and toss it gently into the air. If it breaks apart when you catch it, add more water, toss to distribute the moisture, and test again. If the dough ball keeps its shape, it’s done. (When all is said and done, you’ll have added about 1/3 to 1/2 cup water.)
5. With firm, brief pressure, gather the dough in 2 roughly equal balls (if one is larger, use that for the bottom crust). Quickly form the dough into thick disks using your palms and thumbs. Wrap the disks individually in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for an hour to 3 days before rolling.
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PIE SCHOOL: Lessons in Fruit, Flour, and Butter
written by Kate Lebo
photography by Rina Jordan
published by Sasquatch Books, September 2014
Cookbook, 240 pp.
**Click here to Browse Inside the Book at the publisher’s website!
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The always warm and welcoming Keri Collins Lewis is hosting the Roundup at Keri Recommends. Take her some apple pie and check out the full menu of poetic goodness being shared in the blogsophere this week. Enjoy your weekend!
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This post is also being linked to Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking, where all are invited to share their food-related posts. Put on your bibs and aprons and come join the fun!
Copyright © 2014 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.