Art of the Pie: A Practical Guide to Homemade Crusts, Fillings, and Life - Kate McDermott, Andrew Scrivani

 

Funny thing happened to me with this book - I actually didn't LOVE it the first time I read it. I thought it was a little trite, a little cliché, a little too cutesy..."In life, like in pie, you must vent"...and so on.

I read this over a month ago and something just told me that I needed to withhold my initial judgment until I could actually make the pie. After all, once you get past the introduction (which was mostly about how pie making can be applied to live and vice versa) the pie making teach part of the book is bountiful with loads of information, experience and understanding in making a pie in whichever way you want to tackle it - from types of dough to alternate ways to roll and how to create all the fillings that go in between: hot, cold, sweet and savory. It's not just a list of her recipes, she gives you practical knowledge with tactile insight.

And that's the thing that gave me pause before rolling my eyes too hard - I've made pie before. I wouldn't say I'm heavily experienced or even super successful (there's a difference between edible and awesome, agreed?), but I've done it and anyone who's made pie before knows that it takes a certain touch -- in short, it is an art. With that in mind, why not take some of her 'feelings' advice into account and give this an honest go? I think the best way to review this is to just give you a taste of my journey making my own pie, the Kate McDermott way.

First, I waited until I could be totally chilled, relaxed and in a good space. I chose a Sunday when we had no plans - when I could play with the kids, get them involved if they wanted or work on it while they were busy chasing each other around the house. I didn't even let their crashing and yelling disturb my pie-zen. It helped that mid-day my parents came to pick them up for fun. I'm not going to lie, this is when I *actually* made the pie. ;)

First, the dough. I've only ever made all shortening crusts. One time when I was trying to be a better person, I tried my hand at an all butter crust. The all butter crust did not love me. The all shortening crust is how I was taught and makes a serviceable dough. McDermott has a recipe for half shortening and half butter and this is what I went with because it's what I had on hand - she recommends using leaf lard for pie dough but that was a little too much commitment for me at this point. She has recipes for all butter, gluten free and many more.

McDermott's dough making tips may have not changed my life, but they changed my dough game FOREVER. First, I chilled all the ingredients and tools (rather than just the fat and water). That means that I put the measured flour, salt, shortening, and butter in the freezer. I put the mixing bowl in the freezer. I put the ice water in the freezer. Only when everything was super cold did I start to assemble the dough.

Secondly, I prepared a dish of ice cubes on the side. Why, you ask? One of Kate's tips is that if you use the 'smoosh' method, which means that you combine the dough ingredients by hand, that cold hands are optimal and to use ice. When the heat from my hands started warming the fats a little too much while smooshing, the handy bowl of ice was there for me to cool them off again for further smooshing action.

Lastly, I've read a lot of dough recipes and McDermott's description of what the dough should feel like and look like was a little different. She said the fat should have varying sizes including pea and almond sized pieces and when adding the cold water, once you can pinch the dough together and it holds, it's ready. The variation in fat size was new to me…I’ve heard pea sized again, but always assumed I needed a more consistent size and texture and also looked for the dough to ‘come together’ instead of the pinch method. Here’s what my dough looked like after it was ready to turn out and wrap into ‘chubby disks’ to chill:

 



Once chilled, here's my rolled dough - bottom crust:




I meant to get a picture of the apple filling once I piled it in and dotted it with butter. But I guess I was so worried about the dough that it slipped my mind. One thing I did do, as recommended by McDermott, was use a couple varieties of apples. Granny Smith and Gala made it into this pie, at 70/30 ratio respectively. One thing I did NOT do that she recommended was leave the skin on the apples which seemed ALL WRONG. I just couldn't bring myself to do that to my pie.

My pie filled, fluted, and vented:




I tucked this baby into the oven. There was some fussing over the bake, 20 minutes at 425 degrees, 30 minutes at 375, and a final ten minutes with a sugar sprinkling. Here's the finished product:

 


Because my pie making day was very chill and lazy, I didn't do what all our grandmothers or legitimate pie makers do which is make it in the morning so that it's cooled and ready after supper. I made my dough mid-afternoon and did an early evening roll and fill. Basically, it came out of the oven at 9pm - too late to be cooled and consumed last night.

This is fine. Pie for breakfast gives me another reason to get out of bed in the morning. Here's the only shot of filling I have:

 




You might have noticed from my pictures my scarred farm kitchen table, general mess of my pie making, heavily scratched and used pie tin. There are very few areas in my life that are shiny, new, or perfect. I lean towards comfy, relaxed, well-loved and well enjoyed - maybe even a little damaged. Even scarred things can have a lot of life left to give. I feel like that myself most days - a little imperfect, but with some use yet. Maybe a little of that pie-as-life or life-as-pie has rubbed off on me in the end. I say all this because this was THE BEST PIE I HAVE EVER MADE.

True to myself till the end, I can't even get you a good shot of the piece I enjoyed with my coffee at work, here's a shot of it 'tossed' in my to-go container. But seriously, look at that flake!

 


Overall, this book was quite valuable to me – I used more techniques than I could even journal. For example, I’m convinced ‘thumping’ the dough before rolling made some sort of difference. I also listened for the ‘sizzle-whump’ to check for doneness. Most of all though, I loved the approach to pie making the most – it doesn’t have to be perfect. Her advice gave me room to try new things and, in retrospect, her tone wasn’t pretentious and allowed me be okay with any failure. You can tell that her heart is in teaching this craft.