When a story is perfect just as it is, it’s best to leave well enough alone. Nothing you do or say will ever improve upon the perfection that already exists. Perfection prevailed on a Wednesday night at New School of Cooking when Evan Kleiman (former chef/owner of Angeli Caffe and current host of Good Food on KCRW) and Sherry Yard (former pastry chef at Spago, she will open Helms Hall and Bakery in spring of 2014) joined forces to share their secrets of pie making….perfect pie making.
These chefs are seasoned professionals and much loved Los Angeles food icons already, and there is not much more I need to say. So from their mouths to your ears, here are some of my favorite words of wisdom from “Secrets For The Perfect Pie”.
Evan led with a classic, savory Chicken Pot Pie with Duck Fat/Butter Dough.
Evan: Here’s the thing. The idea is to go from disaster to master. I don’t know how many pies it will take for you to get there, but you will learn something new with each pie you make. Working the dough is a moment of meditation in a crazy world.
Evan Kleiman’s Duck Fat/Butter Dough
12 oz All Purpose Flour (I love Giusto’s)
Pinch of Salt
5 oz High Fat Butter (Plugra, Kerrygold) cut into 5 pieces, chilled
5 oz Rendered Duck Fat, pulled into 3 pieces, chilled
4-5 oz Ice Cold Water
Mix dry ingredients together in a large bowl.
Toss the butter and duck fat lumps around until they are coated with flour. Use a pastry cutter or your fingers to mix the fats and flour together until you have a mixture with uneven crumbles, some as big as an almond and some as small as peas.
Add the water a tablespoon at a time, fluffing up the mixture with a fork after each addition. Once you can create a clump by squeezing the dough in your fist, it has enough water. Don’t worry if it’s a little shaggy. It’s all right as long as it sticks together.
Dump the crumbly mixture onto your work surface and bring the mass together by first pushing it away from you with the heel of your hand, then gathering it up with a bench scraper. Repeat if necessary.
Give the dough a couple of quick kneads then cut dough in half. Form each half into a flat disc. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and as long as two days. You may also freeze the dough after it rests.
Sherry went sweet on us with her Quintessential Apple Pie and 3-2-1 Flaky Dough. She followed that with a Plum and Blackberry Pie topped with Almond Crumble.
Sherry: I start with butter from the freezer, then incorporate it into the dough in a mixer on a low setting. Let the butter evolve into the size of a coin. See that big piece of butter in your dough? Don’t be scared! Also, I rarely use white sugar alone anymore. I am a big fan of brown sugar and mix it in with the white.
Evan: There are so many sugars on the shelves these days. Experiment!
Sherry Yard’s Quintessential Apple Pie
4 lbs. Braeburn Apples, peeled, quartered and cored
2 Tbsp Calvados
the zest of one lemon, chopped fine
4 Tbsp Lemon juice
1/2 cup Sugar
1/4 cup All Purpose Flour
1 tsp Salt, Maldon
3/4 tsp Cinnamon
1/2 tsp Nutmeg
1 recipe 3-2-1 Pie Crust, well chilled
Egg Wash: 1 egg plus 1 yolk, beaten
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F
Cut the apple quarters in thirds crosswise. Combine in a bowl with the Calvados, lemon zest, lemon juice, sugar, flour, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg.
Roll out half the cold dough and drape it over a 9 or 10 inch pie pan. Let the dough hang over the rim by about 1/2 inch. Don’t pull or stretch the dough. Doing so will make the crust uneven.
Fill the pie shell, mounding with the apple mixture.
Brush only the edge of the bottom pie crust, along the rim, with the egg wash. Water works well here, too. This step will help the top crust adhere firmly to the bottom crust.
Roll out the remaining dough. Top apples with this second round of dough. Trim the edges so that they hang over the rim by 1 inch.
Gently tuck edge of top crust under the bottom crust and crimp the two together with your fingers.
Brush entire top crust with egg wash. Sprinkle with sugar. Cut air slits.
Place the pie on a sheet pan and place in oven. Bake 10 minutes at 425, then turn oven down to 350 degrees and bake for 1 hour to 1 1/4 hours, until crust is browned and the juices begin to bubble out. Serve warm.
Sherry Yard’s Master 3-2-1 Flaky Pie Dough
8 oz Unsalted Butter
3 cups All Purpose Flour
2 Tbsp Sugar
1 tsp Salt
1/2 cup Ice Water, plus extra if needed, up to 2/3 cup
1/2 tsp White Wine Vinegar or Champagne Vinegar
Cut the butter into 1 inch pieces and place it in the freezer to chill for 15 minutes.
In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, sift together the flour and sugar.
Fit with paddle attachment. Add butter and salt. On low speed, mix for about 2 minutes. Stop mixing and by hand pinch flat any large pieces of butter that remain.
Combine the ice water and vinegar in a small bowl.
Turn the mixer on low and add the liquid all at once. Pulse mixing just until the dough comes together, about 15 seconds.
Remove the dough from the bowl and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill for at least 1 hour.
After properly chilled, roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to desired thickness.
Sherry: Always, always…ALWAYS pre-bake your pie crust for a custard filled pie, like pumpkin for example. I use a clean daisy-shaped coffee filter sprayed with oil out of an aerosol can to line the shell. Then another one on top, also sprayed lightly with oil. Then I put the beans or pie weights in the filter. Bake the shell at 375-400 degrees till it’s almost done. The pie weights lift out easily with both filters. Then pour in your custard and finish baking at a lower temperature. 300 degrees.
Evan and Sherry: We agree that a slice of pie has the perfect filling to crust ratio. Miniature pies often have just too much crust. In this case, bigger really is better! We both love Pyrex to bake our pies in.
Sherry: People like to crimp the edges of their pie, but I like to cut mine with scissors. That straight edge shows off all the hard work you did to create a beautifully layered, flaky masterpiece.
This mini master class in perfect pie making drew to a close and I’d completely forgotten that I needed to go home. Fortunately I did not get pulled over for driving under the influence of too much pie! Evan and Sherry were delightful. Their blend of craftsmanship, technique, wisdom, encouragement and fun (the lol kind) was as balanced as any one of their delicious creations. Remember to go to KCRW.com/goodfood and enter your pie in this year’s cookoff. Evan’s final tip…make sure the bottom crust of the pie is cooked! The End.