Michele Stuart, owner of Michele's Pies in Norwalk and Westport, Conn., and author of the new book Perfect Pies & More, offered these tips for holiday pie-baking:
-- Pie fillings aren't hard to master, so focus on the crust.
-- Pie baking takes patience. Try not to get frustrated and keep trying.
-- Stuart prefers to use Crisco brand vegetable shortening for her crusts.
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-- Make sure to use ice-cold ingredients, especially the water.
-- The biggest mistake pie bakers make is over-mixing the crust. Stop mixing when the shortening is the size of peas, gather the dough into a ball and wrap it tightly in plastic wrap.
-- Refrigerate pie dough for at least a half-hour before rolling it out.
-- Dough that cracks when rolled out is probably too dry. Next time, add more water when mixing. Cracking means a problem with the dough, not a problem with the rolling technique.
-- Invest in an oven thermometer to check your oven temperature for accuracy.
-- Stuart brushes her crust with heavy cream before baking to ensure a golden brown finish.
Traditional Pastry Pie Crust
2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoon Crisco vegetable shortening, cold
5 tablespoon water, ice cold
In a medium bowl, mix together flour and salt. Add Crisco to flour mixture. Either with a pastry blender or with fingertips, mix ingredients together with an up-and-down chopping motion until dough forms coarse, pea-sized crumbs.
Add the ice-cold water, 1 tablespoon at a time, delicately incorporating each tablespoon into the flour mixture before adding the next. You may have to use 1 more or 1 less tablespoon of water than amount recommended, depending upon humidity in your kitchen. You will know you have added the right amount of water when the dough forms a ball that easily holds together.
Use your palm to form dough into a dish shape, wrap in plastic wrap, and place in the refrigerator to chill for at least 30 minutes.
-- Perfect Pies & More, Michele Stuart