Easy as pie, as it turns out, is a bit of a misnomer. Baking one that lives up to Grandma's — with a flaky homemade crust, fresh-cut fruit, and personalized ingredients — is a culinary feat. But it's worth it — a skill that will impress and satisfy your culinary ambitions. Emily and Melissa Elsen, owners of Four & Twenty Blackbirds, a pie shop in Brooklyn, New York, know this well. Their adventurous and always fresh pies created such a buzz that New York restaurant guru Danny Meyer now stocks them in his cafe at the Whitney Museum. It was Grandma, of course, who taught the Elsens everything they know. At the Elsen family restaurant in Hecla, South Dakota (pop. 300), her famous pies pulled in a big crowd. One thing the Elsens learned from Grandma: "Crust is 50 percent of a pie," says Emily. Perfect crust has to be made by hand, and with butter or lard. The crusts of pies you find in grocery-store aisles are often composed of oil, and when they're processed, the dough becomes sandy, rather than flaky — just one more reason to learn to make pie yourself. "Get lots of butter and try it," Emily says. "It's just pie!"
The Best Hand-Pounded Pie Crust
by Emily and Melissa Elsen
At Four & Twenty, Emily and Melissa use a high-quality, European-style (read: higher fat content) butter. Plugrá brand is an easy-to-find butter that Emily recommends for home cooks. The two also say to add a bit of cider vinegar to the dough. It serves to tenderize the crust and inhibit the development of glutens (proteins that make for a tough crust).
This recipe makes two rounds of dough, enough for one nine-inch double-crust pie.
- 2½ cups all-purpose unbleached flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp sugar
- ½ lb (2 sticks) cold European-style unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces
- ¾ cup ice water, combined with 2 tbsp cider vinegar
Whisk the dry ingredients together in a metal bowl. Blend the butter into the dry ingredients, being careful not to overwork the mix. The butter should be in pea-size chunks, not too big, but not completely incorporated. Slowly add the ice-water mixture and bring the dough completely together by hand, so that it holds together when squeezed. Aim to create a marbleized effect, so that the butter is still visible. Divide into 2 discs, wrap in plastic, and chill an hour or more before use.
A Simple Strawberry Pie
- 2 rounds of pie dough
- 3 pints strawberries, halved
- ¾ cup sugar
- ¼ cup cornstarch
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- Whipped cream for serving
Preheat oven to 400º F. Roll out the dough into an 11-inch round and place it in a 9-inch pie plate. Fold the dough over and under, and crimp. Roll out the second round and cut into 8 strips for a lattice top.
Toss the strawberries with the sugar, cornstarch, and lemon juice. Place the filling over the crust, and then arrange lattice strips on top with 4 strips running lengthwise and 4 running crosswise, alternately weaving strips to create a lattice.
Bake for 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 350º F and bake on the middle rack of your oven for 35 to 45 minutes more. Pie is finished when filling begins to bubble and the crust is golden brown. Chill before serving.
- 2 rounds of pie dough
- 2½ lbs large, ripe tomatoes
- 3 scallions, chopped
- 2 tbsp chopped dill
- 1½ tsp kosher salt
- ½ tsp pepper
- 8 oz grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese
Roll a round of chilled dough into an 11-inch circle. Lift the dough into a 9-inch pie plate, then fold overhang. Chill.
Preheat the oven to 425º F with a baking sheet on the middle rack. Core and slice the tomatoes and toss with scallions, dill, salt, and pepper. Alternate layers of tomatoes and cheese, topping with cheese.
Roll out the other round of dough and top the pie. Crimp the edges and cut a circle of slices around so steam can escape. Bake pie on the sheet until crust is golden and filling is bubbling, 35 to 45 minutes. Let it cool.