Pie is easy to make. Anyone can do it. It’s the classic American dessert and you can put basically anything between two crusts and call it pie (see: Waitress, the movie). Unfortunately, I am an utter failure when it comes to “easy” things. I cannot make rice. I over-steam all veggies. If you can think of other “easy” dishes, I’ve definitely screwed them up, and probably multiple times. I’ve been making pies for years. It’s sort-of what my family knows me for – they always expect me to bake up an apple pie for every occasion. My apple pies are delicious. Hideously ugly, sometimes with a too-chewy underbaked crust, and usually with icky pieces of peel hanging around with the “pure” pieces of apple, but delicious.
I used to make pies with part Crisco part butter, but I realized that butter crusts are more delicious, more fun to make, and much less disgusting to think about (though I don’t know why). Once I made pie crust from a Jiffy box, before realizing it had lard in it (ew). The owner of this blog and myself have made many pies over the years with a wide range of outcomes. Feeling like it was time for us to settle down and get serious, I decided to take advantage of that Relatively Shitty Cook’s birthday and get us into a pie-making class at the Bowery Culinary Center (inside Whole Foods).
The class was intense and fast-paced; there wasn’t a second of down-time in its three-hour slot, and we probably stayed about 20 minutes past the end. The instructor, Lynn Kutner, was exactly who you’d want teaching you how to cook. She was approachable, humorous, witty, knowledgeable, and down to earth. She also made some incredible pies, and even had a bunch pre-made so we’d be able to snack, since the ones made during class time weren’t cool enough before it ended. The relatively shitty cook and I learned a lot, including how to make Pate Brisee instead of the classic American crust. That means we used egg yolk. I am fully convinced that it is the egg yolk that created the most crumbly, flaky, easy-to-work-with dough we’ve ever had the pleasure of getting our hands mixed up in.
So we all got to take home our dough, and I also nabbed the instructor’s extra dough so I could make a two-cruster. That’s where it got tricky. Once I was out of the classroom, my dough would not roll into a perfect circle, it was cracked all over, and it stuck to the counter. I should have rolled it out on a pillow case like the instructor recommended. Regardless, I was able to ease it into the dish to chill. It was the filling that really blew up in my face. I planned to use corn starch instead of tapioca, but I forgot to adjust the recipe to account for the fact that corn starch + liquid = gak. I ended up picking out goopy pieces of gak from the frozen berry mixture and then adding back a bunch of sugar and cinnamon. Of course the pie didn’t set because there was no thickening agent. I should have sprinkled some flour post-hoc. Unfortunately, I don’t work well under pressure.
The juice spilled all over my baking sheet and all over my oven, cabinets, countertop, and floor. But when you’re eating the most delicious four-berry pie topped with a scoop of hazelnut ice cream, none of that really matters. The pie was amazing, and I didn’t spill any on my fancy work shirt. The crust was flaky and the filling was both tart and sweet. Even though it didn’t set, the juice did have a nice gooeyness to it, like something you’d want to pour over creamy vanilla ice cream.
I don’t need to include a pie recipe here, since they’re so easy to find. However, I will recommend use a real pate brisee recipe, not just a regular American pie recipe. Also, chill the butter but not too much before making the dough. Also, use egg whites to waterproof the bottom crust. And I think freezing the whole pie for ~10 minutes before baking helps it hold up well. You should fold the two crusts together tightly inwards to keep the juices in. And a great tip from Lynn Kutner: when you make the vents, cut them in the areas where you plan on cutting the pie’s pieces, so you’re less likely to shatter the crust.