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Easy as Pie

May 9, 2009 | by Chef Herschel Arnow

It's easy as pie -- when you know how to do it.

Making your first piecrust takes courage. Only the second one is "easy as pie." Think positive. Just imagine a light, crisp crust with a blistering golden brown surface, tender enough to break easily, but not too tender that it crumbles. The filling should be equally illustrious.

The best way to learn how to make a pie is to have a teacher and watch him or her do it. If you don't have a teacher, don't let that stop you. We've all eaten enough delicious pies and they can be the example to follow.

Pie doughs generally follow the same formulas. This one makes a 9" double piecrust or 2 9" single crust pie.


3/4 cup shortening
2 1/2 cups flour (measured after sifting)
1 tsp. salt
5 tbsps. water, approximately
1 egg (optional)
1 tsp. sugar

OR: Barbara's Pastry Pie Dough

Methods For Mixing Pie Dough:

Flour mixed with water makes a paste. To avoid this, the shortening is cut into the flour. Choose a large bowl with a narrow, round bottom. Place flour in bowl, add shortening. Coat your fingers with flour and pinch shortening and flour together. A pastry blender or two knives can be used. For a flaky crust, cut or pinch shortening until particles resemble a coarse corn meal. Cut in salt, egg (optional) and sugar. (It is best to dissolve salt into water to insure even distribution.)

When adding liquid, toss dough with a fork, pouring in only as much liquid as necessary to dampen the clumps until they hold together. Gently press the clumps into a ball. Chill up to 2 hours. It will make it easier to work with. If the dough crumbles during rolling, put bits back into the bowl and toss with just enough water to make it hold together. Divide dough in half. Form into a ball. Place ball in between 2 pieces of wax paper. Roll out quite thin, one inch larger than your pie plate (9" pie plate). Place onto the pie plate upside down and peel off the wax paper carefully. Leave one inch over the pie plate. Patch piecrust if necessary.


Bottom Crust: Divide dough, allowing slightly more for the bottom crust. Roll it into a circle 1/8 to ¼ inch thick. A thinner crust may break; a thicker crust isn't good.

Invert the pie pan and place it gently on the rolled dough. Cut around it with a knife, making a circle of dough one inch larger than the pan. To transfer dough from board to pan, roll it around your pin or fold it in half or in a tricorn before picking it up.

Fitting dough into the pan requires a finicky touch. Without stretching the dough, press it gently but firmly against bottom and sides to exclude air bubbles. Slash excess dough from the rim with a table knife.

Protecting the Bottom Crust: You'll hear of methods ranging from witchcraft to nonsense that supposedly will prevent a soggy bottom crust. The only ones that work are brushing it with melted butter (this adds flavor too), or margarine if it needs to be parve, and, when feasible, thickening the filling.

Top Crust: Roll remaining dough about an inch larger than the pan. Fold it in half. In order to allow the steam to escape during baking, gash a small opening near the center, being sure to cut through both thickness of the dough.

Just before putting the top crust on, pat the rim of the lower crust lightly with water so the top will adhere. Place the top crust on the filling, being careful not to stretch it, and again slash off excess dough from the rim.

Sealing the Crust: For a simple and attractive seal, press the rim of the crust together all around the edges with the back of the fork tines.

Fluting Pie Crust: A standing edge acts as a dike, so is especially useful when the filling is juicy. To flute, push the rim of dough in from the outer edge of the pan with the index finger of one hand, while pressing toward it with the thumb and index finger of the other hand.

To help prevent shrinkage, hook and press outside edges of the flutes firmly under the rim of the pan.

Thick Fluting: Roll the dough for the top crust 1 inch larger than usual and turn the excess under the edge of the lower crust.

Suggestion: If your fingertips can take heat, the flutes may be reshaped after about 3 minutes of baking.

Glazing Pie Crusts: Because a pale pie is unattractive, brush the surface of the dough with melted butter and allow it to harden before baking the pie. A brush of milk, cream, or slightly beaten egg yolk may be used instead, but butter adds more flavor and, because it won't puddle, makes a uniform glaze.


A single-crust pie may be allowed to display its allure openly. Simply follow directions for a Bottom Crust, finish the edge as desired -- flute, fork-stamp, etc. -- and add filling.

Pastry Lattice: If you'd like the filling to wink through a lattice, roll dough into an oblong approximately equal to the diameter of the pan and cut 1/2-inch strips. Moisten the rim of the bottom crust with water and place the strips across it, allowing 1/2 inch between each. If desired, top with additional strips placed at right angles, or for fancy-fancy, weave them through those already in place. The strips may be cut with a pastry jagger (the wheel pinks them), and artful cooks also twist the strips gently several times before putting them in place.

Fasten the strips by pressing them firmly to the edge of the bottom crust. Trim off excess dough, and flute the rim or stamp it with fork tines.

Leftover Pie Dough

If you munched on baked scraps of leftover pie dough at your mother's knee, no sales talk will be needed. The following suggestions can be a treat for the neighborhood small fry, or the scraps may be used for hors d'oeuvre.

Cinnamon Snails: Roll dough into an oblong about 1/8 inch thick. Sprinkle with a mixture of 3 parts sugar and 1 part cinnamon. Roll tightly like a jelly roll and cut 1" slices. Place snails on a cookie sheet, cut side up, and bake in a preheated hot, 425° F, oven about 10 minutes, or until browned.

Hors d'oeuvre Snails: Spread pastry with softened butter and cover with sharply seasoned spreads. Bake as above.

Cheese Straws: Roll pastry into an oblong about ¼ inch thick. Sprinkle with grated cheese, pressing it into the dough. Fold the dough into thirds and press it down firmly. Roll into an oblong again and, if desired, sprinkle with cayenne pepper.

With a knife or pastry wheel, cut strips measuring 5" X 1". Twist the strips gently two or three times and place on a cookie sheet, pressing the ends down firmly to secure them. Bake as specified for Cinnamon Snails above.


Fruit Fillings:

The filling of a perfect fruit pie is touched with sweetness and not quite thick. It's composed simply of prepared fruit (pitted, peeled, hulled, etc.), sweetening, a thickening agent, and spices. The tartness of the fruit determines the amount of sweetening, and honey or sugar -- granulated, maple, or brown -- may be used.

Choose any desired spice -- cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, etc., -- or combinations, but be sure they don't overwhelm the flavor of the fruit.

Thickening Agents: Flour is the usual thickening agent, and the amount depends upon the juiciness of the fruit. Mix it with the sugar and spices and spread half the mixture over the bottom crust. Add the fruit and sprinkle it with the remaining flour mixture.

Other thickeners are quick-cooking tapioca, crumbs -- bread, cake, cookie -- or almonds chopped fine. Scatter them over the bottom crust, and, depending upon the juiciness of the fruit, allow 1 to 2 tablespoons for a 9" pie. Mix sweetening and spices with the fruit.

Baking Fruit Pies: To avoid an overflow of fruit juice, center a "chimney" of uncooked macaroni upright in the gash in the top crust. To be sure you won't have to scrape spills from the oven, place the pie pan on a piece of aluminum foil about 3 inches larger than the pan.

Bake fruit pies on the lowest rack of a preheated hot, 425° F oven until the fruit is tender (test by piercing it with a cake tester as soon as the juice bubbles through the gash in the top crust), and the pastry is brown. Allow about 35 minutes for a double-crust pie, about 30 minutes for a single-crust pie.

Suggestion: When baking a single-crust pie of firm fruits (apple, peach), cover the fruit filling with foil for the first 20 minutes. Should the crust get too brown before the fruit is tender, invert a pan over the pie.


Fruit Amount Sugar Flour Spice
Apples, peeled and sliced 5-6 cups 3/4 - 1 cup 1-2 tbsps. 1 tsp.
Berries 3 1/2 cups 1/2 - 3/4 cups 4 tbsps. --
Cherries, sour, pitted 3 - 3 1/2 cups 1 - 1 1/4 cups 4 tbsps. 1/2 tsp.
Peaches, sliced or halved 3 1/2 - 4 cups 1 1/4 cups 5 tbsps. 1/2 tsp.
Rhubarb, diced 3 1/2 - 4 cups 1 1/4 cups 5 tbsps. 1/2 tsp.

Adapted from Cooking Without Recipes by Helen Worth

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Oil Pastry

(Crust recipe found with Pumpkin Pie)


2 cups flour, sifted
1/4 cup cold water (I use Pareve milk - Rich's)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup cooking oil
scant tsp. sugar

Mix flour, salt and sugar. Add milk (or substitute) and oil. Mix with fork, work with hands to put together. Divide in half and roll between 2 pieces of waxed paper. Makes 2 crusts for 8" or 9" pie. This rolls out quite thin and you peel the waxed paper off. It tears easily so be careful, but you can also patch it and it works fine. Makes a light and flaky crust.


Use about 6-10 apples, depending on their size and the size of your pan. Peel and slice thin. Put into crust and add flour, sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg (allspice if you like). Again, depending on the size of apples, I use about 8-9 apples, ¾ cup sugar, 1-2 tsps. cinnamon, about ¼ - ½ tsp. nutmeg and tbsps. flour. Dot with about 2 tbsps. margarine, cut slits in top crust and cover and bake at about 425° F for 50-60 minutes.

This is an art, not a science. So you have to experiment to see how much sugar, etc., you like. I like it a little more tart and a little more cinnamony. So there you have it.

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Make this with a traditional piecrust or make or buy a 9" graham cracker crust.

Graham Cracker Crust

I used Chocolate Marie biscuits. Crumbling (in food processor) and mixed with a little sugar and margarine and baked it at 350°F for about 5-8 minutes. You could also use tea biscuits or vanilla cookies instead of chocolate.



about 1 1/2 cups cookie crumbs
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup melted margarine

Mix together and press into bottom and sides of pie or other baking dish.

Melt and blend in a double boiler:


1 12 oz. package semi-sweet chocolate bits
2 tbsps. sugar
2 tbsps. milk (or Pareve milk - Rich's or mocha mix)

Cool and beat in one at a time: 4 egg yolks and 1 tsp. vanilla.

Beat 4 egg whites until stiff and fold into chocolate mixture and pour into pie shell. Chill at least 8 hours. (It gets creamier as it sits, so good to make the day before and leave in the refrigerator.)

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Crust Ingredients:


1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup margarine
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. cinnamon

Following instructions above for crust.

Filling Ingredients:

1 1/2 lbs. plums, sliced thin
1/2 cup sugar
2 tbsps. flour
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. vanilla

Mix together. Pour into crust. Bake at 350°F (175°C) for 45 minutes.

Add toasted almond slivers on top.

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6 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
7 ozs. (200 gr.) bittersweet chocolate
7 ozs. (200 gr.) margarine

Beat egg whites with sugar until stiff. Set aside. Melt chocolate and margarine together. Add egg yolks. Fold in whites. Bake ½ of the batter in a 9" pie plate for 15-20 minutes at 350°F. Cool.

When cool, pour rest of the batter into the pie plate. Freeze.

Cut into 8 pieces and serve cold.

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FROZEN MUD PIE (by Lora Brody)


1 10" store bought graham cracker or chocolate crumb crust
6 ozs. cream cheese, softened
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
8 ozs. semisweet chocolate, melted and slightly cooled
1/2 cup whole milk
2 cups heavy cream, whipped
shaved chocolate for garnish

In a medium sized mixing bowl, combine cream cheese, sugar, vanilla and milk. Using a wooden spoon or electric mixer, beat until the mixture is smooth. Use a rubber spatula to gently fold in the cooled chocolate and whipped cream.

Pour and scrape the mixture into the crust, smoothing the top with the rubber spatula. Cover with aluminum foil and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight. This dessert can also be frozen for up to 2 months. Wrap in several layers of foil and defrost wrapped.

To serve: Garnish with rosettes of whipped cream and chocolate shavings.

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