Making Pie Dough: Is Cheating Allowed?

November 28 2008, 10:44 AM

Mine family is one of traditions. Which means that for every major holiday dinner, I make dessert--a job I wholeheartedly tackle. Searching the Internet, the library, and cookbook after cookbook, I've found flourless chocolate cake and poached pear recipes that have won table-wide accolades. Over the years, eliciting these compliments has become a matter of pride. For that reason, I never make pies.

Pies require risk. Perfect amounts of chilled butter and ice water must be cut and stirred into mountains of flour just so. Otherwise, the elastic dough will stick or break. But "perfect" and I don't get along. Just when I think my dough will pull together, it crumbles apart. And if I manage to roll it into an even circle, it inevitably tears in two on the way to the pie dish. But this year, pies have befallen me. My family told me pumpkin pie was a necessity for Thanksgiving, cranberry would be nice for Christmas, and perhaps rhubarb for the summer solstice. I cringed at the thoughts. The most successful pies I've made I served abroad, where my diners had no idea that pie crusts shouldn't be as thin as phyllo dough. They never noticed the pinched-together-crust repair jobs. The excitement of eating true American pie was enough to entice my eaters. This year, though, my holiday dinner guests are from Lakewood, and they know pie. So, I'm contemplating cheating on my crust. Chow has already warned that if I tempt the dough myself, I'll have to let it chill. (Urgh, cakes never require chilling.) Plus, I don't have experience baking dough at high altitude, a factor I'll have to consider, according to Susan Purdy, author of "Pie in the Sky." At 5,280 feet, she suggests that I should start the baking at 425 degrees and then lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees so my crust doesn't burn but my fruit still becomes tender. What work! Truth be told, I'm considering to save myself the pie-baking hassle and use Epicurious' pre-made pie crust guide. I'll simply buy a crust and use whipped cream to mask a lack of butter or any store-bought taste. Or perhaps I'll try a graham-cracker or vanilla-wafer crust? But then again, it's the holidays, and my dessert reputation hangs on the line. Can I really cheat when it comes to makig pie crust?

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