Sweetie Pies

By Sharon Kebschull Barrett
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I want to be a pie mom. Don’t like soccer, can’t stand hockey, and, frankly, have always found something off-putting about identifying myself by my child’s sport. But a pie mom? That’s the game for me.

I suppose, though, that I can’t claim the title without pies being common, a tradition, in our house. How do traditions start? Usually, they just happen — you do something once, and everyone loves it, so you do it again. I’ve always found articles that tell how to start a tradition to be off-putting, just too forced.

Lately, though, I’m forcing myself. My love of baking and compulsive recipe-clipping leaves me with more inspiration for new creations than I’ll ever have time, so that my family rarely gets to eat something they adored a second or third time. My baking, I’ve decided, needs structure (as does the rest of my life, but speaking of not enough time …).

Thus my new tradition: pie every Sunday, because I Love Pie. (If I could, I’d put that all in caps, but I don’t want to yell at you.) Like nothing else, pie says love, warmth, home, hearth. Homemade cookies in my children’s lunch boxes certainly shows them my love, and my rice pudding fills their tummies with warmth. But those are quick, easy treats. They don’t take the time and care that a good pie demands; even my fast pies require me to pay a bit more mind, lavish a little more love on the butter and flour.

At least, that’s how they feel to me. So far, my children seem fairly oblivious to all that loving. And that may be exactly why this tradition won’t, in the end, seem forced to them — it’ll grow slowly, until it becomes a natural part of the week.

Natural, unfortunately, requires planning. Much as I would love all our Sundays to consist of lazy family time after church, they’re rarely that calm. If I expect a pie-baking window to show itself to me mid-afternoon — well, suddenly it’s suppertime and there’s nary a crust in sight.

If you set out to be a pie mom, the crust likely will be your biggest stumbling block. Once you have it, the fillings practically make themselves.

So I carve out a little time once a month when I’m feeling relaxed or need some relaxation, and get to work rolling out dough rounds. I hear the piephobic screaming now that crust cannot bring relaxation. But if you’re not rushed, the rhythm of the rounds can take you to a happy place.

After all, it’s just pie. It demands your attention when you add water, but with a decent recipe, it’s hard to make a truly awful crust.

I’ve gone through a ridiculous number of recipes aiming for a foolproof dough. I’m close, but I doubt I’ll get to foolproof. There are too many variations in the flour alone to make any strict recipe work consistently. That said, even my less-fabulous crusts have been mighty OK.

For a while, I thought if I just used a little more liquid than a recipe required, I had an easier time with my dough. It held together well and didn’t seem too bothered by the extra flour needed to roll it out. Problem was, those crusts loved to shrink. They’d slump and slide down the pie plate, even when well-chilled before hitting the heat. Now I’m sure to stop as soon as the dough just start to hold together while it’s being mixed. I dump the dough (which hasn’t formed a solid mass) onto my rolling board and gently push it together. If it’s really too dry, I can flick a few drops of water onto it.

I have a few other tricks: a pinch of baking powder — but no more — gives the layers a little extra lift. Adding a bit of vodka to the ice water interferes with the gluten formation, keeping the crust tender, a trick discovered by Cook’s Illustrated magazine. Some sugar in the crust gives it color, but I leave most of it out for a savory pie. For all that, though, you could skip those tricks and still have a good crust, if you follow this one rule: If you freeze, making pie’s a breeze.

Once, when I failed to plan ahead, I pulled out four sticks of butter from the freezer, cut them into small chunks, and added them with the dry ingredients. It took a little while, but eventually the mixer gave me a cold, coarse meal ready to meld with some icy water. It rolled out like a dream, still chilled. At that point I had options: freeze my dough rounds or make pie straightaway. With dough that cold, a quick sit in the fridge while I mixed the filling was enough.

Two children may not have figured it all out yet, but here’s one memory I already cherish.

Recipe: Pie Dough

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