Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Upper Crust

The word "crust" is an onomatopoetic joy.  Just saying it has a kind of crisp feeling, and should remind you of wonderful pies and tarts.  Something far less joyful is buying a poorly-made crust in a box, or even, god-forbid one of those previously shaped pie tins.  In the latter case you have to be so careful, coddling the thing until you get home, where you then have to store it in an equally coddled fashion.  Coddling is very appropriate for some foods; Brussels sprouts, oysters, sweetbreads, and Enokitake mushrooms should all be coddled.  Don't waste your time and energy coddling pie crusts which should never have existed in the first place.

Homemade and handmade pie crusts may be one of those things that are more widely made than I think, but the predominance of rubbish mixes and crusts seems to tell otherwise.  A homemade crust is so versatile and easily morphed with the addition or subtraction of sugar, the wash of an egg or milk, and the sprinkle of cinnamon or anise that no doughletariat should be without one.

The Upper Crust

- 320 g. / 11.25 oz. flour
- 20 g / .75 oz. sugar (increase a bit for a sweet pie)
- 120 ml. / 4 oz. ice water *
- A moderate throw of salt
- 115 g / 4 oz.  cold lard or suet**
- 115 g / 4 oz cold butter***
This should get you a healthy dual crust.  If you only find yourself needing one, the other can be refrigerated or frozen for a bit of time.   After losing your crust shackles, you'll quickly find another use for the second.

You might notice that there seems to be a lot of fat in this crust.  You are correct.  Fat is what makes this crust delicious, and a lack of fat (or a lack of good tasting fat) is what makes prolefood crusts in the store taste like the mixture of sand and cardboard that they often do.  If you are going to make a pie, sweet or savory, treat yourself to an equally good crust for God's sake.

So, now for the process.  Toss all of your dry bits in a good-sized bowl with a fork or sifter.  Feel free to add any spices you'd like here, in a creative but restrained manner as always.  Now, get your fats into a number of roughly cubic or ballish forms and add them to your dry bits.  You can do this in any manner you'd like. 1 butter followed by 1 animal fat repeated forever.  2 butter, one animal fat.  All the butter, all the animal fat.  Something will resonate with you deep within, and I would encourage you to find and follow this resonance, for it is likely your true will.

Once everything is added, warm your hands up for some light pinching and combining.  You might do this by pinching a spouse, partner, or loved one.  If this person yells and jumps, you have overwarmed your hands, and will be too rough on your dough.  If you find yourself without such a person, or simply feel as though this person would not enjoy being pinched and combined, practice on a pillow or something.  Less feedback this way though.  Now move on to your fats and dry bits, the point at which you should stop is when things look like peas and cracker crumbs.  Pinch and combine.

Now, ready something like two-thirds of your ice water and quickly add it to your peas and crumbs.  Push around with a fork to combine and see how things look.  The dough should be a tad on the dry side, but not a crumbling, eroding dry.  Test by squeezing a bit in your hands, it should come together.  If it does not, splash a bit more water in and keep testing.  An overly wet dough will not achieve its onomatopoetic potential, and will just be a bit limp.  Also, don't overwork things - remember the pinching, if you cause your dough to cry out, it will get back at you by being tough and sandy after baking.

Now, make two balls of dough by dividing equally.  Squeeze things together so that they hold a shape, flatten a bit and wrap in plastic wrap or wax paper.  Put them in the fridge, or a cold place for at least 30 minutes, preferably an hour before rolling out for your pie, sweet or savory.

The above picture is an egg-washed crust atop a wonderful pig trotter and pheasant pie.  Savory, warm, and like being wrapped in a blanket - great for those days when you are feeling a bit unsteady.

* Don't cheat.  Ice water from the fridge, or with ice cubes.  The colder the water the better the crust.
** Don't cheat.  Render your own animal fats and use them well.  Much better than rancid vegetable fats never meant for use in pie crust.
*** Don't cheat.  Shake your own butter.  All about deconstruction here.

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