Monday, March 1, 2010

Try, Try Again

I've set lots of goals for myself over the years. Some I've achieved, some I haven't. For years now, one goal I've struggled towards has been making my own pie crust, and I am proud to say that I have officially achieved Pie Crust Success! Although I've been a bit traumatized by my past pie crust failures, I recently felt compelled to give it one more try. Something about the task of making pie crust just seemed so elemental to me, and I also didn't like the idea that I wasn't making pie crust because I couldn't, instead of not making it because I was choosing not to. With the gauntlet thrown once more, I gave it another go and was pleasantly surprised.

There are three key factors to which I attribute this victory. First, the recipe. It's from Nigella Lawson's book, How to Be A Domestic Goddess. She not only provides a simple recipe, but she also presents the idea of making pie crust in a non-intimidating way, suggesting that it's something you just need to practice doing in order to ultimately do it well.

The second key factor in my success was my food processor. Nigella's recipe calls for the use of a food processor, and while you don't absolutely need one to make pie crust, it makes it much easier and faster.

The final crucial element was counter space. I've had the opportunity to attempt this recipe in several different kitchens over the years, all with varying amounts of counter space. My most spectacular failure took place in a kitchen with a three foot span of counter space that came up to roughly the top of my thighs. There was just no way to get the right amount of leverage to roll out the crust, and when rolling out crust (or any dough, really) you don't want to handle it too much. If it gets too warm it gets sticky and becomes impossible to roll out, so you really need a decent space where you move swiftly as you take nice long strokes with your rolling pin.

A couple of notes from the trenches: If you have issues with shortening, get over it. An all butter crust just has too heavy of a flavor for savory dishes, plus shortening makes the crust a bit easier to handle. You'll have to play with the proportion of butter to shortening to see what works best for you.

Finally, be open to it. Making pie crust can be incredibly, shockingly satisfying - it's practical, it's tactile, it's sensual, it's spiritual. The way the dough feels in your hand as you form into a disk is weighty and basic. Making pie crust is one of those fundamental tasks, repeated over and over, generation after generation. Rolling it out, it doesn't quite seem possible that flour, fat, and water could yield this beautiful ivory sheet, thick and almost alive. When you pull it out of the oven, you can see that it's not perfect, but that's the point. The edges are rougher than with a premade crust, it tears more easier as you lay it on the pie, but it bakes beautifully. It's crusty, flaky, and flavorful, and it came from your hands.

Pie crust success was a long time coming for me, more than six years, and I have to say, the satisfaction I feel when I see the final product of my efforts is on par with the satisfaction I felt when completing my dissertation. Of course, that took just as long, so perhaps it's no surprise. Both goals, long struggled towards through a cycle of defeat and success, achieved.

Now, I turn my attention to bread.

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