Photos and recipes by Allyson Oken/ Paso Robles Press
Flaky, buttery, pie crust is not just a vessel for sweet and savory concoctions, but a blank canvas for a decorator’s imagination to run wild. After making a pie, I have found that there is always a bit of dough left over, and what better way to use it than to create something beautiful to top it off?
Even the way the top crust meets the bottom can become a work of art, molded or shaped to create a refined edge to complement a lattice, snowflake or cut-out pie top. The quality of the dough is paramount to the decorating process. To ensure that the dough is workable, use the recipe bellow.
• Two cubes of unsalted butter, cut into
cubes at room temperature
• 2-1/2 cups of all purpose flour
• 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar
• 3 tablespoons of ice cold water (fill a glass
with water and add ice to reach desired temperature)
• 1 teaspoon of lemon zest
To make the crust, lay out the ingredients, then in a large bowl begin to cube the butter with a knife. Next, add the tablespoon of sugar, lemon zest and all 2-and-a-half cups of flour. Then, with a fork, pastry knife or — my favorite tool — two hands, combine the ingredients until all of the flour is coated in the butter, forming granules about the size of a pea or smaller. This should take about five minutes to accomplish.
Once the dry ingredients are incorporated with the butter, add three tablespoons of ice cold water to the bowl and combine, forming a ball of dough. The texture of the dough should be smooth, not sticky; if it is sticky, add a bit more flour to attain a smooth, soft texture. Separate the dough into two balls, one just slightly larger than the other. Place the larger of the two in a bowl in the refrigerator to keep cool.
Next, flour a large cutting board and rolling pin to prevent the dough from sticking. Parchment paper can also be used on a kitchen counter, for those that may not have a large enough cutting board. Take the smaller of the two dough balls and roll it into a circle that is about two centimeters thick. This will be the bottom crust.
Once rolled out to fit the size of the pie pan, fold the left side of the dough lightly over the other half without breaking it. Then, place the pie pan next to the rolled out dough and lift and lay the dough on the right half of the pie pan, unfurling the left side over the remainder. Then fill it and chill it. Now for the decorating!
Take the remaining dough out of the refrigerator and flour the rolling pin and rolling surface to prevent sticking. Roll the dough into a circular form to fit the pie pan and clean up the edges with a knife, making it as near to a perfect circle as possible.
This is the fun part. I like to get really creative with the dough and cut out my own shapes with a knife and use a wooden skewer to add detail, as a sculptor would. For those with a less artistic hand, cookie cutters will become your best buddy when decorating.
To make a lattice top for a pie, take a knife and slice the round, rolled-out pie dough into strips about half an inch wide, cutting vertically (up and down). Begin by laying the first strip vertically, going from left to right across the filled pie, pinching the end of the strip to adhere it to the bottom crust. The second strip of dough should be laid atop the filled pie horizontally (left to right). The third will be placed vertical and overlay the horizontal strip. Continue this process, working from the left side of the pie to the right and from the top to the bottom, in a pattern, vertical to horizontal, until the pie is covered.
Lattice lines can be braided or twisted into spirals thick or thin. It is all a matter of preference. The most important thing to remember when working with pie dough to create decorations is that the dough must be cold to be workable. Once the dough reaches room temperature, the milk fats in the butter begin to break down and the dough becomes difficult to shape. So my rule of thumb is to put the dough back in the refrigerator as I work to avoid it reaching room temperature.
To make a snowflake pie top, roll the dough out into a circle form. Refine the edge by cutting it into a smooth, round circle the size of the pie pan. Flour the dough and fold it in half and in half again, without breaking the dough, to make a triangle shape. The cut shapes from the apex of the triangle fold out the edge, and pull or pop out the shapes. Gently unfold the first fold, leaving the dough still folded in half once and place the side that is down atop the filled pie and unfurl the half over the top. Now pinch the edge of the top crust to adhere it to the bottom crust. You can create a design at the pie edge using a fork, spoon, your thumbs and pointer figures or all thumbs.
The edge and top of a pie can also be decorated with cut-outs of any shape, from autumn leaves and stars to hearts and roses. It is all a matter of preference. Either break out the cookie cutters and go wild or take a knife in hand and draw in the dough using a skewer to add detail.
To make leaves, take a small piece of dough, about the size of a cumquat, in hand and roll it into a ball. Place it on a floured surface and press it flat with the palm of your hand. With a skewer, press the pointed end lightly into the top end of the dough round leaving a vertical imprint to create the veins of a leaf. On either side of the main vertical indentation, add smaller veins that intersect on both the right and left side of the main vertical indentation. Then take a knife in hand and cut an oval shape around the indentations, making sure the main vertical line is centered in the dough from apex to apex of the oval. Then, with your finger tips, indent the edge of the leaf form to shape the desired type of leaf matching the veins of the leaf to the formed edge to make it look natural.
Making a rose-topped pie is one of my personal favorites. To do this, roll out the top crust and cut it into vertical strips, just as done with a lattice top. The use of a skewer to form the rose is very important. First, dampen the right edge of one of the strips and with a skewer in one hand take the top corner of the first strip going from left to right and wrap it around the skewer to create the center spiral of a rose, pressing and shaping petals while wrapping the dough around itself. Place each finished rose in a spiral, working from the outer edge of the filled pie to the center.
For me, taste has always come first, but once I mastered pie crusts and fillings, esthetics came into play in a big way. Now I find the time to make those special decorations that make for the best festive desserts on any table. If these designs don’t get you excited about leftover pie dough, check out the many design options the culinary world has to offer.
To ask questions and gain access to past recipes, contact Allyson Oken at firstname.lastname@example.org.For the complete article see the 10-07-2016 issue.
Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 10-07-2016 paper.
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