As American as apple pie

We have all heard it before, ” …few things are as American as apple pie”. So, today, January 23rd, referring to the easiest pie crust recipe: 1-2-3 dough ( which I will talk about later) we have yet another sweet excuse to bring out the American appetite in all of us and have some pie!

Pie as we know it in America is a recent creation with its myriad of sweet fillings. The original pies appeared in ancient Greece and Rome and refered to doughs made with olive oil which were then used to hold several meat and seafood fillings. The pie then made its way into Europe to make its first recorded appearance around 1300. Again, pies baked in England around this time were mostly savory meat pies. English settlers brought their pie baking traditions with them as the American colonies emerged and from that point on they adapted their recipes to the local ingredients available.

The pie is something so common in today’s popular culture that even McDonald’s sells it. However, it is one of the most complex pastries to make because it requires accurate technique to get the flaky crust that melts in your mouth the moment the very first bite is taken. In my opinion, the pie has become so widely available, that we have taken it for granted. So, in honor of National Pie Day, I am going to share a simple pie crust recipe and some tips that will give you flaky pie success!

To the science first!

Cooking is nothing more than a delicious science. If cooks are scientists, then bakers can be compared to rocket scientists because there are so many conditions that the baker must deal with to acquire desired texture, mouthfeel, appearance, and taste. A flaky pie crust dough is made of three basic ingredients: water, flour, and fat. The very first challenge that we face is the development of gluten, which is a protein that gives dough structure. A pie dough calls for minimal gluten, too much and you might as well take out your hockey sticks and hope for ice. When water and flour come together, the gluten is formed by use of a mechanical action or mixing. The best flours to use for this type of dough are all purpose flour and pastry flour, both of which have a lower protein content because they are made with a softer wheat. The addition of fat inhibits the formation of gluten strands by saturating the flour before water is added. In a way, this acts as a coating that will keep the flour from absorbing the water as soon as it is added. Finally, when adding the fat, make sure you do not mix it in all the way, but rather leave pea size bits of fat so that they can melt as the crust cooks. This will allow air gaps to form and contributes to the flaky texture.

More tips for flaky success:

* Add a splash of lemon juice or vinegar to the water used for dough as acidic conditions will make it harder for gluten to develop
* Once dough comes together, form it into a disk and refrigerate until ready to roll out.
* Make sure all ingredients are chilled before using.
** if you feel really adventurous, try substituting half of the water content with vodka. It is flavorless and when heated, it simply evaporates without forming the gluten when mixed into the flour.

1-2-3 Dough
The 1,2,3 refers to the ratio of ingredients by weigh. 1 part ice water, 2 parts fat, 3 parts flour.

450g flour
300g fat ( I enjoy using butter)
150g ice cold water ( I use 75g vodka/ 75g ice water)

Add a tbs of sugar to the flour if it will be a sweet pie. Cut the butter into cubes and one by one drop into flour. With your hands, rub the cubes into the flour until they are about the size of small peas. Incorporate the ice cold liquid and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate.

National Pie Day is a fun way to break free from the Monday routine and to keep an American tradition alive. We are becoming a society that is rapidly forgetting the art of cooking, one which relies on fast food for nourishment. This is why it is important to take the time to make something with lots of love so that it can be shared with others.

It’s strawberry season in Florida, so I took the opportunity to make strawberry pie with cardamom and lime. Now I hit the gym, too much pie in my belly!

Happy eating.

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