my pie dough and a confession

i made my very first pie crust in the fall of 2007. 2007 was when i realized that my favorite thing to do in life, other than playing the piano and being extraordinarily ridiculous in public, was to create ex-nihilo in my kitchen. it was thanksgiving, and my mother had come into town to keep me company. i had never made a pie in my life, but had over-romanticized the idea to the point of infatuated nausea.

when it came time to actually make the pie crust on that cold, thanksgiving morning in 2007, my mother instructed me on how to delicately cut the butter into the flour mixture without over-handling ("you don't want a tough pie crust..."), ensuring that you incorporate all of the butter into the flour to create pea-sized pieces. the whole "cutting in" business was new to me back then; i didn't even have a pastry cutter, nor did i really know what one even looked like. so i fumbled my way through the process by crisscrossing two knives into the flour/butter mixture, which, let's just be honest, never works.

the entire process was nothing short of an epic disaster. i'm pretty sure that i wound up on the floor of my kitchen in tears, with a lump of something that once resembled pie dough clenched in my passionate fists and an open bottle of petite syrah, half-empty, propped up by my hip. i didn't give up, but fought the good fight all the way through to rolling out the horrendous mess which caused the dough to come apart in chunks which i painstakingly pieced together in the pie plate like a crazy quilt of tough, floury-buttery-hell.

oh, but i'll never forget how that pie tasted when all was said and done. it was the best damn thing i had ever tasted. that is the beauty of pie - no matter how it may look at the beginning, or even at the end (as my many berry pies which have resembled berry soup can attest to), it will still be the best damn thing you've ever tasted. because you made it. you made this pie. and homemade pie can heal all wounds.

fast forward to today and you will zoom past the many different pie crust recipes i have tried - butter, shortening, a combination of butter and shortening, the one with vodka, the one that calls for vinegar and egg - and i have found the perfect pie crust. i have. it is utterly simple and foolproof, and my version is only slightly adapted from my favorite foodie/recipe blog, smitten kitchen.

which brings me to my pie crust confession:

i use a food processor.

there. i said it. i'm not ashamed. although i have dabbled in being a kitchen purist (everything from scratch! everything done by hand! take your fancy gadgets, widgets and gidgets and get ye out of my kitchen!), i am a full-time working mama to twins and must take shortcuts whenever and wherever i can. but the one shortcut i refuse to take is to buy pre-fab pie dough. pie dough, literally, is flour, sugar, salt, cold butter and icy cold water.

i'll bet that even the few, if any, bachelors reading this blog have all five of those ingredients in their kitchens as we speak.

seeing as those five ingredients are so cheap and readily accessible, i refuse to spend $3-$5 for some pre-fab version. so the shortcut that i choose for my pie crust is to forgo the joy of getting my fingers into the flour and butter mixture and pull out my cuisinart with the dough blade and let 'er rip.

but don't let 'er rip too much, or you'll wind up with tough pie dough... and you'll wind up in tears... but hopefully, this time, without a half-empty bottle of petite syrah.

tear-free pie dough (adapted ever so slightly from smitten kitchen)
(makes enough for two 9-inch pie crusts)
you will need:
a food processor with a dough blade
2 1/2 cups flour
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks unsalted butter
1 cup of water

first, place an ice cube or two into the 1 cup measurement of water and set aside. why? because you need the water to be ice cold. i can just hear you now - "but what about the ice cubes?! i don't want ice cubes in my pie dough!". don't worry. by the time you need the water, the cubes will be melted. trust me. it's science. let's proceed...

find your food processor and your dough blade attachment. if you don't have a dough blade attachment, i am both ashamed and horrified. you must go buy one before continuing with this recipe.

take your two sticks of butter and cut them up into pieces. throw the pieces into a bowl and place back into the fridge to keep them nice and cold. cold butter is happy butter when it comes to pie dough.

return to your food processor and dump in the flour, sugar and salt. process for just a few seconds to incorporate it all.

remove the lid and throw in the cold, cubed butter. now pulse, but don't go crazy. you don't want to get the dough all the way to the pea-sized stage, because you still need to process the dough once you add the water and the trick with pie dough is to not over-handle or over-manipulate. so only pulse 8 to 10 times. the dough will not be together yet, and that's okay. trust me. it's science.

now. get your icy cold water which no longer has cubes floating in it (magic!) and drizzle it slowly over the food processor while you pulse the dough. it will just start to come together after you've added about 3/4 of the water. at this point, if it looks like something you could push together with your hands, then stop! if the dough still looks awfully dry and hasn't come together at all, then continue to add the water, small bits at a time, while you pulse.

once the dough has loosely come together, remove the bowl of the processor and dump the contents onto your work surface (read: kitchen counter which has been cleaned sometime in the last three days). using your hands, bring the dough together into a ball and then divide into two similarly sized rounds. don't worry if there are chunks of butter that didn't get whomped up in the processor - that's a good thing! now flatten each dough ball into a disc, and wrap in plastic wrap and let chill in the fridge for an hour or two. you can also freeze the discs in ziploc bags.

as for rolling out the dough, you will find this recipe to be surprisingly easy to roll out. the trick is to roll out dough that is still cool (not cold), and use plenty of flour - flour the work surface, flour the top of the dough, and flour your rolling pin. hell, while you're at it, throw some flour up in the air, cover your apron with it and maybe throw some at the dog. the rest is in your hands.

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