No matter how you slice it, there are few iconic foods as American as, well, pie. (Sorry for the cliché, but it got your attention, didn't it?) After all, on a hot summer afternoon, what could be better than sinking into a warm, gooey apple pie, with a dollop of cool whipped cream on top? And don't forget to wash it down with some homemade lemonade.
Even extraterrestrial-fighting New Yorkers tuck into some pie when the bad guys start rassling up a little too much trouble. The dynamic duo, J and K in Men in Black, always find themselves in a diner with a slice of pie to mull things over whenever they can't figure something out. The English do tea; Americans do pie. So if it's good enough for a couple of intrepid guys in suits defending the Earth, it'll probably do the trick for you, too, when you can't figure out how to start the lawn mower or fix the sprinklers. So, sit down, relax, and have some pie.
Or better yet, bake some pie. It can be a relaxing and almost therapeutic experience — but only if you go into the kitchen armed with the right tips. After all, it won't be very therapeutic if the cure only causes more problems. So here are some tips from various bakers, chefs, and instructors that will make your next baking experience, well, as easy as pie.
People seem to have a lot of trouble with dough. Nobody wants a tough pie crust, or worse yet, a soggy one. For a nice, flaky crust, there's no substitute for butter (or lard). The key when mixing the dough is to do it quickly so that the fat stays solid instead of melting away. Using a food processor helps speed up the process, and doing so in brief bursts just until the ingredients are combined (with a few chunks of butter left) will do the trick.
Another thing to keep in mind when working with dough is to keep the gluten "relaxed" so it's easier to roll out. Refrigerating the dough before rolling it out helps achieve this, as well as keeping the fat solid so that it won't be necessary to use too much flour when rolling out the dough, which can result in an overly hard, chewy crust.
Now, for the part you've been waiting for: rolling the dough. Here's where people often hit a snag. What's the best technique? What do you do if the dough tears? There's a lot of anxiety involved in rolling dough, but the best thing to do is just relax. Remember, it's just dough, it's not going to hurt you.
When rolling pie dough, lightly flour the rolling pin and roll from the middle outward, pressing down evenly throughout. Make quarter turns and roll the dough out in the same manner until it is the desired size and thickness. Leave a little extra for patching.
That brings us to our next point. If the dough tears, don't fret. Take a piece of dough for patching and apply some water or egg wash to it. Then, carefully press it in with your fingertips into the hole. When you're ready to bake, and the pie crust is in the pan, try putting it in the freezer for about 15 minutes before sending it to the oven. That way, the gluten will relax again after rolling, and you'll get a nice, flaky pie crust that won't curl away too much from the sides of the pan as it bakes.
For easy cleanup, place a baking sheet underneath the pie to catch any juices that may drip over while baking. While baking, if the edges start to cook too fast relative to the center, cover them with a little bit of foil.
Lastly, before serving, let the pie rest at least for 20 minutes. That way, the filling will have time to set.
That's about it! For some great pie recipes, click here to see the Great American Pie Extravaganza.
Special thanks to the Washington State Fruit Commission for their assistance with this story.
Will Budiaman is the Recipe Editor at The Daily Meal. Follow him on Twitter @WillBudiaman.