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July 16, 2007

Secrets of the Exploding Pie Crust


Old cooking legends have it that the perfect pie crust is a thing of such elegance and power, that if you apply your fork to it, it will explode.


Perhaps you’re wondering why anyone would cook such a food. That sounds like a legitimate question, which is why it’s wise not to ask it. For, without properly made pie crusts, how could one eat pie? And, a world without pie is best summed up thusly – the survivors would envy the dead.

So, we seek the perfect pie crust, even though it is said to be a thing of such flakiness that it will explode upon contact with your fork. A life without danger is not a life at all, but merely going through the motions.


Pie crusts are made with three basic ingredients – fat, flour and sugar. You may add love, but the key to cramming that into a measuring cup has thus far eluded us.


A word here on fat. This is not gristle collected from dinner plates. We are talking about lard or shortening. Lard, stored in the freezer, is preferable, but its ability to cause your heart to explode has meant that it is no longer prominent in most people’s kitchens.


The general ratio should be one cup of fat for every two-and-a-half cups of flour, with perhaps a teaspoon of sugar added. There could be a temptation to add more sugar. Avoid this, for the addition of the sweet could turn sour during the process of rolling it out later – too much sugar could make your crust as hard as a rock, and as difficult to flatten as it is to convince a pirate to part with his peg leg.


Cut the fat into the flour and sugar. The idea is to work swiftly and deliberately. Pretend, if it helps, that you are diffusing a bomb about to explode (even as you build one). By the end, what is in your bowl should resemble coarse, white gravel.


Over the top, drizzle a little more than a tablespoon of ice water. Mix with a spatula, and if your dough mashes together easily, it is ready for rolling. If not, drizzle more ice water. Cut your dough in half and compress each into something that looks like a small round of cheese. Wrap it in plastic and place in the refrigerator for several hours.


Remove, and roll it out. Go this way, and then that way, and repeat as necessary until you have a flat circle of flour before you.


Look at the crust. Look at your hands. Look back at the crust. You have just used your hands to create something that, if the old legends can be believed, is so flaky that it will explode upon application of a fork. It is difficult to believe, but it is true. Call the bomb squad!


If you have two such crusts, you have the opportunity to make an exploding pie. It is believed that this is the predecessor to the pie-in-the-face gag, since fruit pies pre-dated cream pies. The practical joke was this – place a fruit pie in front of a foppish dandy, hand him a fork and let the hilarity run its course.


Today, it is generally understood that this is a waste of both flaky pie crusts and filling, especially if you are using fresh fruits available only at certain times of the year. That goes double if you’ve gathered it yourself, either by heading to an orchard or picking wild berries.


Let us presume that you have gathered some berries. If you haven’t, it is a wonderful thought for a warm, sunny day. And, let us assume that you’ve gathered about one quart of them. The key to turning this into pie filling is to mix it with some flour and some sugar – heavy on the sugar, light on the flour (or else, you wind up with berry crumb cake surrounded by exploding pie crust). Roll one of your crusts along the bottom of the pan, and empty the filling into it. Roll the second crust over the top, and crimp both together. Brush the top with milk and dust with sugar. Cut slits to allow for steam to escape and pop into the oven at 400 degrees for 20 minutes and at 350 degrees for another 30 minutes. Remove and place on a windowsill to cool.


Worry not about either hippie or hobo stealing it. Remember, the crust is so flaky that it’s rigged to blow.


© 2007 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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