I've always felt that anything worth doing is worth doing well. Pie crust certainly fits well within the category of things worth doing. I've never been much of a baker -- DPaul is the breadmaster in the house -- and not having the mastery of a good, simple pie dough has always felt like a gaping hole in my culinary repertory. So in order to learn how to do it well, DPaul and I both undertook tutelage from a bona fide pastry chef, in fact arguably the best of the bunch, the always fabulous Shuna Lydon.
If you are not yet a loyal and regular reader of her blog, eggbeater, you should be. Her stellar CV aside (she's worked with luminary chefs in some of the most esteemed kitchens in the Bay Area, such as French Laundry, Aziza and Citizen Cake), she is a fabulous writer, whimsical, intuitive and poetic. She takes gorgeous photographs. And she's just a plain old sweetheart.
Jumbled into the diminutive kitchen at Poulet in Berkeley, a dozen of us of varying degrees of bakeitude focused our five senses on the task at hand, producing a delectable all-butter pie crust. Shuna showed us the ropes on mixing our frozen butter and frozen flour in a frozen bowl, stopping along the way to allow us to touch the mixture and train our sensory memory to know when to stop. This is the stuff you cannot learn in a book, on TV or even (gasp!) the Internet.
Shuna talks to her dough, calls it pretty, and the dough responds by being gorgeous and pliable. Note to self: Flatter pie dough. She shows us how to roll the dough, to flatten the shoulders, to keep a round shape. We all try our hands at it with general success and only the occasional delve into shape hell. Unless you want a square pie, that is.
Crusts are laid into pie pans, cut, crimped, chilled. We experiment: blind baking a crust filled with beans, and another that's empty. The beans keep the crust upright and shapely. The empty one droops and sags, but is still delicious enough to eat as a snack, snapped off in crispy bits.
Shuna peels and chops apples with ninja-like fingers of fury while the remaining eleven of us collectively compose a punkin pie filling using a puree of the most delicious pumpkins and squashes that Shuna lovingly roasted. It's a lot of cooks in the kitchen, and there is some negotiation on measurements since we are doubling the recipe, but it all works out in the end.
Shuna's pie prowess is in evidence. The crust is crispity crunchy, toothsome and golden, gently sweet all on its own. The fillings are wonderfully unsweet, the star ingredients singing their own tunes, supported only by the quieter harmonic hums of spices and sugar. Bright, tart apples retain their firm bite. Punkin custard tastes like the harvest of autumn, earthy and warm. The whipped cream doesn't suck, either.
We don't get to taste the fruits of our own labors, but hear after the fact that they are fabulous. Yes, we conquered the mighty pie dough, all of us, together. We are ready to be unleashed on an unsuspecting world, spreading pie joy everywhere we go. And how can pie not bring joy?
You've been warned. Pies are coming. Watch the skies, or at least this space. And if you want to perfect your own pie, you can still learn from the best. Cuz if you're going to do it, you might as well do it well.