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EASY AS PIE

Tips for achieving sweeter results.

WRITTEN BY JENNIFER RACHEL BAUMER
PHOTOS BY SHEA EVANS

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Ever notice that pie really isn't so easy? Pie is meant to be a filling-delivery system (hand pies are becoming quite popular) or a beautiful presentation of fresh fruit. But sometimes, keeping that filling in check or making your pie beautiful seems anything but easy.

Today's food culture is elevating pie to an art form, convincing aspiring bakers that the perfect flaky crust is out of reach. Many people over-think pie, says Millicent Souris, author of How to Build a Better Pie.

Souris' take on pie is, "Let the simple be the simple." Go back to basics - simple crusts and wonderful fillings, and pie as comfort food that anyone can make. Souris' cookbook is loaded with tips and recipes for pies both sweet and savory.

Nicholle Alumbaugh at Reno's Homage Bakery chimes in with Souris to offer tips for making your next trip to the farmers' market or that batch of holiday baking easy as pie ... really!

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The Basics

Butter or vegetable shortening, or both? Souris prefers straight butter, and Alumbaugh agrees. Though crust can be made with vegetable shortening or heart-healthy olive oil, both sacrifice flavor and flakiness.

For your pie recipes, work with cold butter (though not necessarily ice cold) as you introduce the ingredients to each other. Whether you cut butter into flour with forks, knives, or fingers, you don't have to work for those "pea-sized" pebbles of butter-flour mix that we hear about so often, but you do need to get the butter in and mix quickly, and get out before the butter melts.

A little salt in the crust enhances flavor, and, for sweet pies, add a little sugar, though the crust shouldn't resemble a cookie. Adding vodka to the cold water creates a flakier crust because alcohol evaporates more quickly than water.

Let the crust rest and chill for 30 minutes before rolling out. Should you use a French rolling pin, American with handles, or marble? Pick your favorite. More important is plenty of clean space for rolling and consistency so that the edges aren't thinner than the middle.

Blind bake (pre-bake) crusts for liquid-heavy fillings that take longer to bake than the crust can withstand. Line the crust with parchment paper and hold down with pie weights, a pie chain, beans, or lentils to keep air pockets from forming during baking.

Docking (poking the crust with the tines of a fork) before baking also removes air bubbles; during baking, the holes will fill in. Don't dock crusts for really juicy pies.

The Details

Lattice crusts aren't just elegant; they serve a purpose. A lattice crust allows more reduction in juices during baking for juicy fruit pies. They're not ideal for apple pies, Alumbaugh says, because apple pies have more sharp edges than berry pies. For an easy lattice, you can purchase a tool that cuts the crust into lattice shape (available at Resco Restaurant Supply in Reno).

To thicken a fruit pie without losing the bright jewel colors of fresh fruit, Alumbaugh suggests that a little tapioca goes a long way. Souris suggests using arrowroot, though it's harder to find and more expensive. Too much cornstarch will dull the look of the fruit, and some juiciness in a fruit pie is desirable. If your pie remains neat and tidy after a piece is removed, with a jam-like substance (think Hostess) rather than juice, there's "some bad juju going on," Alumbaugh says.

Now that some of the mystery of pies is gone, you can put the fun back in baking.

Jennifer Rachel Baumer is a Northern Nevada writer who loves to bake. Her kitchen bookcase sports 75 cookbooks, a good number of them covering baking topics.

Resources

How to Build a Better Pie, Millicent Souris. Quarry Books, 2012. $24.99

Homage Bakery
519 Ralston St., Reno
http://www.Homagebakery.com, 775-323-8952

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