Good Pie Is in Your Hands

Cunningham's latest book is "Cooking With Children" (Knorf; 1995)

I recently taught two classes on double-crust fresh peach pie, and it became obvious to me that many home bakers are timid about making pie. There is always a flood of questions.

"Can I make pie dough in a food processor?" Yes. You can also probably make it in your washing machine, but it won't be as good as if you made it by hand.

"Should I chill the dough before rolling it out?" I have made pie crust with both chilled and unchilled dough and have never found a difference, except when the weather is hot. In that case, your shortening may get too soft and you'll have trouble managing the dough and rolling it out. Just wrap the dough in plastic and chill it in the refrigerator for half an hour.

"Why does my crust come out hard?" Usually because you didn't add enough water to the dough. Or you may have overworked the dough, handled it so much that gluten became activated.

"Can't I use butter instead of vegetable shortening in my dough?" Yes, you can use nothing but butter and the crust will taste good, but it won't be as tender. Half butter and half shortening is a good compromise. I prefer all shortening and rely on the filling of my pie to provide the flavor.

"How do I thicken the fruit filling so juices don't run everywhere when I slice it?" The decision is a matter of taste. The three commonly used thickeners are flour, cornstarch and tapioca. I tasted each in a peach pie, and my choice was flour because the texture was creamy. Tapioca and cornstarch made for a gelatinous texture.

Tapioca and cornstarch have a greater thickening power than flour, and they are advertised as being twice as effective, but I didn't find this to be quite true. I use the following formula: To 5 cups of fresh ripe fruit or berries, add 1/4 cup flour or 3 tablespoons of tapioca or cornstarch. The flour, tapioca or cornstarch is always thoroughly mixed with the sugar before tossing with the fruit.

These quantities perhaps err on the side of runniness, rather than thickness. Try them. The more practice you have, the closer you'll get to the thickness you like.



1 cup sugar

1/4 cup flour

4 cups peeled and sliced peaches

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon mace or grated nutmeg, optional

Mix sugar and flour in large bowl. Add peaches, lemon juice and mace, then toss well to combine.


2 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup shortening

1/2 cup cold water

2 to 3 tablespoons butter, optional

This makes one 8- or 9-inch pie. Measure your pie pan from the inside top of the pan across the circumference--the pan should be about 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 inches deep. There is no standardization in baking equipment.

Use your hands to mix the flour and shortening together. I think you learn more about making pie dough that way than using pastry blenders or electric mixers. Your fingers learn the right "feel" of the dough.


Mix flour and salt in large mixing bowl. Measure shortening and drop on top of flour mixture. Break chunk of shortening into 6 pieces and roll them around in flour mixture.

Dip hands into bowl and rub 1 chunk of shortening between thumb and fingers so that shortening and flour blend into little pieces. Let fall back into bowl. Keep going to bottom of bowl with your hands, gathering shortening and flour, rubbing and letting it drop back into bowl. Do this until mixture becomes small bits of shortening coated with flour. Their size will not be uniform; they will look like a mixture of lentils and tiny peas.

Add water all at once by sprinkling. Stir with fork to incorporate water into mixture.

Generously flour work surface and hands. Scoop dough out of bowl, plop it onto work surface and pat into rough ball. Divide in halves.

Roll out 1/2 dough into circle about 12 inches in diameter, lifting dough and sprinkling additional flour onto work surface as needed so that dough doesn't stick.

To transfer to pie pan, roll dough loosely around rolling pin and unroll, starting at far side of pie pan, so that dough drops into the pan. Drape dough onto bottom and sides of pie pan; avoid stretching dough. Let about 1 1/2 inches of dough hang over outer edge of pan.

Pile Peach Filling onto dough. Put bits of butter over fruit. Roll out remaining 1/2 Basic Pie Dough for top crust and drape over pie. Trim away excess dough around edges but leave enough to tuck under top of pie pan edge. Crimp edges with fork or fingers and cut several vents in top.

Bake 10 minutes at 425 degrees, then reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake until juices bubble around edges on top of pie and crust is lightly browned, about 40 minutes more.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Each of 8 servings contains about:

401 calories; 148 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 17 grams fat; 59 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams protein; 0.64 gram fiber.

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