Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Cooking Floyd: Pretty Pie Crust

Presentation is everything.

That phrase has been applicable to almost every working aspect of my life from my career as a cook to my second career as a graphic designer and glass artist.  How something looks affects how much someone wants it.  Desirability, curb appeal, eye candy, food porn.  It's all about presentation.

With that in mind and with Spring/Easter celebrations happening, a gorgeous pie to end the feast is in order.  No matter what the filling, a pretty golden pie crust makes the filling taste better!

We have an overabundance of eggs right now.  Coinciding with Spring, Easter, The Beginning of the Growing Season, and other renewal themes, eggs are the perfect main ingredient for a spring pie so I filled this one with a rich egg custard.  But first I had to blind bake the crust.

Everyone has their favorite crust recipe (<--- mine, sans the cheddar) and you should use that or, if you are crust impaired, I recommend Pillsbury's Already Pie Crust.

Roll out half the dough of a double crust recipe and fit to the pie pan.  Allow just a slight bit of overhang.  You'll be attaching shaped dough to this.  Next roll out the other half of the dough to a little larger than the size you would need for a solid top crust.  Cut half of this into 1/2" wide strips.

Lay 3 strips out and attach at the top with a little water or egg wash.  Braid these strips together.
I find the braids are easier to work with and attach to the pie in smallish sections.  I make 3 braids for a 9" pie pan.  Just braid what you need.  If you get to the end and only have a small space left to cover, trim the braid to the size you need and fit it in.

Flip the braid over and lightly brush it with water or egg wash.  Brush the section of the crust where you're going to attach the braid as well.

Place the braid on the rim of the pie crust and gently press to secure.
Add the other pieces of braid the same way, overlapping slightly and lining each new braid up to the one before it.

Next cut 5 large disks and 1 small disk out of the remaining dough.  I used whatever I could find to cut the size circles I wanted.  Part of an airlock and the cap to a bottle spout.  You'll make a simple flower with these circles.

Brush the large disks with a little water or eggwash and then overlap them slightly in a circle to form the petals.  Brush the small disk and attach it to the center of the petals to complete the flower.

Carefully turn the completed flower over and brush the back, then gently press into place on the braid.  I like to place the flowers on the joins in the braid to disguise those spots.  Cut some leaf shapes out of the dough and with the back of a paring knife, score them to create leaf veins.  Brush the backs and attach the leaves around the flowers.  Repeat to make as many flowers as you like or have the patience for.

Prick the pie crust all over below the braid and across the bottom of the pan (also known as docking the crust) and fill with pie weights, dry rice, or dry beans to help it hold its shape while baking empty.  This is called blind baking.

 Place the crust in a preheated 425F oven for 8 minutes.  Remove the pie crust and set aside to cool completely.  When cool, gently scoop out the pie weights, rice or beans.  If you used rice or beans, bag them up and save them for reuse as future pie weights.

While the crust is cooling, mix up your choice of filling.  I used the following recipe for egg custard, doubled to fill my rather large crust.

Egg Custard
3 eggs
14 oz sweetened condensed milk
1¼ cup hot water
½ tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp almond extract
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp ground nutmeg

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

In a mixing bowl beat eggs, and then add the rest of the ingredients including the sweetened condensed milk, water, almond and vanilla extracts, nutmeg, and salt. Mix well to make a smooth batter.

Pour this batter into the baked pie shell. Lightly brush the braid and flowers with a little more eggwash to promote a shiny glaze.  You could also sprinkle the braid with large crystal non-melting sugar to add a little glitter.  Bake it in preheated 425F oven for 10 minutes.  Reduce the temperature to 350F and bake for further 30 min or until knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Allow to cool and then chill for 15-30 min before serving.

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