Pie dough and I have never really gotten along… until now. I have tried a number of pie crust recipes over the years, and they generally come out tough, soggy, flimsy, burnt, or otherwise unappealing. Oh, and my crusts almost always shrink (usually unevenly) in the pie dish. It ain’t pretty. In fact, I rarely make pie because I don’t feel like dealing with pie dough, even though rationally I know it’s not difficult or time-consuming. Don’t tell anyone, but… I actually resorted to store-bought frozen dough a few months ago. Wow, it feels good to get that off my chest; I’ve been holding it in for so long. Now I can move on and put that shameful episode behind me.
But now, thanks to BAKED, I can finally say that I have produced a beautiful, flaky, golden pie crust. (Anyone else hear the angels singing, or is that just me?) This week’s Baked Sunday Mornings recipe is Buttermilk Pie, which originates in Texas, but BAKED (in their trademark fashion) put a Canadian twist on it with the addition of maple syrup. The pie at first sounded simultaneously intriguing and slightly unappetizing. I have to confess… I was a little scared. Nevertheless, I was going to take a chance and try this challenge! I love participating in this baking group because it gets me to try things that I might not ordinarily choose to bake, and so far I’ve experienced several delightful surprises, including this pie!
The ingredients for this classic pie dough are very simple: 3 cups flour, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 teaspoon fine salt, 2 sticks cold butter (cut into cubes), and ¾ cup ice water. I put my bowl of butter cubes in the freezer for several minutes to make sure they were extra chilled, because cold chunks of butter in the dough create flaky pockets when the crust is baking. Warm butter makes depressing pie dough. After mixing the dry ingredients and tossing in the butter cubes, I put the mixture into the bowl of a food processor and pulsed several times, until the butter had been processed to small pieces, about the size of large peas. I then drizzled in the water through the feed tube while pulsing in 4-second bursts.
I suspect that my pie doughs have come out tough in the past due to over-working; in order to end up with a tender, flaky dough, one must work with a quick, light hand. The recipe says to stop adding water as soon as the dough comes together in a ball, so I stopped once the dough was clinging together towards the center of the bowl, even though there were still plenty of crumbs at the bottom. I didn’t want to overdo it! I turned the dough out onto a board and gently brought it together with my hands into a large ball. The dough is also said to be a little stickier than most other pie doughs, and mine wasn’t especially sticky, so I was a little worried. There were some sticky spots, but it was still kind of crumbly. Not sure what to expect, I split my dough into two portions, flattened them into disks, encased them in parchment paper and plastic wrap, put them in the fridge to chill, and crossed my fingers…
After a couple of hours, I pulled out one dough disk and was pleased to find that it was firm, yet pliable– not crumbly! I rolled it out to a 12-inch round as instructed, with no resistance or sticking.
Transferring the crust to my pie dish was similarly uneventful– it was easy to nestle into the dish and press into the bottom and sides. (I used my trusty Emile Henry earthenware dish, which bakes its contents gently and evenly compared to a glass dish, in my experience.) So far, so good, though I was a little concerned that when I trimmed the dough it was very stretchy– had I worked it too hard and overdeveloped the gluten in the dough?? I would find out soon enough. I then placed the dish in the freezer to chill again while making my decorative garnish.
The recipe says that this is not a visually showstopping pie; in fact, it “almost repels attempts to gussy it up”. Naturally, my reaction to this was: CHALLENGE ACCEPTED. Game on– I was going to make this pie pretty! I took out the second dough disk and rolled out about one third of it. (Put the rest back in the fridge and reserve for another use.) Over the years, I have collected an absurd number of various cutters and decorating tools, including Williams-Sonoma’s Fall Pie Cutters set. These are small plunger cutters in the shapes of a maple leaf, oak leaf, acorn, and pumpkin. And this was the perfect opportunity to finally use them! I cut lots of little shapes out of the second dough round, placed them on a parchment-lined cookie sheet, and put the sheet in the freezer to chill while I made the filling.
I wasn’t sure what to expect with this pie filling; from the description it sounded like it should be gooey, custardy, sweet… and not particularly attractive. However, buttermilk is one of my favorite ingredients to bake with, as it generally results in moist, tender, rich baked goods. I’ve never made a pie with it, but I figured it could only lead to good things. The filling seemed easy enough to pull together: eggs, flour, sugar, dark brown sugar, melted butter, buttermilk, and maple syrup. To avoid your butter congealing, it’s important to make sure your eggs and buttermilk are at room temperature. This will result in a smooth, homogenous mixture. (If your mixture congeals, simply warm the bottom of your mixing bowl over a pot of gently steaming water, like a water bath, and stir until the butter re-melts.) Once my ingredients were combined, the mixture was a yellowish color and had a fairly thin consistency.
It was time to assemble my pie. I took the crust and decorative cutouts out of the freezer. I sprinkled ½ teaspoon of flour over the crust and spread it evenly over the bottom and sides, which presumably creates a barrier to keep the filling from making the crust soggy. I gave the filling one more stir and poured it into the crust. I was then instructed to sprinkle another ½ teaspoon of flour over the top of the filling, though I didn’t understand the purpose of this. (Next time I may omit this or at least use a sifter in order to avoid the small chunks of flour on top of my pie.) Finally, I carefully placed my autumn dough shapes around the rim of the pie, lightly pressing them into the top edge of the crust and overlapping them. I was rather pleased with my ring of pretty leaves, pumpkins, and acorns; I felt very optimistic about the prognosis of my Buttermilk Pie!
Into the oven it went! Baking time was slated to be approximately one hour. Unfortunately, a portion of my decorative shapes had not been properly adhered to the pie crust, so they slipped into the filling, never to be heard from again. The ones that I had placed a little higher (essentially on top of the fluted edge of the pie dish) stayed where they were and baked up beautifully. After a half hour, the pie filling was still light in color and very liquidy.
I checked it frequently, and each time the crust appeared more and more set, developing a lovely golden veneer on top. The center of the pie was still quite jiggly, but the cutout shapes had begun to brown handsomely… and I wanted to keep it that way! I gently placed a pie crust shield on top of the pie to protect the shapes and let the pie continue to bake for the full hour.
It started to puff in the center and crack slightly, so I took this as a sign that my pie was ready. I took it out of the oven, and I must say that I was so very delighted! I was really not expecting this at all, but it was quite pretty. My pie taster was very eager to devour a slice (or three) and had to wait not-so-patiently for it to cool…
This shot shows the texture of the baked filling in close detail:
I allowed it to cool and then added one more aesthetic touch by sifting a light dusting of confectioners’ sugar over the filling, which also conveniently covered the few remaining flour chunks. I can see how the pie would be rather plain-looking without the embellishments, so I would recommend trying to dress it up if presentation is important to you. (If not, it will still taste just as yummy!)
When finally it was time to sample the goods, I was not disappointed– The pie was utterly delicious! The crust stayed flaky and had a wonderful buttery flavor, and the filling was dense, velvety, and pleasantly sweet. I found it to be slightly greasy, so I might reduce the amount of butter next time, but this was a minor hindrance. It was great on the second and third days too, though the texture started to resemble something akin to flan. I will definitely make this pie again, and I’m thrilled to finally have a go-to pie crust recipe! 🙂
Visit Baked Sunday Mornings for the Buttermilk Pie recipe, and check out what the other bakers created too!