I have finally met her. The pie lady.
I’ve heard so much about Kate McDermott’s Art of the Pie class in the past year. Some people call her “The pie lady”, some “The pie whisperer” but no matter what they call her, all of them love her and rave about her class, and her pies. Especially the pie dough.
In the past two decades I have used the same one apple pie recipe which I have had since 1990’s and the same fruit crostata recipe, and I wasn’t very curious about other pies at all. But I did get very curious to know more about Kate’s pie because all the talk about her around town. Finally, last Saturday I had a chance to participate in her pie baking class at Dish it up!
The thing that touched me the most about Kate’s pie was her relating to the pie almost as if it were a person: a friend, and at times, even as a child. She was talking to it, sending good vibes into it, thinking good thoughts about people she cares about while mixing and kneading it. She patted the chilled dough with her rolling pin, but did not hit it. “You would not do that to a child, would you?”, she asked. I confess, I banged quite a few doughs (but not kids!) that were hard to roll in the past. But no more, no more.
In short, Kate is putting her pleasant, warm personality into the pie. Making her pie was not an act without a thought or emotion, was not an automatic series of actions, although one could have expected it to be just that since she’s been making pies for many, many year. But no, watching and listening to Kate while she demonstrated making her pies was watching an act full of love, care, and warmth.
I must say, I think what I have witnessed was not only the “art” of the pie, but also the “soul” of the pie and its maker.
When we got to taste a freshly baked apple pie, I tried to identify what’s so different about it? I compared it in my head to the ones I had before. Maybe it’s the addition of leaf lard (I have never used it so far), but there was something beyond that. I think it was the love that was put into it.
The filling—it was phenomenal. Kate used many different apple varieties—one of each kind. I think there were 8 of them. Each one with a unique characteristic to add: some turned mushy when baked, some held their shape, some were sweet, some tart, there were greens and reds… And the spices… They were just right, and so gentle. Even though I saw it with my own eyes, I couldn’t help but ask, “Are you sure you put 1 teaspoon of cinnamon in this?”, because usually the cinnamon flavor really stands out, overpowering the fruit in apple pies.
Now what about the dough? It is definitely distinctive but more difficult to describe. I think that compared to an all-butter dough which tends to have a melt-in-your-mouth and crumbly texture, Kate’s dough has a bite, it’s not very crumbly but more crispy, and crunchy, but most of all, it has layers—not at all a puff pastry but certainly it made me think of one. See?
Kate wrote a blog post full of tips about the pie making process, Flour, salt, fat and water.
There’s also an excellent post with the recipe and more tips here, in this post.
I took many notes during class. Here are the tips I learned:
For the dough:
Rule #1: keep everything cold! Everything—the bowl, the flour, your hands (chill in ice water), the rolling pin, etc. Keep them in the freezer! On hot days, put your mixing bowl inside a bigger bowl with ice.
Kate doesn’t sift and doesn’t take exact measurements. She keeps it simple and feels it with her hands.
Use butter that is sold wrapped in foil. It’s a sign for good, fresh butter.
Stop mixing before you think you’re done. You should still have large pieces of butter—this will create the marbling later on, which translates into layers of flaky dough.
For vegetarian (and Kosher) dough, you can use Earth Balance brand to substitute the lard and butter.
After every addition of water squeeze the mixture to test if it holds and pulls into a ball.
The dough is freezable, unbaked, up to a month. But, before freezing it, put it in the fridge for the gluten to relax.
For the filling:
Use a variety of apples.
Cut the fruit to large dice.
Don’t judge an apple (or a person) by the way it looks on the outside. It might be delicious. Taste it and see.
No need to peel the fruit. It will make every bite a flavor and texture sensation.
Use superior quality fruit! (Go to the market, if there is one close to you.)
To estimate how much fruit you’ll need, put the whole fruits in the pie pan and pile it high. Put it back again after dicing it to measure if you have enough before you proceed with the seasoning.
The amount of spices she used to season her pile of diced apples:
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
2-3 gratings of nutmeg
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar/lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup flour
When rolling the dough:
Put a good amount of flour on the board
The technique: place the rolling pin in the middle of your “chubby disk”, from the middle, roll up, lift, go back to the middle and roll down. Turn the dough, repeat. Flip to other side, repeat.
Roll it to be as thick as glass.
If the dough tears, use water to glue it back together
Put the pie dish in the freezer
Brush excess flour off the rolled dough, on both sides, before transferring it to the pie dish
Kate doesn’t bother with greasing her pan. (The dough did not stick. Ha!)
The dough has memory. If you stretch it, it’ll shrink when you bake it (Remembering where it used to be.)
Scatter diced butter on top of the filling once placed in the pie dish
After putting the second rolled dough on top of the filling, roll it up, making a “reservoir” so the juices don’t escape out (I’ll add to that, always put your pan in a large baking sheet when you bake!). Also, take it off the edge. If the dough sits on the edge, it’ll melt downwards and it could burn.
If once you finished preparing the pie the dough gets warm, put it back in the fridge to chill before baking
Bake: 425 F degrees for 20 minutes + 375 F, 40 minutes. If it browns too fast, place aluminum foil with a hole in the middle (for the steam to vent), matte side up, to protect the dough.
A tip about ovens: If you want to test and see if your oven has hot spots, place slices of bread on a baking sheet and bake it, see where it browns and when not.
Make “tasties” with the leftover dough.
I also found a recipe for Kate’s Shaker Lemon Pie here and her blackberry pie in Saveur magazine, here.
My conclusion: Wonderful Kate makes wonderful pie!