Once a baker, always a baker. That is what my neighbor, Mr. Maus, would say as he rolled sheets of pate brisee for Mrs. Maus' legendary peach or apple pies. No one could crimp edges like she could — perfect flutes and tucks and ripples, evenly spaced around the outside edges of a pie tin.
I would watch and assist, eager to learn every trick and technique that the jolly couple would share: I practiced and experimented, finally perfecting the best pate brisee. The filling also always had to be of the highest quality, incorporating the finest fruits and berries, fresh eggs and cream. I kept close track of my recipes and also photographed the best results when I was preparing to write my 1985 book "Pies & Tarts" (Clarkson Potter).
For this column, I decided to simplify those earlier decorative motifs while maintaining the embellished look of the pies, so they would still create that "wow" effect we hosts and hostesses so desire when we present our handiwork to family and friends. Apple, pear and pumpkin fillings are traditional this time of year, but these crusts can be paired with most fruit fillings for charming results, no matter what the season.
For more spectacular pie recipes, go to www.marthastewart.com/holidaypies.
Makes enough for 1 double-crust or 2 single-crust 9-inch pies
To ensure a flaky crust, chill the butter and the flour before using. A food processor yields the best results, but you can use a pastry cutter instead; work quickly so that the butter remains cold.
I usually divide the dough into two pieces, one about three-fifths of the total and the other, two-fifths. Use the smaller amount for the bottom crust and the larger piece for the top. I roll out both and chill them on parchment paper until I'm ready to use them.
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 1/4 sticks (18 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
7 tablespoons to 10 tablespoons ice water
1. Pulse flour, salt and sugar in a food processor. Add butter, and pulse until coarse crumbs form, about 10 seconds.
2. With machine running, add ice water in a slow, steady stream just until dough holds together and is not wet or sticky, no longer than 30 seconds.
3. Divide dough into two portions, and shape each into a disk. Wrap in plastic; refrigerate at least 1 hour or overnight. Dough can be frozen up to 1 month; thaw in refrigerator overnight before using.
You will need a 1 3/4-inch fluted round cookie cutter to make this crust.
1. Roll out one portion of the dough to 1/8 inch thick, and fit it into a pie plate. Roll out remaining dough to 1/8 inch thick, and use a 1 3/4-inch fluted round cutter to cut out about 70 rounds, rerolling scraps if necessary.
2. Place filling in pie plate, mounding it in the center. Lightly brush edge of crust with a basic egg wash (1 egg yolk and 1 tablespoon heavy cream whisked together).
3. Arrange rounds around the perimeter of the pie crust partly on top of the filling, overlapping them slightly. Lightly brush top of each round with egg wash as you work to help them adhere to one another.
4. Repeat, overlapping rounds to spiral from the outside of the pie to the center, until filling is completely covered.
5. Lightly brush the entire surface of the crust with egg wash, then sprinkle with fine sanding sugar before baking. Bake pie according to your favorite recipe, or visit www.marthastewart.com/holidaypies for the Spiced Apple Pie With Fluted Round Cutouts recipe.
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