15 August 2008

Can We Talk About Pie Crust?

Julia Child's birthday is today - August 15. It would have been her 96th birthday. A year ago, I wrote a little paean to her and included her pie crust recipe, the recipe that I use nearly every time I make a pastry crust. Julia's been on my mind recently; I've been fondling her cookbooks in their new home, and Champaign Taste had announced the third annual Julia Child birthday extravaganza (which you should go check out).

Anyway.

I first learned to make Julia's pie crust using my mother's hardcover copy of Mastering The Art of French Cooking. The ingredients in that book are listed as follows:

Proportions for 1 cup flour

1 cup flour
1 T. sugar (optional, depending on the filling)
1/8 t. salt
4 T. butter
1 1/2 T. shortening
2 1/2-3 T cold water

And she tells you that for an 8-9" shell, you'll need proportions for 1 1/2 cups of flour, and for a 10-11" shell, you'll need proportions for 2 cups of flour. (Yes, you have to do some math.)

Okay then. Some number of years ago, when I was a semi-grownup with my own kitchen, my mother gave me a paperback set of both volumes of Mastering, complete with slipcase. Here's the curious thing: in that edition of Mastering, the pie crust recipe is given with all the same measures of ingredients - except the flour! The flour is given as 2/3 of a cup. So all of the notes about "proportions for one cup of flour" make no sense. Furthermore, to my taste anyway, that means far too much fat for the amount of flour. I marked up that copy of the book, which my sister now has, because I found the two volumes in hardcover at a used bookstore and needed to have them. (But they're not a matched set; one's taller than the other. Go figure.)

It's my standard crust recipe. Rarely do I try something else, because why tinker with what works. These days, I almost always use lard in place of shortening, and I usually make the two cup variant - it's just the right amount for a double-crust or lattice-top pie. If I'm only doing a quiche or other single crust dish, I use the remaining dough to line a 7" tart shell. That goes into the freezer in a ziploc bag, to be resurrected when whim strikes. (If you do that, remember to mark whether or not there's sugar in the crust - without sugar can be used for anything, with sugar really only works for dessert.)

One of those little tart shells was in the freezer a couple of days ago, screaming "Eat me!". There were nectarines from the CSA begging to be used. So I made Julia's peach tart. Or, more accurately, I adapted Julia's peach tart.

Nectarine Tart (adapted from Julia Child)
1 7" tart shell, partially baked
3-4 nectarines
1/2 cup demerara sugar
2 T. butter

Scald the nectarines in boiling water for 10-15 seconds (this helps the peels slip right off). Peel and slice. Sprinkle about 3 T. of sugar in the bottom of the tart shell. Arrange the fruit in the shell. Sprinkle the rest of the sugar over the top, and dot with pea-sized lumps of butter. Bake at 375° F for 30-40 minutes, until juices are syrupy and fruit is slightly browned.

The demerara sugar gives a slight brown sugar flavor to the tart. Next time, though, I might add a bit of flour or cornstarch to help the juices coagulate. The tart was delectable, but runny.







Note: The reason for that whole digression into the fat/flour ratio is because I googled for the tart recipe, so I wouldn't have to retype it, and found both flour measures given in different places. If your copy of Mastering has 2/3 of a cup of flour on page 633, use 1 cup instead.

20 comments:

RuthWells said...

Looks absolutely delish. I love Rose Levy Berenbaum's method for fruit pies -- drain much of the juice from the fresh fruit after slicing and cook the juices down, then add them back to the fruit before putting in the shell. The flavors from the fruit's juice get concentrated and yummy, and the thicker juice helps the runniness factor.

Lisa said...

This tart rocks. And I'm going to use that recipe if I ever make pie crust again (I don't bake often). I should do it soon, actually, because I have lard in the fridge that I got from my local farmer and I've been wanting to see what all the fuss about lard in pie crusts is about. ;) And since we know that it's so darn healthy, now . . .

Thanks a million for taking part in the JC celebration again. It's wonderful to read all these posts about her and to see all of the recipes and food.

FreshHell said...

That looks delicious! I'm hopeless at pie crusts - I gave up long ago and now use premade ones. What's demerara sugar? I've never heard of it?

flutter said...

so, uh when are you coming over?

Krysta said...

ugh... math and pie crust, i think i'm skipping this. both are not my strong points.

noble pig said...

Math is my strongpoint but my pie crust needs work...I think I will give this one a try.

Janet said...

I think that's when I started reading you...that paean to Julie. I adored her. All this crap in the news lately about how she was a spy? Um...slow news day? It's been widely known for years!

wrh said...

You are the baker I want to be.

I read Julia Child at night as a little bedtime story to myself.

the queen said...

I have the Joy 1 and 2 from my Mom. Only things Ive ever made was beef wellington - and oh it was sublime.

And the news about Julia being a spy! Did you hear?

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

I always use Martha's food processor recipe for pie crust. I have fond memories of divine pork chops my mom used to make from French Cooking. Once when I was unable to eat due to a terrible sinus infection, she pureed them for me and they were still good!

Julie Pippert said...

I suppose it's a symptom that I say I just don't feel like I have the time. I know I could *make* time but that means choosing, and I seem to not choose long, slow, patient from scratch cooking or baking.

I love reading this stuff. I say "oh a fruit tart, yum, I'd love that, what a good thing to do with the kids, such a lesson such a bonding such fun..." and then I hang that over my head for a while.

Until I remember what I really need is to live next door to you and pop over every time I smell baking. :)

I make a great pot of coffee or tea.

Gwen said...

Pie has been my nemesis for so long. Getting the crust right without it cracking and splitting. I still have to resort to red wine vinegar when I'm blind baking it, and even that's not foolproof. (how was that for techno-pie-geek speak? lol).

This is why I love fruit pies--so much more forgiving. Since you've got the tart and Julie has the hot drinks, I think I only need to bring myself, right?

jen said...

dude, this post is why i love you. the thought of you in your kitchen doing this. it makes me all warm inside.

Kelley said...

Oh YUM! Now I want a nectarine tart dammit!

Mama Zen said...

I wish I had that tart RIGHT NOW!

Julie McCoy said...

OK, a box of white nectarines just landed on my desk. I feel compelled to use this recipe....

womaninawindow said...

Looks yummy! We just made pies the other day, raspberry pies with berries we picked. Yum! One day later, pie all gone. I always make extra dough and freeze it though. I find that the frozen dough, once thawed and baked, is always lighter and flakier than the same dough used on the day it was prepared.

Spurwing Plover said...

My mom used to take abeaten egg and brush it on the piecrust witha pastry brush before putting the pie in to bake

Heidi said...

You probably forgot about this post by now but thank you for clarifying this mystery for me! I just started cooking from "Mastering" and low and behold the first recipe I try is for that exact crust, with the 2/3 cup instructions. I was so confused by it but went ahead and tried it per the instructions. It did not come out well. I'm a fairly experienced baker and I was feeling bad for myself that I failed my first attempt at a Julia Child recipe. I am trying the crust again today with the 1 cup instead. Thanks so much for this advice!!

theothertheo said...

The recipe you cite is certainly a well known and storied recipe. I prefer the Cook's Illustrated recipe:

http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2007/11/cooks-illustrated-foolproof-pie-dough-recipe.html