Pie seems ever present in my life recently. All the pie chat moved my sister, Mary, to face her personal Pie-panic and she asked for my help. It takes a brave woman to face pie fear and I was confident that we could have a homemade-crust breakthrough!
We got together on a Saturday afternoon for the Pie-panic therapy session. She requested an onion, mushroom and gruyere savory pie. Lemon sponge pie seemed like a great idea for dessert. We made two of each single-crust pie so that we could feed our parents and spouses that night. The evening was a big hit and I expect we will do it again before too long. We just have to let the cholesterol clear a bit since there is a stick of butter in each single crust. Luckily, Mary brought some excellent red wines that may have offset some of it. And had large servings of a delightful green salad and served fresh berries on the lemon sponge pie to redeem ourselves.
There were a couple of snafus along the way. The first was leaving my student unsupervised. Somehow, in a matter of minutes, an extra cup of flour ended up in the mix. Measuring distraction can happen to anyone, especially when you’re doubling a recipe, but since this dinner had a friendly audience, we decided to forge ahead. A little extra water and butter saved the day. Then I realized that one of my four pie plates was at a friend’s house on the other side of town. While the dough chilled, I popped down to nearby Weaverville to get one. Mary sliced all the onions for the savory pies while I was gone. Here’s Sister’s take on the Pie-panic session and the onion slicing tips I gave her.
Our goal, bringing Pie-panic to the surface and then sinking it for good, was accomplished. The crust was much crisper and less flaky than usual but in spite of that, the resulting dinner was top-notch. As society columnists in small Southern newspapers used to say : “A good time was had by all.” I just love that phrase. Sums things up nicely doesn’t it?
So let’s get down to the recipes. My pie crust mantra is keep it cold, keep it cold, keep it cold!. There’s a great basic crust that works for sweet or savory pie that I adapted slightly from the Deb Perelman’s Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. It’s simple, super flaky and easy to handle. It’s my go to crust. For the onion filling, I checked out a bunch of recipes. Some were too elaborate, some were too bland and none seemed perfect. So I just used my noggin and made one up. Lemon sponge pie recipes are everywhere. It’s an old-fashioned pie so lots have accumulated over the years. It tastes almost like lemon bars but creamier and a nice brown crust that develops on top as it bakes. Yum! Don’t forget my pie crust tips.
Enjoy your pie dinner!
Dana’s Plate Go To Pie Crust (adapted slightly from Smitten Kitchen Cookbook)
(makes one double or two single crust pies)
2 1/2 cups of flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon table salt
2 sticks chilled unsalted butter (8 ounces or 1 cup)
- Cut the chilled butter into 1/2 inch cubes and place in the fridge for a few minutes. In a large, wide bowl, whisk together flour, sugar and salt. Retrieve the cold butter pieces and scatter over the dry mixture. Using a pastry blender or two table knives, cut the butter into the flour until the largest pieces are the size of small to medium peas. Variation in size is a good thing.
- If the butter has warmed up, refrigerate for 10 minutes. Drizzle the ice water over the flour-butter mixture and uses a plastic or floured wood spatula to stir it together just until a ragged lump is formed. Then use your hands to knead the dough a few times, incorporating any loose bits as you go. Working quickly so that the dough stays cool, form the mass into a ball.
- Divide the dough in half and wrap each half in plastic wrap. Flatten the wrapped dough into discs. Refrigerate for at least an hour and up to a week. To freeze, add another layer of wrap or place in a resealable plastic bag for up to two months. To use, defrost in the fridge for a day.
- Generously sprinkle flour over your counter or other rolling surface and the rolling pin. Unwrap a disc (leave the other in the fridge until you need it). Place it on the floured surface and sprinkle more flour on top. Instead of rolling out this very hard disc, whack it a dozen times with a floured rolling pin. Lift and rotate the dough after every couple of whacks. If the dough sticks, use a bench scraper or spatula to get the dough off the surface and sprinkle the surface with more flour. If the dough gets soft, scape it onto a cookie sheet or piece of plastic wrap and get it back into the fridge for up to 10 minutes. You’ll have a larger flat disc after the whacking. Flour the pin again and roll, lift and rotate the dough until it reaches the desired size and shape according to your recipe.
Savory Onion and Gruyere Pie
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 large onion halved root to stem end and thinly sliced in the same direction
8 ounces sliced mushrooms
1/4 cup wine (white, marsala or madeira)
One teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
salt and pepper
6 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated coarsely
Pastry for a single crust pie
- Add olive oil and butter to a large skillet or wide dutch oven and melt the butter. Add all the onions and stir to coat with oil/butter mixture. Continue to cook over moderate heat, covered, for about ten minutes until the onions are softened. Stir a couple of times. Cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the onions are browned and very soft. Add a splash of water if the onions begin to stick. This will take 45-60 minutes. After 30 minutes, add the sliced mushrooms, thyme, salt and pepper. Preheat the oven to 375.
- Add the wine to the browned onion mixture and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated. Remove from heat.
- Roll out your pie crust to 1/8 inch and transfer to a 9 1/2 inch glass pie pan. Trim crust overhang to one inch and turn under itself. Crimp or finish crust edge as desired. Prick the bottom of the crust with a fork several times.
- Line the crust with foil and fill will dried beans or pie weights. Bake for 15 minutes, remove the foil and weights and cook about five minutes longer. The crust should be golden brown. Cover the edge with foil or a crust guard if it starts to get too brown.
- Spread 2/3 of the Gruyere into the crust and cover with the onion mixture. Sprinkle the remaining Gruyere on top of the onions.
- Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until cheese is melted and onions are sizzling. Let the pie cool for 10 minutes before cutting into wedges.