I do not remember when I made my first pie, but I do remember when I made my first pie crust. I grew up with sweet potato pies during Thanksgiving and Christmas, but no one ever made the flakey pie crust from scratch. The golden baked pastry was already formed, molded and frozen by a corporation that made the ease of pie baking come to life for busy women in my family. When I think about it, the only pie we ever had was a lonely, but always outstanding, sweet potato pie. It is a wonder that I am now a pie lover, because I definitely do appreciate a slice of pie–single crust, double crust, crumble topping, sweet, savory. Pie makes me happy. That’s why I knew that if I was going to profess a love for pie–a truly mad love for pie–it was mandatory for me to learn how to make one completely from scratch.
The afternoon of homemade crust felt like a distinct marker in the course of my earliest culinary pursuits. Here I was, with hands covered in flour, fat and flavorings, mixing, mashing and melding ingredients together to create a big ball of dough. A ball of dough that I knew would form the upper and lower layers of love for a rich, velvety filling with lamb, root vegetables and a thick slurry to hold it all together. The entire process does take time, but that investment is one that I make in myself, my enjoyment of learning the technique, and it is my gift to those who will stick a fork in the final dish. From that moment, I realized several aspects of my personality would dictate my future crust-making ways:
- I do not like messy hands in the kitchen. From that point on out, I would resort to using my food processor to pulse the dry and wet ingredients for my pie crusts. It is quick, easy and just as good as using your hands. If you are a hands-on cook, dive right in with clean limbs.
- I struggle to make decisions. That is why I make all of my pie crusts with a mix of butter and shortening. There are recipes for all butter, and there are recipes with all shortening. I heartily believe that you get the best of both worlds when you mix the flavor of butter with the flakey crust-producing qualities of shortening.
- I believe life needs spice. Keep things interesting with your crust by adding ingredients that complement the filling. Many people forget that every part of a pie needs its own flavor identity, and that includes the crust.
- I enjoy a slight chill in the air. And so does your pie crust. When pie crust is soft as it enters the oven, the butter begins to melt immediately, resulting in a flat and heavy crust. Allow the butter or shortening in the dough to be as cold as possible, and that is how you achieve those flakey layers.
- I love to be prepared for the future. Extra pie dough loves hanging out in the freezer for another occasion. If you set aside a bit of time, you can make enough dough to last a season of baking. Wrap each one tightly in plastic wrap, followed by foil. Store the dough in airtight containers or zip baggies, and thaw as needed.
If you have never made your own pie crust, this is the time. The fall is upon us, and in some corners of the country, the temperatures are beginning to drop. Preheat your ovens, and roll up your sleeves. It is time to bake.
Lamb and Sweet Potato Pot Pie – Serves 6 to 8
Crust (adapted from Simply Recipes)
- 2 1/2 cups flour, plus more for rolling
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 teaspoons fresh chopped rosemary
- 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh chopped thyme
- Zest of 1 orange, minced
- Zest of 1 lemon, minced
- 3/4 cup butter, chilled and cubed
- 1/2 cup shortening, plain or butter flavored
- 6-8 tablespoons ice water
- 1 1/2 tablespoons milk, half-and-half or heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more as necessary
- 1 pound lamb stew meat, cubed
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1/2 tablespoon black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 large red onion, chopped
- 2 celery stalks, sliced
- 1 cup red wine
- 3 ounces beef or veal demi glace
- 1 cup frozen peas
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 2 large sweet potatoes, parboiled, peeled and cubed
- Start with crust. the Whisk flour, salt, sugar, rosemary, thyme and orange and lemon zest in a large bowl. Add chilled butter and combine with a pastry blender.
- Add shortening and cut into flour and butter mixture. Mixture should resemble coarse cornmeal.
- Slowly add ice water by tablespoons. Mix well after each addition until dough begins to stick together.
- Place dough on a flat surface and divide into two even pieces. Roll into balls, dust lightly with flour and wrap in plastic. Place in fridge for at least an hour.
- Toss lamb with flour, salt, pepper, caraway seeds and garlic. Set aside.
- As dough chills, swirl olive oil in the bottom of a very wide and deep pan. When sizzling, add lamb pieces and cook on medium heat until just browned and crispy on all sides, approximately 6-8 minutes. Scoop onto a separate plate.
- If necessary, swirl a bit more olive oil in the same pan. Scrape up all the drippings on the pan, then slide onion and celery, cooking down until they soften and go translucent, approximately 3-5 minutes.
- Pour in wine and demi glace. Stir well. Add lamb back to the vegetables, followed by peas and bay leaf. Cover, turn down to a simmer and cook about 15 minutes.
- Stir together water and cornstarch and pour into lamb and veggies. Mix well. Add sweet potatoes and cook another 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat and cool completely. Remove bay leaf.
- Once filling has cooled, take chilled dough and, on a floured surface, roll out one ball for bottom crust layer. Drop in 9-inch pie dish and trim edges. Place in the fridge and roll second piece of dough for top layer.
- Remove bottom crust layer from fridge and pour in filling. Top with second layer, trim edges if necessary, then decoratively crimp both layers of crust together. Vent the top of the pie with a slit. Put back in the fridge for 10-15 minutes or pop in freezer for 3-5 minutes for a quick chill if dough feels soft.
- Just before baking, brush milk, half-and-half or heavy cream over top crust. Bake in a preheated oven at 375 degrees for 45-50 minutes or until golden brown.