A Life of Pie
What’s the secret to a beautiful pie? Practice
When you have pie crust at the ready, you have dinner, plain and simple. A workhorse of the Southern kitchen, a disk of dough can transform whatever’s in your larder—from eggs to leftover chicken to tomatoes—into a meal. And isn’t ripe fruit that much better when baked till bubbly in flaky pastry? Still, for some of us, the thought of making pie dough ourselves is enough to keep Pillsbury in business. That needn’t be the case, says Keia Mastrianni, founder of Milk Glass Pie in Shelby, North Carolina (and longtime TLP contributor) whose Instagram feed is chock full of pie inspo.
Essentially, pie dough is the sum of flour, fat, and liquid. Mastrianni uses a 3-2-1 ratio—three parts flour, two parts fat, one part liquid. Rookies best stick with all-purpose flour until they get the feel of a properly hydrated dough before branching out into whole grain varieties. As for fat, Southerners have long relied on what was available, which for centuries was lard. These days? Not so much. Mastrianni uses it when she can source it, especially for savory pies, but her go-to is high-fat European butter. Another Milk Glass tip for a super tender crust: spiking the liquid component—ice water—with apple cider vinegar.
While some bakers turn to food processors to mix the dough, she prefers working it with her hands and a bench scraper. Here’s where a little technique comes in: “I use the scraper to flatten the butter, then I’ll pick it up and smush it between my palms,” she says. “One mentor told me it’s not about getting the butter into the flour, it’s about getting the flour into the butter.”
Admittedly, pie perfection doesn’t happen overnight. “The more you do it, the more fluent you’ll become,” Mastrianni says. “There’s an element of trusting yourself.” Eventually, the practice will work itself into your muscle memory. Until then, try to enjoy the process. After all, she says, “Ugly pie is still delicious pie.”