Zen Pie.

I’m rethinking pie.

I did not grow up in a pie family. Yes, there were pies, but they weren’t presented with anticipation, or reverence. There was no pie ritual. And the crust? Wasn’t great. Love you mom! I grew up a cake lover, a cookie girl, but pie? Not so much.

I remember the first really delicious piecrust I ever tasted. It was a bakery sample at a small market in Ann Arbor…..popping it mindlessly in my mouth, it stopped me in my tracks, literally. This was pie! This was the flaky delight about which people reminisced, the sweet that brought them together around Gran’s table.

And thus began my quest to master crust.

Over the years, I’ve tried any number of crusts…..all butter, crisco, lard. I’ve used pastry cutters, forks, food processors, hands. I’ve made dry crusts, wet crusts, vodka crusts. And lots and lots of good crusts, but always, it is a project. I fear the roll-out. I fuss and tweak and freeze and bake and share. But I’ve never loved the process.

All that may have changed yesterday, when I had the privilege of learning from a pie master, nationally-recognized pie priestess Kate Mcdermott. Welcoming us into a home kitchen in Bethesda, she reminded us that it’s just pie.

I have a pie-crush on Kate. She plied us with pear pie, made from pears hand carried from her neighbor’s tree in Washington State. She walked us through the basics, without dogma, and left room for us to tell our pie stories. Kate injects her warmth and kindness into her classes. Four hours later, I left with a gorgeous jewel of a cranberry pie, and a new friend.

Can you teach intuition? It sounds like an oxymoron, but that is how Kate shared the gospel of pie. She encouraged us to feel everything, to listen and pat and touch in order to build a sense of when the crust is right. And that’s the paradigm shift that happened in my own head. After years of trying to get pie down to a science, with carefully weighted aliquots of flour and precise mixing without letting my thoughts stray from the dreaded gluten strand formation, I’m now going to make pie with a couple scoops of flour. I’ll cut in the fats while thinking of sharing the pie, and who might get to eat some. And I’ll take care not to overwork it, but I’ll check the dough….not the book…..to know when it is right. And if I can recreate yesterday’s pie, what a crust it will be! So crisp, so flaky, so gorgeously burnished golden. Is it weird to be excited about pie? I can’t wait to make more pie.

I’m going to put Kate’s recipe up here, with her permission. But here’s the thing….you need to find a pie Yoda to show you how to make pie crust. To teach the intuition. You need Kate. Or your grandmother. Or me! Come make pie with me. Or wait until Kate is back in town and take her class. Or both.

For a Double Crust Pie
2 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached White Flour (red bag)
8 tablespoons of leaf lard, cut into various small pieces pea to walnut size
8 tablespoons of Irish butter, cut into various small pieces pea to walnut size 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
6-8 Tablespoons of ice water (This is an average for water, I have used between 3-15 T at times!)
Combine all ingredients but the ice water in a large bowl.
With clean hands, blend the mixture together until it looks like coarse meal with some lumps in it. The lumps make flakey pies.
Sprinkle ice water over mixture and stir lightly with a fork.
Squeeze a handful of dough together. Mix in a bit more water if it doesnʼt keep together.
Divide the dough in half and make two chubby disks about 5 inches across.
Wrap the disks separately in plastic wrap and chill for about an hour.
Take out one disk and put it on a well floured board.
Sprinkle some flour onto the top of the disk. Thump the disk with your rolling pin several times.
Turn it over and thump the other side.
Sprinkle more flour onto the top of the crust if needed to keep the pin from sticking and roll the crust out from the center in all directions.
When it is an inch or so larger than your pie pan, fold the dough over the top of the pin and lay it in the pie pan carefully.
Donʼt worry if the crust needs to be patched together; just paint a little water where it needs to be patched and “glue” on the patch piece.
Put the filling in the pie and repeat the process with the other disk.
Make pie, Be happy!
Copyright © 2009 Kate McDermott www.artofthepie.com


  • By Kate McDermott, November 12, 2012 @ 8:13 pm

    Thank you for such a wonderful blog! Your kind words really have made my day. You totally got what this workshop is about…how pie is more than ingredients and all about the intangibles…Belief, Magic and Love. Be Happy, Make Pie

  • By Gwen, November 13, 2012 @ 2:39 am

    I, too, have gotten to attend one of Kate’s pie classes and I agree – it’s way more than just a recipe. And I left the class so excited to make pies, which I have been doing, quite successfully I might add, ever since. If you want to achieve pie nirvana, seek out one of Kate’s classes – she travels all around teaching them – you won’t be disappointed.

  • By Tania, November 18, 2012 @ 9:43 pm

    Lovely. This one really got me thinking about pie and life. I want to take a class now.

  • By Sarah C, January 11, 2013 @ 11:35 am

    Tonight I will be leading an informal workshop for friends in the making of “intuitive crust” for another kind of pie…the New Haven apizza. Your post inspires. Thank you, Jen!

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