A perfect pie is something that just about every baker wants to be able to put together. Pie is a great dish with an unbeatable combination of flaky dough and rich filling – whether you’re making luscious fruit pies or hearty savory pies. One way to get better at pie-making is practice. The other way to get better is to get tips from people who really know what they’re doing when it comes to making and baking pies. I do bake a lot of pies, but I wasn’t about to pass up the chance to learn from some experts when I heard about Sherry Yard and Evan Kleiman’s Secrets for Perfect Pie, a class put on at the New School of Cooking here in Los Angeles that was a fundraiser for KCRW and their annual pie contest.
The class consisted of demos from both chefs as they went through a few tips to help everyone in the room master their pie techniques. The audience had tons of questions – from both very experienced bakers and people who had never tried to roll out a pie. At the end of the demos, we got to eat the pies that were showcased: a chicken pot pie with duck fat crust (from Evan) and an apple pie and a plum and blackberry crumble pie (from Sherry).
Evan Kleiman was up first. She is the host of KCRW’s Good Food show and has been a restaurateur in LA for more than 20 years. She is a big fan of savory pies and the chicken pot pie that she demonstrated is one of her favorites, since you can throw just about any leftovers you have on hand into the filling. The duck fat crust (2/3 butter, 1/3 rendered duck fat) was incredibly tender and had a great savoriness to it. It was good enough that I would definitely go out of my way to get some duck fat from a specialty market to try making it at home the next time I’m doing a savory pie!
Evan gave out some great tips for rolling out pie dough using a canvas cloth that is impregnated with flour to prevent sticking – and to minimize the amount of flour you need to roll out the dough, which means that your pie crust will be much more tender by the time you get to eat it.
Sherry Yard is an exceptionally talented pastry chef who is very well known here in LA, both from her work with Wolfgang Puck at Spago and from her excellent cookbooks. She might be best known for her fine dining desserts, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t make rustic, homey pies – she just tweaked them over the years to fit into find dining format! Sherry is working on opening a bakery of her own right now and you won’t see fine dining “pies” there. Instead, you’ll see some of the huge, golden pies that she baked up for us during the class. These pies were over 10-inches across, packed with 4 pounds of apples each and had pastry dough that looked more like puff pastry than pie crust.
Sherry likes her pie crusts to be thick and full of flaky layers. To make this happen, she makes sure that there are very large chunks of butter in her crust and folds the dough over a few times to help those layers form. She also rolls the pastry out to be much thicker than most people (at least 1/4 inch thick), which makes for a very impressive looking pie and a substantial crust that is not only tasty, but easy to work with.
The apple pie was huge and impressive. You can see a cross section of the crust at the top of the post – that is nearly 1-inch of flaky layers! Sherry doesn’t like to crimp the edges of a pie so you can really get a good idea of how nice the pastry is, and with pastry that looks like that, you can see why! The apple pie used braeburn apples in the filling, marinated in lemon juice and only a little bit of sugar to make sure that their natural sweetness was the star of the dessert.
Her other pie was a plum and blackberry pie topped with an almond crumble. This pie was almost like a fruit cobbler, with a filling of plums and berries that was cooked on the stovetop until it was tender and then added to a prebaked pie shell. This was the best tip of the night as far as I was concerned, because it just about eliminated the chances of getting a soggy pie crust with a moist berry pie. The components of the pie were assembled and baked together before serving, but everything was prepared in advance separately. It’s a technique that could help make pie making a more organized process around the holidays. You can get the full recipe for the plum pie and all the tricks that went into it soon, so stay tuned.
Overall, the class was a lot of fun and both chefs were funny, insightful women who definitely know their way around a pie! Iknow that I left inspired to get started on a batch or two of pie dough as soon as I got home – and judging from the chatter that I heard around me, I wasn’t the only one!