Art of the Pie

“I’ve been baking pies my entire life, but making them with Kate was a liberating experience. With pioneer spirit she throws the textbook out the window and comes up with absolutely perfect crust filled with fruit that actually sings to you telling you when it’s ready to be removed from the oven. Great fun and great food.”
—Ruth Reichl, Editor in Chief, Gourmet Magazine

Baking has been my passion since I was a little girl. I’ve always preferred it to cooking. Except when it came to making pie crust. That was something to avoid until I met Kate McDermott, the “pie whisperer”. Her legendary pie making classes in Seattle gave me the confidence I needed. I am forever indebted to you Kate!

Pie wisdom, as spoken by Kate-
I like to keep things simple in my life. Pie dough is no exception.

“Flour, salt, fat and water.”

It’s a simple mantra that I repeat when making dough.

There are a lot of recipes out there for pie dough. I’ve had great success with this simple one. I teach it in all my classes. It’s simple and basic. So many have asked for it that I’d like to share it with you.

Equipment You Will Need
A big bowl, one that is big enough to get your hands into comfortably. A 6-quart size is great.
A knife
A fork (optional, use your hands if you like…really!)

Put the bowl and flour into the freezer.

“What?”, you say.
“In the freezer?”

Pie Making Rule #1: Keep everything as cold as possible; bowl, flour, fats, hands.

I keep a mixing bowl in the freezer all the time along with a bag of flour and my pastry cloth.

I love King Arthur All Purpose Flour (Red Bag). After experimenting with different flours over the years, I can honestly say that there is none that I like better. King Arthur, in Norwich, VT has been around for 220 years so they know a thing or two about flour.

This is not to say that I’m not open to different flours. I would love a flour that is within my 100 miles and I’ve tried some that are. IMHO, none approach the quality of King Arthur. It’s silky, smooth and just makes a great crust.

I would like to give a pie class to wheat farmers in the Pacific Northwest and show them just what a pie maker needs. Can you imagine regional wheat grown specifically for pie with a big picture of an apple pie on the front of the bag?

OK, I digress. Let’s talk about measuring.


This may blow your mind but I’m not an exact measurer. I don’t sift, fluff or mix the flour. I just dip in with a metal cup that I bought for five cents at a yard sale. It’s my cup. I’ve also found that a standard coffee cup (not mug) measures pretty close to one cup!

Exact measuring is needed for cakes, but pie dough…at least mine…is pretty forgiving. A little extra here or there…and it all comes out ok.

Put about 2-1/2 cups of flour in the chilled bowl. Add some salt, a half a teaspoon is about enough, and that finishes up the dry ingredients.


There’s much talk about what is the best fat to put in pie. My grandmother, Geeg, swore by “the- stuff-in-the-blue-can-which-shall-remain-nameless”. But as I came of age in the 1960’s, my “Mother Earth” leanings moved me swiftly away from that product. (Be sure to check this link out. It’s pretty funny!)

I use Kerry Gold Irish Butter, either the gold (salted) or silver (unsalted) package. If that is difficult to find in your region, use a foil wrapped European style butter which has a higher fat content and less moisture. Now, if none of these are available where you are, for goodness sake don’t let this stop you from making pie! But, do use butter real butter.

Cut the cube at about the 8 tablespoons mark and chunk it up into 6-8 big pieces.

Now add, an equal amount of leaf lard. I dip into the leaf lard container with a tablespoon or a soup spoon from my kitchen drawer and add approximately 8 tablespoons to the bowl. If I make one tablespoon too big, I make the next smaller.

Making the dough

Think good thoughts before you put your hands in the bowl and make sure they are cold! If it’s hot out, put a bowl of ice water out on the kitchen counter and dip your hands in for a minute to chill them out. Dry them off .

Cold hands+warm heart=good pastry maker!

Put your hands in and smoosh the fat into the flour. Highly technical language here don’t you think? Just rub the cold fat into the cold flour with your cold hands.

Work quickly. When the flour, salt and fats appear to have the sizes of cracker crumbs, peas, almonds and a few small walnut meats, you are finished.

Add water. Not too much and nor too little. Generally recipes call for somewhere between 6-8 tablespoons of water. In truth I found it to be anywhere from 3-15!

Have you ever made a dough and felt like YOU are the one who must be wrong because even though you followed everything that the recipe said to do, it just doesn’t turn out right?

You are not wrong. The recipe just did not give you enough information. This is the art of making a pie.

It seems that every day and every dough require a different amount of water even if it is the same recipe!


Add ice water. Start with 3 Tablespoons. Be sure that the ice doesn’t get into the bowl. If it does, when your finished dough is chilling, the ice will have melted and you will find a “mookie-mess” inside the dough. (Another highly technical term!)

Sprinkle the water over the dough in the bowl and then move it around in the bowl with a fork or with your hands. Don’t spend a lot of time in there. You aren’t making cookie dough; you are just moving the water around so that it is in all parts of the bowl.

Squeeze a handful of dough with your hand to see if it holds together. If it doesn’t hold together in one place, it’s probably not going to hold together in another place and all you will be doing is warming up the fat so just one squeeze. Remember Rule #1.

Sprinkle 2 Tablespoons in the bowl and move the water around. Squeeze a handful. Does it hold together easily?

Sprinkle in 1 Tablespoon and move it around with your fork. Keep adding a spoonful at a time until your fork starts to feel a bit sluggish in the bowl. The dough should keep together in your hand and feel moist.

Pull it all together and compress into a big ball. It should feel like cool clay or play-dough.

Now, cut it in half and shape it into two chubby discs. When Saveur Magazine printed my recipe, they changed chubby to thick. Chubby makes me think of my son’s sweet apple cheeks when he was a little boy and is a very happy word for me, so chubby it is!

Wrap the disks tightly in plastic wrap. Let rest and chill in the fridge for about an hour.

During that time you can make the filling for your pie and have a cup of tea.

Rolling Out the Dough

Bring the dough out of the fridge. If it feels hard and solid, let it rest at room temperature until it feels a bit pliable.

Now some of you may be trembling at the thought of rolling out pie dough. Dough wants to please you. If you say to it, “My pie dough always falls apart”, indeed, you have given it it’s marching orders.

Instead, think about other things: A beautiful rose, a stunning sunset, the first time your baby smiled at you…let the dough know that it is going to be just perfect no matter what.

Not to worry. There is always a way.

Dough is kind of like life. The path isn’t always smooth. Sometimes what feels like an insurmountable boulder blocks our path but we always find a way over, under or around. It may not turn out exactly as planned, but it will be perfect none the less but perhaps in a different way than you expected. Just keep going and it will be fine. Try and keep this in mind as you approach the dough.

I roll out on a pastry cloth but really most anything is fine. Marble, wood, plastic, freezer wrap or wax paper.

As for a rolling pin, I use a French tapered pin but again there are many options. Wine bottles, canning jars work just fine, too!

Place a generous hand-full of flour onto the pastry cloth. Unwrap one chubby disc and set it down on the flour. Turn it over so that both sides are covered with flour.

Rolling out the dough.
Now take your pin and thump the dough a few times on each side. I call this “waking up the dough.” I like to let it know that the main event is just ready to start.

Roll from the center away from you and leave a bit of an edge, say 1/2 inch, unrolled. Lift the pin and re-place it in the center of the dough. Now roll towards you leaving that 1/2 inch edge again unrolled.

Turn the dough a quarter turn and do it all again. Repeat this until the dough is large enough to roll out from the center like spokes of a bicycle wheel. Move it around a bit to make sure it isn’t sticking on the surface. Remember to think happy thoughts!

Roll the dough only as large as it needs to be, about 1-1/2 to 2 inches bigger than your pie pan. It should be about as thick as glass.

If it has torn, don’t worry; we can patch it back together with a little ice water. Take a few drops and put it on the back of a patch, pat it in place and move on. Don’t obsess. We want those fats to stay chilly. Remember Rule #1.

Once it is big enough, brush off the extra flour. I use a 69-cent brush from my local hardware store. If I don’t have one, I wad up a piece of dry paper towel and brush the flour off with that. Works just fine.

Place the rolling pin in the center of the dough and drape it over the pin. Brush off the back side of the dough and gently lift the pin and brush off the back side.

Slide the pie plate on to a clean spot on your counter, place the rolling pin with the dough on it in the middle of the pan, put your hands on the wood end of the pin, and quickly and deftly, roll the pin to the edge of the plate. I can’t tell you just how much fun this is when you do it.

Adjust the dough in the pan as if you are covering a sleeping baby. Dough has a memory so we don’t want to stretch it. In the baking it will stretch right back. Just let the weight of the dough ease itself down into the pan.

Filling and Finishing

OK, get your filling and pour it into the pan. You can pop everything into the fridge at this point while you roll out the top crust in the exact same way.

Place it over the filling, get your scissors or knife and give your pie a haircut. Trim so you have about an inch overhang.

Quickly turn both edges up all the way around the pan. It’s probably time to remember Rule #1. Too much fussing will just make the fats melt. Don’t worry if it isn’t pretty yet. That’s still to come.

You can pop it back in the fridge to chill up for a few minutes if it is feeling a bit soft.

A chubby disc ready to roll.

Now, make whatever kind of edge that you want; fork crimp or scalloped, the main purpose of the edge and crimp is to make a sealed reservoir to keep the juices of your pie inside and not on your oven floor. Yes?

Cut a few vents. Paint with an egg white wash and sprinkle sugar over the top.

That’s it!

Make pie, Be happy!

My sour cherry pie with lattice crust


Proud students



My Italian friend Paola is a wonderful cook. A meal in her home is always a special treat. So when she offered to make an appetizer for a dinner at our house, I knew it would be something delicious. But I nearly flipped when I saw this incredible platter of delectable antipasti. Needless to say, there was little left at the end of the evening.

Left to Right

Figs wrapped in prosciutto – on a baking sheet, cut figs in half and wrap with a thin slice of prosciutto. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle fresh pepper and roast in a 450F oven until the prosciutto is crisp, 8-12 minutes. If the figs are not very sweet, add a tsp. of Trader Joe’s Fig Butter to each halve before wrapping and roasting.

Farinata triangles- A Ligurian specialty made with ingredients available to the area..chickpea flour, water, salt, olive oil and herbs.

Caponata- is a sweet and sour Sicilian eggplant dish, best served at room temperature. See recipe below.

Streghe- a thin cracker made from regular bread dough and seasoned with fresh herbs.

Olive tapenade

Bocconcini- small fresh mozzarella marinated in olive oil and fresh herbs are in the center.

Recipe for Caponata Siciliana

1 large eggplant unpeeled, cut into a medium dice or see *** below
3 med tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
1/3 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
1/3 cup Sicilian green olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
3T. golden raisins
1-1/2 T. capers
1/3-1/2 cup good olive oil
1 cup diced celery
1 yellow onion, diced
3 T. balsamic vinegar
1T. sugar
3T. tomato paste
Salt, pepper to taste

In a fry pan, sauté the onion in olive oil until translucent.
Add celery and sauté lightly. Transfer both to a stock pot.
Sauté the diced eggplant until nicely browned, but not burned, or*** slice, do not dice eggplant, brush with olive oil and grill. When cool, dice and add to stock pot.
Add remaining ingredients and cook over low heat, partially covered for about 20 minutes. Celery should still have some crunch. If too watery, continue cooking another 5 minutes, uncovered. Taste for seasonings. Allow to cool.
Best served the next day.

Thai Shrimp Curry

Thai Shrimp Curry

1 T. minced fresh ginger
2 T. oil
1 onion, chopped
2 each Yukon Gold potatoes cut into 1 inch pieces, zucchini chopped, yellow squash chopped, carrots chopped, red bell pepper chopped, tomato, seeded and chopped, or use canned
2 cups broth
1 cup coconut milk
1 lb. uncooked shrimp
1 lime, juiced
cilantro, chopped
2-3 T. Thai curry paste
1 c. cashews (optional)

Heat oil in a large skillet or pot. Add ginger, onion and salt and cook until onions are translucent.

Add vegetables and chicken broth. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to med-low and cover. Cook until potatoes and carrots are tender, about 15 minutes.

Pour coconut milk into a saucepan and simmer over medium heat until reduced by half.

When the vegetables are cooked, add the reduced coconut milk, shrimp, lime juice, cilantro and curry paste. Cook another 5 minutes until shrimp are pink. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.

Can be served with or without rice.

Baking in a Wood-burning Oven

Now that the oven has been built, we’re anxious to start baking. Pizza and focaccia are what we have in mind to try first. But before we begin, let’s take a look at some of the tools we have assembled to help us along. Left to right- Round Metal Peel for turning and removing baked items from the oven, Shovel to remove hot coals and ashes, Rake to move the wood and hot coals, Metal Peel for placing items into the oven, and finally the Oven Brush to clean the oven floor.

Lets get started!

Richard gets a nice fire going. So far, so good.

He checks the temperature with a digital thermometer. When the oven reaches 800F, it will be time to bake the pizza. At that temperature, pizza will bake in less than 2 minutes. Then we will wait for the oven to cool down to about 500F before adding the focaccia.

I must admit, making pizza in a wood burning oven is much harder than it looks. So many things can and do go wrong. For one thing, the dough has to be just right, wet, but not sticky. Our first attempt went awry when we couldn’t get the dough off the peel and into the oven. We ended up with a total mess on our hands. It was frustrating, so we looked to the internet for some problem solving. I was thrilled when I stumbled upon a wonderful blog by Jeff Varasano, who spent 6 years perfecting his recipe and technique for making authentic Neopolitan pizza in a wood burning oven. I followed his advice to the best of my ability, and this time it worked. We were able to release the pizza from the peel onto the oven…success! But clearly there is a learning curve, and hopefully with practice, our technique for making, baking, and forming the dough, will continue to improve.

Focaccia is a different story. Baked in a pan, there is no anxiety about it sticking to a peel. It’s a matter of getting the dough and oven temperature right. I’m going into this feeling more confident. Here the focaccia dough has gone through it’s second rising. Olive oil, fresh rosemary and sea salt are sprinkled on top, and it’s ready to bake.

Removing it with the peel. The baker’s smiling and that’s a good sign!

Beauty shot!

The focaccia was very good, but I’m still experimenting, so a few days later I tried a different recipe. My Bread by Jim Lahey, is a phenomenal bread cookbook that I’ve used in the past with excellent results. His focaccia recipe calls for the addition of boiled and mashed Yukon potatoes in the dough. I gave it a long cold rise in the refrigerator overnight before the final rise in the pan. Once assembled, I knew we had a winner.

Oh yeah…

Slice reveals a beautiful crumb.

Basil Ice Cream

In the summer when basil is so abundant , instead of the usual pesto, why not try making something different? Basil Ice-Cream from Claudia Fleming, the former pastry chef at Gramercy Tavern in NYC may just be the perfect choice.

Basil Ice Cream

Start by making a simple sugar syrup
1-1/2 cups water to 2 cups sugar
Bring to a simmer in a saucepan to dissolve the sugar. Set aside to cool.

Fill a small bowl with ice water and set aside.

Blanch 2-1/2 cups of fresh basil leaves in a pan of simmering water for 30 seconds.

Remove the basil with a slotted spoon and quickly plunge into the ice water to retain their vibrant green color.

Drain the leaves, lay them out on a paper towel, and blot to remove the excess water.

Puree the basil in a blender with 1/4 cup of the simple syrup. Set aside.

In a heavy saucepan, combine 3 cups milk, 1 cup cream, and 3/4 cup sugar. Bring to a simmer.

In a bowl, whisk together 12 egg yolks with 1/4 cup sugar. Remove the milk mixture from the heat and add a little to the yolk mixture, whisking constantly to keep the yolks from curdling. Pour the egg yolk mixture into the hot milk a little at a time, whisking as you pour.

Return the custard to the stove and cook it over low heat, stirring constantly.

Cook until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

Let cool completely and then stir in the basil puree.

Strain the custard. Mix in 1/2 T. vanilla and a pinch of salt.

Chill for about 4 hours.

Freeze in an ice-cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Yield: 1 Quart

Tastes like summer!

How to Build a Wood Burning Oven- Part Two

At this point the oven is completely functional, but clearly not very attractive. We considered several finishing options before deciding on ceramic tile. This decision meant that we needed to purchase a wet saw to cut the tiles, a purchase that made me very happy. I was envisioning all of the places in the house that Richard could tile. But first, let’s see what kind of job he does on the oven.

Mixing the adhesive
Laying out the tile
Troweling the thinset adhesive
Setting the tile
Cleaning and sealing
Grout applied
The last step is to paint the dome of the oven. While this terra cotta color is fine for Santa Fe, it doesn’t quite cut it in Ohio!
Taped and ready to paint. Oh please don’t rain!
The first thing we are going to burn in this oven are these jeans!
At long last, mission accomplished
Looking good. I can just smell that pizza!

Part Three- Let’s Get Cooking!

Summer Drinks

A tall cool drink on a hot muggy day is a welcome relief. These non-alcoholic beverages are quick and easy to make and oh, so refreshing!

Hibiscus Sangria

Recipe adapted from Golden Door Cooks at Home
-serves 8-
3 Hibiscus Tea Bags
2 cups Pineapple Juice
2 cups Cranberry Juice
1 cup Apple Juice
Orange, Kiwi, and Pineapple Slices
Ice Cubes

Steep the tea bags in 4 cups of boiling water until the tea turns a deep red. Remove the bags and chill in the refrigerator. Transfer to a pitcher when cold, and add all the juices and fresh fruit. Stir to combine. May be made up to 4 hours in advance..

Apple Lime Spritzer

Recipe adapted from Six Burner Sue

Fresh mint leaves
Juice of 1 or 2 limes
1T. sugar, or to taste
1/4 cup apple juice
Sparkling waterIn a glass, muddle the mint leaves with the sugar, or add coarsely chopped. Mix in freshly squeezed lime juice and apple juice and top with icy cold sparkling water. Enjoy!

Peach Jam

I was intrigued by this recipe from The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook. Not only did it call for peaches, it also included the kernels from the pits, and the leaves from the peach tree. And what exactly is a pit kernel? Well, inside each pit is a small kernel that will be chopped and infused during the cooking process to impart a wonderful almondy flavor to the jam. According to the author, Rachel Saunders, using all parts of the peach will add abundant flavor and complexity to the jam. Sounds interesting, right? When I saw these beautiful peaches at my local farmer’s market, I knew it was the perfect time to try this jam.

Use perfectly ripe fruit with good flavor. Under ripe peaches will be difficult to peel, while tasteless fruit will make mediocre jam.

End of Summer Yellow Peach Jam

recipe from The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook
6-1/2 lbs. Large ripe yellow freestone peaches, peeled
3 lbs. White cane sugar
3-1/2 oz. Strained freshly squeezed lemon juice
3-4 (12 inch) Branches with peach leaves

Peel the peaches by dropping them into simmering water for a minute or two. Drain and let them cool. Carefully peel the skins. Cut them in half, removing the pits and saving them in a dish for later use. Slice the peaches about 1/3 inch thick and place the slices into a large bowl or container.

Add the sugar and lemon juice and stir well. Cover with plastic wrap or parchment and allow to macerate in the refrigerator overnight.

Place the peach pits in a separate container and refrigerate overnight. I washed and spun dry the peach leaves, placed them in a perforated baggie and popped them into the refrigerator as well.

Next day, place 5 metal teaspoons into the freezer for testing the jam later. Remove the peaches, pits and leaves from the refrigerator. Extract the kernels from the pits by placing the pit inside a dish cloth and cracking it open with a hammer. You will need enough kernels to make 1 T. coarsely chopped. These get placed inside a tea infuser with a tight latch to keep the them from spilling out.

Transfer the peaches to a preserving pan or stainless steel kettle. Stir well to incorporate any undissolved sugar. Submerge the tea infuser and bring to a boil over high heat.

Boil, stirring for about 5 minutes.

Off heat, skim off the foam.

Mash half the fruit with a potato masher.

Cook 25 to 40 minutes until thickened, lowering the heat towards the end to prevent sticking or scorching. Test for doneness by placing a small amount of jam onto one of the teaspoons in your freezer. Return to the freezer for 3 to 4 minutes and check the consistency. If it’s too runny, continue cooking and test again. Off heat, skim off any remaining foam. When the cooking is complete, remove the tea infuser and add the peach leaves.

Allow to steep for a minute or two. Remove with tongs and discard. Pour the jam into sterilized jars, leaving 1/4″ of head room. Wipe the rims clean, and fasten the lids. Process by setting the jars on a baking sheet and placing them in a preheated, 250F oven for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and transfer to a cookie rack to sit overnight undisturbed. They will seal as they cool. The following day you can test them by gently feeling the top of each lid. If any of the jars did not seal, store them in the refrigerator.