Easy as pie

I’ve always felt that anything worth doing is worth doing well. Pie crust certainly fits well within the category of things worth doing. I’ve never been much of a baker — DPaul is the breadmaster in the house — and not having the mastery of a good, simple pie dough has always felt like a gaping hole in my culinary repertory. So in order to learn how to do it well, DPaul and I both undertook tutelage from a bona fide pastry chef, in fact arguably the best of the bunch, the always fabulous Shuna Lydon.

If you are not yet a loyal and regular reader of her blog, eggbeater, you should be. Her stellar CV aside (she’s worked with luminary chefs in some of the most esteemed kitchens in the Bay Area, such as French Laundry, Aziza and Citizen Cake), she is a fabulous writer, whimsical, intuitive and poetic. She takes gorgeous photographs. And she’s just a plain old sweetheart.

Jumbled into the diminutive kitchen at Poulet in Berkeley, a dozen of us of varying degrees of bakeitude focused our five senses on the task at hand, producing a delectable all-butter pie crust. Shuna showed us the ropes on mixing our frozen butter and frozen flour in a frozen bowl, stopping along the way to allow us to touch the mixture and train our sensory memory to know when to stop. This is the stuff you cannot learn in a book, on TV or even (gasp!) the Internet.

Shuna talks to her dough, calls it pretty, and the dough responds by
being gorgeous and pliable. Note to self: Flatter pie dough. She shows
us how to roll the dough, to flatten the shoulders, to keep a round
shape. We all try our hands at it with general success and only the
occasional delve into shape hell. Unless you want a square pie, that

Crusts are laid into pie pans, cut, crimped, chilled. We experiment:
blind baking a crust filled with beans, and another that’s empty. The
beans keep the crust upright and shapely. The empty one droops and
sags, but is still delicious enough to eat as a snack, snapped off in
crispy bits.

Shuna peels and chops apples with ninja-like fingers of fury while the remaining eleven of us collectively compose a punkin pie
filling using a puree of the most delicious pumpkins and squashes that
Shuna lovingly roasted. It’s a lot of cooks in the kitchen, and there
is some negotiation on measurements since we are doubling the recipe,
but it all works out in the end.

Pies get filled, go into the oven, and just like television it’s time to taste. Here’s some pies Shuna made ahead. Voilà.

Shuna’s pie prowess is in evidence. The crust is crispity crunchy,
toothsome and golden, gently sweet all on its own. The fillings are
wonderfully unsweet, the star ingredients singing their own tunes,
supported only by the quieter harmonic hums of spices and sugar.
Bright, tart apples retain their firm bite. Punkin custard tastes like
the harvest of autumn, earthy and warm. The whipped cream doesn’t suck,

We don’t get to taste the fruits of our own labors, but hear after
the fact that they are fabulous. Yes, we conquered the mighty pie
dough, all of us, together. We are ready to be unleashed on an
unsuspecting world, spreading pie joy everywhere we go. And how can pie not bring joy?

You’ve been warned. Pies are coming. Watch the skies, or at least this space. And if you want to perfect your own pie, you can still learn from the best. Cuz if you’re going to do it, you might as well do it well.

  • Lucky lucky you! Looks like a fabulous class.

  • Spreading pie joy! I love it…

  • Amy

    Nothing competes with an all-butter pie crust in my book, but there was a really interesting article on various fats for pie crusts this week in the New York Times:
    My mom and grandma always made their crusts from crisco. This year, since my sister and I are hosting Thanksgiving, my mom has (reluctantly) relinquished the baking to me, but only if I promised to use her recipes.
    I’m still trying to decide whether or not it is a violation of that promise to make the pie crust my way…

  • I’m so glad you enjoyed your pie-making adventure. I’m really looking forward to Shuna’s caramel class next weekend!

  • Lydia: Shuna is fabulous. And inspiring. And adorable.
    Jennifer: Pie = joy. This is basic math, no?
    Amy: Wow … “A FEW years ago, I achieved perfection in a pie crust and it smelled like pig.” Now that’s a lede that grabs you!
    As for the butter v. shortening thing. Shuna spoke to that somewhat, and I have many friends and colleagues who like to mix up shortening or at least room temp butter to tenderize the crust a bit. However, I loved Shuna’s crunchy buttery yummy crust, so I think I’ll stick to that for now.
    Dolores: Yay! I’m jealous — I cannot make the caramel class. You’ll have a boatload of fun. Wear comfortable shoes. 🙂

  • Baking Classes: Pie Dough: November 19

    Have you started thinking about pie yet? I have. Soon I’ll start making punkin pie and apple pie. The kitchen will become a flurry of pie activity. Cutting butter into flour, rolling, crimping, freezing, docking, blind baking and filling. On

  • “Crispity crunchy crust,” what a perfect description. I managed to bake one pie and it came out pretty good. What a difference that class made :).

  • We whipped up three pies on Friday, with somewhat mixed results. Our crust turned out a tad tough, much to our dismay, but not bad for a first real attempt on our own. I think we took some lessons away that will help us make a better crust later.