Friday, August 26, 2011

Reliable crust on hurricane eve

Oh boy. I've always been nervous in the spotlight, so here goes nothing: a little blog about the meals that fortify me in New York City. I'm from a small town -- though the people there know it as the biggest town around -- and even though I love it here, it's easy to feel out to sea. Sometimes a homemade brownie, a well-planned brown-bag lunch, a strong, rich cup of coffee, can make all the difference on a day when nothing seems quite right.

I'm a journalist at one of the speciality publications of The Financial Times, and I'm working on my Master's degree at The New School. Between the two, I often feel that most of my writing is done to meet other people's deadlines. The pressure! My plan is to use this space to get a little loose and have a project that's just for fun. I hope that within some of my posts you will find a useful recipe or two, and maybe, if you're also juggling many things at once, you'll be reassured that there's someone else out there like you, trying to grab back a little calmness.

My first offering is a delicious and stalwart lard crust, as taught to me by my gran, Mabel. It never fails -- you can even roll it out a couple of times without it getting tough. If you haven't purchased lard before, look for it in the same grocery store aisle as eggs and milk. The most common brand I've seen is in a green and white box labeled in Spanish and English. It's enough for two rounds of this recipe, so just chop it all up at once and toss the unused half into the freezer so it's ready for a second pie.

One recipe makes two full pie crusts, so you'll have a little left over if you make a lattice top or don't need a top at all.

Tonight, on the night before The (alleged) Big Hurricane, I filled this pie crust with tiny tart blueberries dusted with powdered ginger and sugar, but you can use it as a crust for any pie filling you like.  It's tasty with fruit pies, cream pies, and I like it with quiche, too, but that combo is rich, rich, rich, so might not be for everybody.

Reliable crust

1/2 pound lard
1/2 stick butter
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 teaspoon vinegar
1/4 cup cold water

1. Cut the lard and the butter into little cubes. Put them in the freezer until they are very cold and hard.

2. Mix together the flour and the salt.

3. Place the lard and butter in the flour, and using your hands, rub the fat into the flour until it looks like small clumps of wet sand. It will look like a rougher version of a store-bought pie-crust mix. Like this:

 4. Whisk the last three ingredients together in a small bowl, and combine with the floury fat, switching to a fork or a pastry dough blade when it gets too hard to incorporate with a mixing spoon. If the dough seems too sticky, add a little more flour. It rarely goes the other way for me, but when it has, I've found that adding a little milk or cream works well to bring everything back together again.

5. Divide the dough in half. Pat one half into a ball and place on a floured surface. Sprinkle a little flour on top and roll out to a thickness you like. If you find that in the process of rolling out the dough it seems too sticky or too fragile, just douse it with a little more flour, gather it up, and roll it out again. Doing so won't cause it to turn out any worse.

6. Line a pie plate with the dough and set aside. Roll out the other half of the dough and get it ready to put on top.

7. Fill the pie crust with whatever filling you'd like -- I especially love this with tart berries, because the fat and the fruit tastes so good together -- but you could use it for anything you like.

8. Pop on the lid of the crust, or make a lattice top, or leave it off altogether.

9. Place it in the oven and bake until the crust is golden, about 25 minutes. Rotate the pie, turn down the temperature to 375 degrees, and bake for another 30 minutes, or until the filling is as gooey as you like it. If it needs more time in the oven, and you're worried about the crust burning, just cover the top with some foil to protect it.

10. There! Delicious pie for you!

Here's the filling I made for this pie:

2 pint cartons of blueberries
1 cup sugar, but you could use more or less depending on how tart your berries are
About a tablespoon of powdered ginger, but you could use fresh ginger, too
A couple pinches each of cinnamon and allspice (I guess that choice was a little redundant, but it tasted good)
The juice of one lemon
3 tablespoons of potato starch
A few pats of butter

Toss everything together and slap into the pie crust. Put the pats of butter on top of the berries, and put on the crust lid.

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