Oscar Does Pie Crust

So this was supposed to be a grape pie post. I ecstatically bought several pounds of Concord grapes at the farmer’s market on Saturday, nearly their whole harvest, and spent Sunday squeezing them out of their skins, running them through the food mill and blender, filling my lungs with that essential grape scent the whole time. Then the entire family came down with a cold, and I knew if I was going to bake a pie to comfort my son and husband through their sniffles, it was not going to be grape. Sure enough, Jeremy requested pumpkin, and I was happy to oblige.

I didn’t get fancy with the filling—the basic recipe from King Arthur served admirably. As for the crust, I had just finished feeding my starter, Oscar, and prepping some sourdough loaves, and I suddenly started wondering if I could make a sourdough pie crust. Most of the information I found said, in summary, “Sourdough in pie crust? Are you crazy?? Pie crust should be tender and flaky—sourdough leavening would totally ruin it!!!1!!” However, I did find a recipe for sourdough pâte brisée with gorgeous flaky photos and the very reasonable suggestion that the acidity in the sourdough actually assists with tenderness. It used almost identical proportions to the ones I had worked out myself, thinking to adapt my standard pie crust for sourdough. It also employs a French pastry technique called fraisage, which I was not familiar with: using the heel of your hand to smear thin portions of the dough across the counter, presumably to faux-laminate the chunks of butter and create a flakier crust. I have no idea if I did it correctly, and would definitely say that it warrants more investigation.

I par-baked the crust before adding the pumpkin, in an effort to stave off the soggy bottom most pumpkin pies get. It mostly just over-browned the edges by the end. I also added a few decorative leaves of crust in the last 20 minutes of baking, once the custard was set enough not to swallow them. Next time I would take the extra step of brushing the leaves with egg wash and maybe a sprinkle of sugar before putting them on the pie, as they cooked up incredibly pale. In the end, my crust was indeed tender and flaky, if not quite as flaky as the photos in the original blog. You would never know it contained sourdough from the taste, and it certainly didn’t behave like a yeasted product; if I can master that fraisage technique, I think this recipe will produce a really superior crust. Good thing I still have all that grape pie filling to make crusts for!

Sourdough Pâte Brisée

1 C all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp sugar
1 stick (1/2 C) very cold unsalted butter, in 1/2″ dice
4 oz (1/2 C) sourdough starter with 100% hydration

In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt and sugar. Add the butter and rub with your fingertips until the mixture looks like gravel, with some butter worked in and some 1/4″ chunks remaining (or use a food processor to make the dough). Gradually add the starter, folding the mixture with a spoon or your hands (or pulsing briefly in the processor) until it just starts to come together into large clumps.

Turn the dough out onto a surface, floured lightly if the dough is at all sticky. Divide roughly into 4 portions. Fraisage the dough: Using the heel of your hand, scrape a portion of dough across the surface. Repeat with the remaining dough. Gather the dough into a disc, and wrap in plastic. Chill for at least 30 minutes, and up to a few days. (Or freeze for up to a couple months. Defrost before proceeding.)

Remove disc from the fridge. If it is very firm, you may need to let it soften at room temp for 15 minutes or so. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out into a round large enough to cover your pie plate with half an inch or so of overhang. Fit into the pie pan, tuck the overhang under and crimp the edges of the crust. Chill for at least 30 minutes before baking.

Source: The Bojon Gourmet.

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