ONCE UPON a time, knowing how to bake a pie was considered by many a necessary skill for a women to have if she planned to get a husband. Fortunately, my husband preferred that I type his term papers, since pies were not in my portfolio of acquired skills when we met.
And they weren't for many years. More concerned with learning how to write coherent sentences, with raising babies and goats and radishes, I put pie-making into the list of things I would do "some day." If you really want the truth, I was scared. My earliest attempts had been terrible, and by the time I had eliminated refined flour from my diet I was sure that, not only could I never learn to make a satisfactory pie crust, I certainly was never going to manage one with whole wheat flour.
I was wrong.
It was some time after I had convinced myself that making pie crust was not a prerequisite to adulthood or woomanhood or anything else that I finally began to work on the project and mastered it. Then I converted my now trusted techniques to whole grain flour.
Even excellent cooks, like my mother, quake when they consider changing from pie crust made with white flour to a more nutritious version. And there are times and places when the esthetics of creation are more important than nutrition. But for most of my baking I prefer to use whole grain products, and if the crust of our dessert is to serve as a valuable part of our balanced meal, rather than as a sweet extra we don't need, then I would like it to be made with whole wheat flour.
The secret to a whole grain pie crust, I have discovered, is whole wheat pastry flour. This specialty flour is not simply ground more finely from the same wheat as whole wheat bread flour. Rather, a special type of wheat is used a soft wheat which has less gluten than high-protein bread wheat. While retaining all the nutrients and fiber of the germ and the bran, this four is finer and softer than regular whole wheat flour, and promotes a tender pastry product. Great for biscuits, too.
You can purchase whole wheat pastry flour in bulk from many health food stores and food cooperatives, although you may have to ask for it. Many supermarkets which have health food sections also carry pastry flour in two-pound boxes, which is an expensive way to buy it, but a good way to try it out.
Now that you have pastry flour you can pick and choose your recipe for pie crust. For sweet pies I prefer to use a butter recipe; if my filling is meat and vegetables, I will use an oil-based recipe and roll it out between two sheets of waxed paper (a technique that helps cut down handling with almost any recipe). Using ice-cold butter and iced water also improves the texture of the crust as does letting it rest either before or after rolling out. Refrigerating during resting keeps the fat globules where they belong, although a cool porch has the same effect.
For Valentine's Day I'm making a cherry pie for my family. There is something about out-of-season fruit -- it makes for a real treat on a winter day. VALENTINE'S DAY CHERRY PIE Pie Crust: 2cups whole wheat pastry flour 1/2 cup cold butter 1/2 teaspoon salt 3 to 4 tablespoons iced water Pie Filling: 3 to 4 cups frozen cherries, partially defrosted 2 tablespoons butter 1/2 cup honey 2 tablespoons cornstarch
To make pastry, measure flour into large bowl. Cut butter into flour in small pieces, combining with a fork and then with your fingers, rubbing them together to make sure the butter is evenly distributed. Stir in salt and iced water, then stir with a fork until blended. Dough should hold together when pressed between your fingers; if it is too dry, add a little more water by dipping your fingers into the bowl and sprinkling the dough in the bowl.
Press dough together into two balls. Flatten one on a piece of waxed paper; cover with another piece of waxed paper and roll to desired thickness and diameter (turn over once or twice while rolling to help eliminate wrinkles in the paper). Remove one piece of waxed paper, turn crust into pie plate, remove other piece of paper, and gently press into place. Wrap ball of dough in one of the pieces of waxed paper and refrigerate both pie shell and ball until filling is ready.
To make the filling, melt butter over low heat; stir in honey and remove from heat. Dissolve cornstarch in 1/4 cup of juice drained from cherries -- add to butter-honey mixture and stir into cherries. Using a spatula, turn mixture into pie shell, making sure that all the syrup is scraped from the bowl. Roll out top crust the same way you did the bottom, cut three slits in the center of the crust to allow steam to escape, then place over fruit, firmly pressing around edges to seal. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the crust is slightly darker and crisp.