At the end of the first season of True Detective, as the two main characters leave the hospital they look up at the sky and and see the stars punching through the black of the night sky. Seeing this, one says to the other that the light is winning. This time of year, when the days are short and cold and I live mostly in the dark I wonder too which side is winning– the light or the dark.
December is hard. It’s hard for me and it’s hard for my son. December is a time when schedules change. School lets out for 2 weeks. My son spends more time with his dad. There is the excitement of the Christmas tree and the presents underneath, but also anxiety surrounding the unknown, the un-usual. December is like a land mine laying dormant until the end of the year. This year, I hope I can contain the damage and prevent it from leaking into the new year.
Pie dough is a tricky thing. So are fried eggs. And I’ve realized over the past week that the essential quality that makes each of them turn out right has nothing to do with what I put in them or on them, but comes from me. Patience. I am not patient. I yell at other cars (from inside my own) when I’m stuck in traffic. I always have a multitude of projects going because boredom is a very dangerous place for me. I am the world’s fastest eater. I’m never really still unless I’m asleep. And, unfortunately, all of that impatience and needing to always be moving gets in the way of doing things the right way sometimes. Particularly when it comes to pie dough.
Pie dough is a contradiction. It must hold together, but still be flakey. It must be rolled out thin, but not too thin. You want the dough to be cold when you roll it out, but warm it up enough so that you can roll it out. So what is the key to making good pie dough? Patience and feel.
Pie dough is like bread dough in that way. The amount of water and flour necessary will change daily depending on the atmospheric conditions of my kitchen. I live in a place that is very dry most of the year, so usually need to add the maximum amount of water, and sometimes a little more. And I never know exactly how much until I get my hands in the dough and knead it a couple of times. I had an epiphany this week while making the crust for a coconut cream pie: I need to cut the butter in to the flour by hand instead of using a food processor. I get the feel for the dough in a way that I can’t watching it spin around in the bowl of my food processor. It takes a few minutes longer to do it that way but it works much better.
Allowing the dough to rest is also hard for me. I want to start rolling it out immediately. But, again, like bread, it needs a rest. The flour and water and butter all need time to absorb into one another before you start trying to roll it out. And then there is the rolling out.
This is often where everything, literally, falls apart for me. Most of the time I place the cold dough ball on the butcher block in my kitchen with a thud and start pressing and rolling. Then pulling up and I sticking the dough from the wood of the block, turning it, cursing it as it rips and breaks and sticks. This week though. This week I had another, “why didn’t I think of that before!” Moment. This is the week that I realized that the best, most perfect, way to roll out pie dough would be to roll it out on top of a piece of parchment paper. I’m 37 years old and it took me until now to figure this out. When I did that I was able to roll out the dough thin enough and large enough to have some overhang to crimp and make pretty, and the dough didn’t shrink into the pie plate while it baked. It was a wonderful thing.
And so this:
And then this: