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Vintage Lemon Pie


There's something special about a no-frills pie. I've always thought so. 5 years ago, the pie bug bit me -- I'm not really sure what caused it, but I remember flipping through a baking book in my dorm room and coming across a pie crust recipe that called for vodka, and I thought that was awfully strange, and so I ended up spending hours online reading about pie dough and that was that. Soon after, I attempted my first from-scratch crust for an apple pie.

It was not pretty.

It was my first time with a rolling pin, not including baking sugar cookies as a kid with Mom, and I was very ill-prepared for the feat that was -- and is -- flour, sugar, butter and water. I was shocked by how tender and fragile the dough was: it cracked, it stuck, it tore. When I attempted to fold it into thirds and unfold it into the pie plate, it ripped down the middle, and I was left with these ragged pieces of dough that reminded me of a patchwork quilt; and then came the top crust. It took me hours to get the pie into the oven. Within 15 minutes, the crust had begun to droop -- an unfortunate result of a too-warm kitchen and too-warm hands and a too-long process -- and so I placed a baking sheet under the melting pie, sat on the kitchen floor and watched it hopelessly. The fluted edges that I'd slaved over (thumb? Index finger?? Knuckle?!) lost their shape and slipped off the rim of the pie plate, landing in a smoky, buttery mess on the pan. The top crust rose and then sunk into a heap on top of the shrunken filling (how was I to know apples would shrink when baked?!?!), and when the pie finally emerged from the oven, I was heartbroken. It was hideous -- nothing like the photos I had seen online or in the baking books I was reading. Surely, the pie wasn't worth eating. But I let it cool while I scrubbed the crust off of the baking pan.

And then I sliced it and had a bite, and it was the best pie I'd ever tasted. (In reality, I probably felt that way because I knew how long I'd worked on it, but still.) It didn't exactly "slice" -- it was more of a "schloompf" -- but I ate it with a spoon and I had no regrets.

I've learned lots about pie dough since then. But I still have moments when I look at a pie I've baked and think, that's not a pretty pie. Or those moments when the dough doesn't exactly cooperate. I had both of those moments with this pie. The dough is so tender - it's not my all-butter crust, but one with shortening & butter - and it requires very gentle handling. It shrunk a little in the oven and the edges are uneven, but seriously, honestly, this pie is without-a-doubt delicious in all of its shrunken, uneven beauty. To give you an idea of how good it is, picture your all-time favorite lemon bar: gooey, tart, just sweet enough. Now picture it sandwiched in between 2 layers of buttery, shortbread-like pie crust. Oh, man. It's dangerous. It's nothing fancy, and it doesn't need to be. And when you taste it you'll know what I mean. ;)

INGREDIENTS

Dough:

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup unsalted butter, very cold and cut into cubes

1/2 cup shortening, very cold and cut into cubes

1/2 cup water (you won't use all of this)

Filling:

1 1/4 cups granulated sugar, plus extra for topping

2 tablespoons flour

3 large eggs

1/3 cup lemon juice (preferably fresh)

1 tablespoon lemon zest

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 teaspoon salt

Egg wash (1 egg whisked with 1 teaspoon cream)

DIRECTIONS

Pour 1/2 cup water into a measuring cup and plop a few ice cubes in there. Place in the freezer while you make the dough. In a large bowl, whisk flour, sugar and salt until combined. Add the butter and shortening cubes. Using a pastry cutter, 2 knives or your hands, blend the butter and shortening into the flour mixture, picking up pieces of fat, rubbing them between your fingers and letting them fall back in the bowl. You should still have pieces of shortening & butter in various sizes, ranging from small crumbs to the size of a cherry. Do not blend completely -- you want chunks!

Grab the water from the freezer, and pour a very thin, steady stream of water into the bowl for 5 seconds. Using your hands, toss the water into the dough until you have a slightly shaggy, very slightly tacky dough. It should not be too sticky. If dough is too dry, add water by the teaspoon until desired consistency is reached. If dough is too sticky, add flour by the tablespoon. Shape dough into 2 balls, roll balls into discs, and wrap in plastic wrap for 2-3 hours or up to overnight until ready to use.

Preheat oven to 400 F. Once dough has chilled, remove a disc from the fridge and let it sit on the counter for 15-20 minutes before rolling. On a lightly floured surface or in between 2 pieces of plastic wrap, roll one disc to an 11-12 inch round using a floured rolling pin and rotating ever so often to prevent sticking. Roll dough onto your rolling pin, gently, and unroll it into a 9-inch pie plate. This dough is much more tender than your average all-butter crust, so don't be put off if the dough is tearing. Just be patient with it and patch it up once it's in the pie plate! Trim edges and set in the fridge while you prepare the filling.

Remove the second dough disc from the fridge and let sit on the counter while you make the filling. In a medium-sized bowl, beat eggs, sugar and flour until thick and creamy. Add lemon juice, zest, melted butter and salt and beat until combined. Pour filling into the pie dish lined with your bottom crust, and place back in the fridge.

On a lightly floured surface or in between 2 layers of plastic wrap, roll second dough disc into an 11-12 inch round using a floured rolling pin, rotating the dough as you roll to prevent sticking. Retrieve your pie from the fridge, roll dough onto your rolling pin, and unroll it on top of the pie filling. Trim edges and fold underneath the bottom crust, tuck excess into the pie dish, and flute/crimp edges as desired.

Brush the pie with egg wash and cut steam vents in the top. Sprinkle with granulated sugar or turbinado sugar, and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown. Let cool completely before slicing and serve with whipped cream!


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