Critic-Turned-Cook Takes a Pie-Making Class with Kate McDermott

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[Photographs: Leslie Kelly]

Wouldn't the world be a better place if there were more pie? No doubt about it. As a critic, I always wondered why dessert menus so often lacked this down-home treat. Maybe we're shy on hand-crafted pie because it can be such a challenge to make, especially if you're nervous around flour like I am. Cooking I can do, but baking is a whole different, kind of scary beast.

At least that's what I thought before signing up for a pie-making class taught by Kate McDermott at Diane's Market Kitchen near the Pike Place Market. Kate's pie skills have been written about in Saveur. She's shown Ruth Reichl a thing or two, too.

First thing we learned during this intensive baking lesson was that aspiring pie makers shouldn't feel bound by the constraints of the measuring cup. We're looking for a feel, a certain texture in the dough. Two and a half cups of flour go in the bowl, more or less.

Kate's not-so-secret recipe is built on a foundation of Irish butter, Pennsylvania lard ("I know it leaves a huge carbon footprint, but it's the best I've found, even after rendering my own," she explained), and King Arthur flour, the latter preferably kept in the freezer.

When blending the flour and the fat, Kate encourages a hands-on approach: Get right in there and squeeze with your fingers. The results should look like a bowl of mixed nuts. "I know some recipes call for pea size or almond size lumps, but it's best if there are different sizes," she said. Ice water brings it all together into a softball-size lump, which is wrapped in plastic and rests while you prepare the filling. Kate sources her fruit at farmers' markets and is a big believer in heritage varieties, especially when it comes to apples.

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20100107-katemcdermott-vegomatic.jpgAnother weapon in her pie-making arsenal are a few vintage Veg-O-Matics. Those gizmos slice a bushels' worth of apples faster than you can tell the story of Johnny Appleseed.

Kate showed us how to roll out the dough and to mend any cracks with water. She calls it super glue. Into the oven go those beauties, and about an hour later we had some mighty pretty pies despite a slight glitch with the oven temp.

These beauties were so much fun to make, and even more fun to eat, I got swept away by a case of pie fever and started scheming/dreaming about opening my own little house of pies. Maybe...

About the author: Former Seattle Post-Intelligencer restaurant critic Leslie Kelly has been working in professional kitchens since the newspaper folded in March 2009 and chronicling her culinary journey from pen to pan for Serious Eats. She also blogs at LeslieKellyWhiningandDining.blogspot.com and is working on a story-telling project for Northstar Winery following one wine from the vine to the table.

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