“It’s hard to find good pie,” says Masten, who stops at every roadside café advertising homemade pie. “They are always made with frozen crusts and canned filling.”
But Masten’s mama taught him differently, and he still uses her lard-based recipe. He’s never afraid to share his crust recipe. “If I gave the same recipe to 10 different people, you’d end up with 10 very different pies. You can only do it with practice. In the summer, when the swamp cooler is on, the flour absorbs a lot of that moisture, so you need to add less water. In winter, the moisture evaporates quickly, so you have to add a little more. It’s a matter of feel.”
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JEFF MASTEN'S PIE CRUST
Makes one 9-inch pie crust. For a 2-crust pie, double the recipe.
1 cup flour (Masten only uses Gold Medal flour, unbleached. His mother told him to.)
1/3 cup lard
1/2 tsp. salt
2 to 4 Tbsp. water
Chill the lard at least 4 hours. Sift flour and salt together. Cut the lard in pieces. Add half the lard to the flour and cut in with a pastry blender until it looks like corn meal. Then add the other half of lard and cut it in, leaving the pieces bigger. (“The first blending stirs up enough gluten to make the crust hold together; the second ensures flakiness.”) Masten spins the stainless steel bowl as he cuts the fat and flour together. Using a fork, stir in water, dribble by dribble, until the dough clumps. Knead lightly and briefly on a floured board. Shape into a flat round and let rest while making the filling. Roll out the dough.
Chef Masten sifts in the flour and salt, then cuts in the lard before adding ice water just until the dough forms a ball easily. He rolls it out on a floured board, places it in a glass pan. Apple slices are mixed with a tablespoon or so of flour, plus sugar and spices, then spooned into the crust so they mound up. He brushes the edge of the bottom crust with water, unfolds the top crust of it, pressing it to seal. Then he places the pie on a can so he can turn it as he trims and crimps the crust. Finally, he vents the crust and brushes the top with a mixture of milk and beaten egg for a shiny finish.