In my kitchen, pie is an everyday food, a simple way to combine random ingredients (sweet and/or savory) to make something special. The key for me is not getting hung up on how the pie looks. Sometimes I make ‘em in a pie plate, other days I create a free form shape on a baking sheet (technically a tart but who’s keeping track), or fold the pastry over the filling using the classic hand pie method. I use a pastry recipe from a Betty Crocker Cookbook that’s older than I am as a base and experiment freely with every variation I’ve ever heard. Incorporating bits of knowledge shared on cooking shows and from friends revealing family secrets of how to create the perfect pastry. Pie crust is both simple and mysterious, with a mere 3 or 4 ingredients, some practice and a little magic the results can be exquisite. I seem to possess that unteachable knack and have always been able to make a flaky delicious crust even though I don’t use cold butter and rarely refrigerate it before I roll it out. I know – scandalous!
Several years ago, I began keeping a pie journal as a way to keep a record of my experiments. I think of the entries as memories more than recipes, with notes about the season, who I shared the pie with and how it was received. What follows is one of my favorite everyday pie memories. This pie was created on the fly one summer day to share with my friends Tara and Doug. I had lost track of the time while spending the morning in my garden, when I noticed the sun sinking in the sky it was too late for the meal I had planned. So I looked in the fridge and made the most of what little I had. Notes in my journal say “OMG yum!” so it’s no surprise that this simple free form pie (tart) has become a favorite, made more delicious by the memory of time spent with friends.
Red onion tart w/ gruyere
8” pastry crust
Prepare one 8” pastry crust (method & recipe below)
Cut a v shape in the root of the onion, remove and discard
Place the onion cut side down
Slice into ¼” slices
Grate the gruyere on the finest setting
Separate thyme leaves from stems, discard stems
Melt butter in a large skillet
Add the onion a little at a time stirring constantly
Reduce to medium heat
Stir and cook onion until it is dark brown and fully caramelized
Roll out pastry and place on a large baking sheet
Spread onion on crust to within 2” of the edge
Sprinkle evenly with thyme and then gruyere
Crimp & fold the pastry edges however you like to create a free form tart, with fat crusty edges
Bake at 425° until pastry is golden brown
Tent the center of the tart with foil is necessary to prevent filling from burning
Pastry recipe and method
I used the vinegar crust method for this tart because I had heard that it would result in a crisp, slightly harder crust and I wanted to test it out. It worked!
1 cup all purpose flour
A healthy pinch of fine salt
⅓ cup soft butter
1 Tablespoon lard ( non-hydrogenated shortening for vegetarians)
3 Tablespoons very cold water
1 Tablespoons vinegar (I usually use apple cider vinegar)
Put the flour and salt in a bowl
Lift it with a fork to incorporate the salt and get some air into the flour
Add the butter and lard or shortening
You can either break the fat into small pieces as you add it or cut it in with a pastry cutter. My unconventional method is to break the fat up with my hands, working quickly to prevent over warming it.
Sprinkle the water in and lift it through the mixture with a fork
Do the same with the vinegar
Form the pastry into a ball
If more moisture is needed, you can add another tablespoon of water.
Flatten the ball and pop it in the fridge for a few minutes before rolling it out