Desserts,  Pies,  Recipes

Edith’s Flaky Pie Crust, and how it may become Chelsea Clinton’s favorite

Pie crust is the basic black dress of baking. It starts out simple, with flour and salt. But then come the choices. Good or bad fats? Water, milk, juice, buttermilk, vinegar, or vodka? And what about secret ingredients like sugar or baking powder?

Some recipes obsess over technique. If you want to see how many annoying steps you can stuff into a pie crust recipe, see how fussy Alton Brown gets.

So where can you find a recipe for delicious, wholesome, flaky pastry crust in 40 words or less? One that even comes with a story of conflict, mystery, and revelation? The answer is this recipephany shared by our guest blogger, Robin Henschel.

I have finagled many precious recipes from Robin over the years. She works more with clay than dough, though. An acclaimed potter, she creates splendid works of “functional sculpture,” often with whimsy and fantasy thrown (pun intended) in.

We thank Robin for this heirloom recipephany, as it’s a busy time for her and her family. Her cousin, Marc Mezvinsky, will marry Chelsea Clinton on July 31. Robin’s middle son, R&B singer/songwriter/phenom Eli “Paperboy” Reed, will celebrate the US release of his major-label debut album, Come and Get It (on Capitol Records), on August 10.

The recipephany

But enough name dropping and shameless CD plugging. Here’s what Robin wrote:

“My grandmother always worked and couldn’t cook, so she had a black cook named Edith Wilson. Edith baked wonderful pies.

“Edith and my grandmother used to fight over how she made the crust. Edith insisted on using oil, which was expensive. ‘Why can’t you use lard, it’s cheaper?’ my grandmother argued. But Edith wouldn’t budge.

“What’s more, Edith never measured anything — she just took a couple of handfuls of flour from the giant old potato chip can where it was kept, then added some oil, milk and salt.

“So when my mother tried to duplicate her crust, it never came out quite right. After ages of trial and error, my mother finally figured out the proportions.” (She may even pass the recipe on to Chelsea.)

But could she make knaidlach?

There was more to Edith, though. Robin went on:

“My grandparents were such reform Jews they had a Christmas tree. Still, they sometimes spoke Yiddish, often as a way to discuss delicate topics discreetly.

“One day, as my grandmother was confiding to a friend in Yiddish, Edith perked up and commented on their conversation. My grandmother was stunned – Edith knew Yiddish? It turns out she had picked it up when she was working for a rabbi in the South.

“At the same time, Edith was equally surprised my grandmother was Jewish. How could a family that used lard and celebrated Christmas be Jewish?”

Here’s the recipe, as recreated by Robin’s mother. “Somehow it always needs a little fudging (more or less liquid to dry),” Robin added.

Edith’s Flaky Pie Crust

For two crusts

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup milk

Mix the dry ingredients, mix the wet ingredients, and then stir them together with a fork. Roll out.

My note: A half recipe makes a very thin crust. So I may use two-thirds or so next time for a single crust.

But wait, there’s more! Attention molasses lovers: Here’s a recipe Robin gave me years ago, and it delivers a perfect pie exactly as advertised.

Robin’s Perfect Pecan Pie

    • 3 eggs
    • 2/3 cup sugar
    • Dash of salt
    • 1 cup molasses
    • 1/3 cup melted butter
    • 1 cup pecan halves
    • Pastry shell, unbaked

    Beat eggs thoroughly with sugar, salt, molasses and butter. Add pecans. Pour into shell. Bake at 350°F for 50 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool 10-15 minutes.

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