Desert Companion

Pie Confidential: Pastry Pros Dish Their Secrets


Sonia El-Nawal, the proprietor of Rooster Boy Café in Desert Shores
Photography by Sabin Orr

Sonia El-Nawal, the proprietor of Rooster Boy Café in Desert Shores

Great Galettes: Pie, Simplified

Pies can be tricky, requiring perfectly round baking pans, fussily pinched crusts, and intricately latticed tops. For something simpler but just as sweet, consider the galette, an informal, Gallic pie style. Sonia El-Nawal, the proprietor of Rooster Boy Café in Desert Shores, is an expert on the baked treats that may sound fancy, but are actually quintessential peasant cuisine. “It’s a flat tart,” she says. “You just put what you want in it, then pop it in the oven.”

The ingredients that go into a galette crust are few: flour, cold butter, salt, and water. The mixture is first kneaded with fingers and palms.

“You add the water to bring it together, then let it rest just like a pie dough,” she says. “Then you roll it out flat, put whatever you want on top, crimple the edges over, and then it’s into the oven.”

For a sweet, fruit-filled galette, El-Nawal recommends a finishing touch of butter and sugar. For a savory galette, a drizzle of olive oil and sprinklings of quality salt and fresh-cracked pepper — plus a handful of microgreens or arugula — make for a delectable flourish. Need inspiration? El-Nawal’s galettes at Rooster Boy include potato-rosemary-brie, prosciutto-fig-caramelized onions, and seasonal stone fruits. Greg Thilmont

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In Crust We Trust

TaylorChef Douglas Taylor of the bakery at Jerry’s Nugget has one word for his secret to an amazing pie: crust. “A good pie needs a good crust, and it has to be flaky, fresh, and buttery.” Taylor uses butter, as opposed to vegetable shortening, to make his crusts, but he suggests trying it with lard for an extra rich, decadent crust. “It has to be baked just right, too. Underbaked is gummy and bland, overbaked is going to be bitter from the burnt butter and flour.” His trick for blind baking — the practice of lightly baking a pie’s shell before filling — doesn’t rely on any bag of beans or ceramic pellets to keep the bottom from bubbling out. “What you do is take your pie shell, and invert it onto the bottom of a pie pan. Once it’s (baked) firm enough to hold its shape, it’s ready to fill and bake the rest of the way.”

For a great pie to complement a summer meal, Chef Taylor is looking forward to making seasonal fruit tarts. “I like a nice lemon curd, filled with fresh berries, figs, whatever I can find that’s ripest. Right now we’re in apricot season, so I’ll do ripe apricots in a lemon curd with vanilla bean.” Tip for a great fruit tart: smear some almond paste on the bottom of the shell, to contrast the sweet and acidic notes of the fruit and lemon curd. Mitchell Wilburn


Homemade? Freeze That Thought

Chef LisaWant to serve fresh, homemade pie but feel like using store-bought crusts is tantamount to culinary cheating? Take it from Lisa Cornish, a local private chef and a winning contestant on Guy’s Grocery Games, there’s nothing wrong with stopping by the freezer aisle.

“It’s a great opportunity to save some time,” says Cornish about balancing home cooking with today’s busy lifestyles by opting for frozen, pre-made shells. After all, rolling out handmade dough isn’t the speediest of kitchen pastimes. But quality matters. She says Sprouts and Whole Foods are good places to shop for the best pre-made crusts.

“Of course, you do have to shop around a bit and test them,” she says about choosing individual brands.

For practical tips on achieving flaky, perfectly browned crusts without burnt edges, she advises home bakers to avoid cranking up oven temperatures. “Keep it on a lower heat,” Cornish says. “And rotate your pies.”

Cornish adds that convection ovens aren’t the best option for pie-baking. And, for something that might come as a surprise to pie newbies, she also says avoid wrapping pies in aluminum foil — this traps heat and can make for burnt edges. Greg Thilmont


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