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the fascinating rhythm of pie

10 November 2009


apple pie from 11/07 class

for me, baking is a dance—one that i perform with infinitely more poise and grace than i could ever exhibit on any dance floor. i glide through my kitchen, moving from pantry to countertop to oven with clarity of purpose and a decided rhythm that helps me keep beat with my joyful, self-defined creative process. as i learned from Seattle’s acclaimed, award-winning, pie-baking maestro Kate McDermott this past weekend, rhythm also plays a pivotal role in crafting an exceptional pie.

Kate and husband Jon Rowley spent more than two years refining their perfectly tender, flaky, lightly crisp and rich pie-crust recipe—and another few years researching and experimenting with combinations of heirloom apples to determine which yielded the best-tasting results. with a Brix refractometer, they measure each variety’s sugar content to determine how other ingredients might be adjusted to ensure every pie’s flavors are ideally balanced.

Kate listening to pies

Kate McDermott listens to the rhythm of a nearly done heirloom-apple pie.

as a classically trained musician with a highly refined ear, Kate discovered that her pies were completely baked when they emitted a rapid cadence of sizzle and a steady beat of whump. these culinary rhythms prompt her to remove her glorious handmade pies from the oven.

recently—in our small class of four pie-making wannabes— Kate demonstrated how to form a perfect pie crust by first combining refrigerated King Arthur flour, cold Kerrygold butter, chilled rendered leaf lard and salt in a very large, very chilled mixing bowl. she plunged her hands deeply into the bowl and lifted the ingredients with her palms up, blending the butter, lard and flour with her fingers, leaving fat chunks of all sizes to encourage an ultimately flaky consistency. next, Kate sprinkled icy cold water until a dough formed. then she let us loose to do the same, until each of us had two, flattened pie-dough disks.

as our dough chilled in the fridge, Kate and Jon shared that heirloom apples have thin skin, which contains tremendous flavor; it’s neither necessary nor desired to peel them. we all cheered. we cored and chunked Belle de Boskoop, Black Twig, Cox’s Orange Pippin, Egremont Russet, Elstar, JonathanKing David and Prairie Spy varieties, tossing them into a giant communal bowl. Kate then measured and divided the apples into four-to-five-pound piles, one pile for each of our pies. we laughed nervously when we realized how many apples we needed to load into our pie dishes. after combining a blend of spices with the apples, we were ready to roll out our pie crusts. and that’s when i panicked.

rolling my pie crust has always been a overwhelming challenge. i clumsily try to shape a round, but it never is. round, i mean. Kate helped me to relax, work more confidently and less gingerly with proven techniques. if the dough isn’t perfectly round, life isn’t over. a happy revelation. it will still fit in the pie dish and on the top of the pie. and, most importantly, it will still taste great.

when our crusts were rolled and pies filled, we crimped, vented and egg-washed the top crust, then Kate carefully loaded our masterpieces into her oven. as the pies baked, Kate served snacks, including some of her own divine apple pie, and read Henry Ward Beecher‘s apple pie sermon aloud. as our pies came out of the oven, and we listened for their sizzles and whumps, i realized it wasn’t simply the rhythm of the pies that made for a warm, uplifting afternoon. it was Kate’s melody: her overarching enthusiasm, patience, openness, generous spirit and genuine love of pies. and it was the harmony of working together for a common goal: to proudly craft our own amazing pies.

i wish i would have taken more photos during class to share every step of the process with you, but i was literally up to my elbows in flour, lard, butter, pie dough and apples (and loving every minute of it). i totally forgot to remove my camera from its case, until our pies had been popped in the oven.

i’m about 100 percent positive that neither of the Gershwin brothers would have imagined the title of their 1924 hit could be applied to an award-winning berry or cherry or peach or heirloom-apple pie. but Kate’s rhythmic discovery is, indeed, fascinating. and her dedication to the Art of the Pie and teaching it to others, unwavering. if you’re near Seattle, i enthusiastically recommend that you take her class; it’s truly an experience every aspiring pie maker should have.

Kate’s Apple Pie
recipe shared with the gracious permission of Kate McDermott, Art of the Pie
makes one double-crust, 9-inch pie


for the double crust
2 1/2 cups refrigerated King Arthur unbleached white flour
8 tablespoons leaf lard, cut into various-size pieces, from peas to walnuts
8 tablespoons Irish butter (e.g., Kerrygold), cut into various-size pieces, from peas to walnuts
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
6 – 8 tablespoons ice water (variable, depending on environmental conditions)

for filling
about 10 cups heirloom apples, quartered and cored
1/2 cup flour
1/2 – 3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar (my optional addition to 1/2 cup granulated sugar)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 heaping teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves (my optional addition)
a pinch or two of nutmeg
1 tablespoon organic apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon butter, cut into small pieces

for topping
1 egg white mixed with 2 to 3 tablespoons water
1 – 2 tablespoons sugar


  1. in a generously large mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients for the double crust, except the water.
  2. with clean hands, blend the mixture together until it looks like coarse meal; leave some lumps in it, so your pie will be flaky!
  3. sprinkle ice water over mixture and stir lightly with your hands or a fork.
  4. squeeze a handful of dough together; if it doesn’t hold, add a bit more water.
  5. form the dough into a ball, then divide in half.
  6. make two chubby disks, about 5 inches in diameter.
  7. wrap each disk in plastic, and let chill for about an hour.
  8. when the dough has chilled, place one of the disks on a well-floured surface and sprinkle some flour on top of it.
  9. thump the disk with your rolling pin (Kate prefers a French rolling pin, but whatever works best for you) several times; turn the disk over and thump the other side.
  10. if needed, sprinkle more flour on the disk to prevent sticking, then roll out the crust from the center in all directions. Kate advises to turn the dough quarter turns and to flip it over during the rolling process.
  11. when the dough is about an inch larger in diameter than your pie dish, fold the dough over the top of your rolling pin, brush off the excess flour on each side, and lay it carefully in the pie dish. don’t be alarmed if you have to patch your dough in a place or two; just brush a little water over any cracks, then reconnect the dough with any extra pieces you have left over.
  12. for your filling, slice the apples in 1/2-inch pieces.
  13. in a large mixing bowl, combine all the filling ingredients, except the butter; mix lightly until the surface of the apples have been coated.
  14. pour the mixture into the pie dish that contains your bottom crust, mounding high; dot with the butter.
  15. preheat oven to 425F.
  16. roll out your top crust, and place over the pile of apples.
  17. trim your crust with kitchen shears or a sharp knife, leaving about an inch of overhang.
  18. roll the crust over or under, so the pie is sealed; make sure the crust doesn’t extend beyond the edges of the pie dish.
  19. crimp the edges of the crust with a fork.
  20. paint with egg-white wash.
  21. cut decorative vent holes of your choice in the top crust.
  22. sprinkle sugar on top.
  23. bake the pie for 20 minutes, then reduce heat to 375F and bake for about another 40 minutes.
  24. when you remove the pie from the oven, listen for the sizzle and a deep, subtle bubbling or whump.
  25. cool on a wire rack. Kate’s sage advice: if you leave your pies to cool on the back porch, expect resident squirrels to pay a little visit.

serve alone for breakfast or with ice cream after your evening meal.


Post a comment
  1. November 11, 2009

    this piece turned out great. a wonderful ode to the pie queen kate mcdermott and that lovely heirloom apple pie!

    thanks again for joining me at the class!

    • November 11, 2009

      i’m so glad you told me about it! a life-altering baking experience: great company (i.e., you), a great teacher (i.e., Kate), great pie making (i.e., the sublime combination of Kate’s crust, heirloom apples and technique).

  2. jules #
    November 12, 2009

    the picture of that pie is making my mouth WATER. mom told me that you took a pie making class. how was it?! i wish i could find something like that around here! maybe when we come out to visit you could teach me? 🙂

    miss you, love you!

    • November 12, 2009

      i can certainly teach you what i know, but it won’t be as amazing as my class. you can read about that experience in my blog post. wish you were coming out for the holiday…

      • jules #
        November 12, 2009

        i read aaaall about the class – it sounds like it was fun, and kate seems like an amazing teacher! i wish we were coming out, too. i think mom and i cut it a little close this year. hopefully we’ll be able to figure something out after the holidays..

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