World Science Festival, The Scientific Kitchen: Pie

Do you think baking is one big science experiment?

On May 31st Pie Corps, purveyor of sweet and savory pies in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, opened their doors to a group of hungry curious attendees interested in untangling the scientific mysteries of pie.

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The program was part of the World Science Festival’s Scientific Kitchen Series.

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Our hosts included biophysicist Amy Rowat, White House Executive Pastry Chef Bill Yosses, Pie Corps owner and chef Cheryl Perry, and co-owner Felipa Lopez.

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The hands-on workshop applied scientific principles to create the perfect pie.

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We spent most of the evening focusing on the part of the pie that seems to give bakers the most trouble- the crust! A basic butter crust recipe typically includes flour, salt, baking powder, butter, lemon juice, and ice water. Here’s a breakdown of what each of the ingredients do.

Flour: all crusts begin with flour. Flour contains material that plants use for energy, both proteins as well as tiny starch granules, which store carbohydrates. For bakers, proteins link together to form a gluten network, which contribute to the structure and shape stability of pie crust. This enables you to roll out and form the dough into different shapes.

Gluten holds a crust together. Gluten-free flours have starch molecules (like tapioca or cornstarch) added to them, in the absence of gluten.

Some pie makers prefer cake flour for a flaky pie crust, while others maintain that all-purpose flour results in a pie dough that’s easier to handle. Pie Corps uses Hecker’s or King Arthur all-purpose flour.

Salt: is a flavor enhancer.

Baking Powder: is a leavening agent, which further enhances butter, making it lighter.

Butter: the ideal fat, is critical to a crust’s texture. You want butter that is solid when you make pie dough. Pockets of fat create pockets of air, resulting in flakiness. You can think of butter as “gas” when baking. If butter is left in large (walnut-sized) pieces, the crust will be more flaky.

Different butters have varying fat contents.

Lemon juice: helps tenderize pie dough, making it easier to roll out.

Ice water: activates the proteins in flour to help develop gluten, and creates texture. It should be ice-cold to keep to keep butter cool.

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After we learned the essentials for creating the perfect crust, we got to work on our very own to take home with us, along with Pie Corps’ recipe for Double Crusted Apple Pie.

For the recipe, and all the helpful tips I learned, check out my post HERE.

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I asked Bill what President Obama’s favorite dessert is during Q&A. Turns out, it’s … apple pie, with whipped cream! The girls love it as well, preferring it with vanilla ice cream.

And then of course, we ate some pie!

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Thank you for the wonderful learning experience Felipa, Cheryl, Amy and Bill!

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Turns out, the science of pie isn’t all that complex.

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