Apricot GaletteCall me crazy, but I love January. It’s so full of potential: I don’t mean earnest diet-and-exercise resolutions, but the possibility of finally dusting off a personal promise, like learning French or mastering a great pie crust.

Actually, pastry dough has been much on my mind since last November when I had the pleasure of judging KCRW’s First Annual Pie Contest. With 150 entries, it was clear home arts are alive and well, even in urbania, no matter what naysayers claim about no one cooking anymore. It was also evident this old skill needs a little polishing; problems were consistent–pale, tough, flavorless, or under-baked bottom crusts.

The remedy is less about recipe and more about technique, that is, practice makes better pies. Wintry days offer plenty of opportunity; it’s no wonder January 23 was declared National Pie Day. Here are four helpful hints to tender, golden crusts (you’ll find more on page 193 of my book):

  • Use as little water as possible. So little, that you must take a leap of faith the dough will come together. Liquid develops wheat flour’s gluten, which gives dough structure good for bread, not for pie.
  • Be sure your crust recipe includes a little salt and sugar. If not, add half a teaspoon of the first and a tablespoon of the second to a two-crust batch for flavor. Sugar also enhances browning.
  • Use a light hand to work in the fat. Use your fingertips, or a simple pastry cutter like the one below that belonged to Illinois farm wife Della Barr, who lived to 103. (I keep this well-worn tool on my counter as a reminder of past generations of cooks.)
  • Don’t under-bake! It takes a good while to get that bottom crust done. If the outer edges are getting too brown, tent with foil. Par-bake single-crust pie crusts before filling and baking. Glass or perforated metal pie pans help the crust’s bottom brown.

I’m delighted to announce the first of my seasonal Santa Monica Farmers’ Market walking tours: Saturday, March 6, 9am to 10:30am. We’ll spend the morning visiting with dedicated farmers and discovering the best late-winter ingredients. You’ll come away with loads of tasty ideas and a deeper understanding of farmers’ markets. Cost is $65 per person (up to 8 people) or $80 with a signed copy of The Santa Monica Farmers’ Market Cookbook. Click here to sign up and here for more details.

And, that most indispensible of local food guides, Eat: Los Angeles 2010, launches on February 20th with a party at Book Soup. Join me and fellow co-editors Linda Burum, Colleen Dunn Bates, Jenn Garbee, and Pat Saperstein for treats from the Grilled Cheese Food Truck! Hope to see you there and at these other great events.