More of Joe's food columns:
This year I had no trouble deciding what to give up for Lent.
I'm giving up piecrust—not eating it, you understand, but baking it. Piecrust has been a nuisance to me for over ten years. Eliminating it from my baking routine is a joy and relief.
I realize that this is not a traditional type of Lenten sacrifice. We're supposed to give up something pleasurable. Nevertheless, piecrust is out effective immediately.
Over the last decade, I have probably read more than 100 articles about how to bake "perfect" piecrust. Most of them had irritating titles like "Piecrust 101" suggesting that if you can't prepare piecrust after reading the article, you are hopeless.
I've listened to a host of secret tips like adding vinegar or using vegetable oil instead of Crisco in the dough. The results were uniformly bad.
I own ten rolling pins. Among them is an antique glass model where the cap unscrews and you can place ice cubes in the pin. I purchased that one during a period of mania that I now refer to as my "Everything must be well-chilled" era.
In that same time frame, I bought a marble board to roll my dough out on. The objective was to put the board in the freezer for maximum chill. I couldn't fit a stick of butter into my freezer let alone an 18" x 24" slab of marble. That's how obsessed I was to get good piecrust.
How sick I grew of watching the various Food Network bakers throw water, flour and fat together and roll out a perfect circle. But their effortless pie shells always inspired me to try once again. And invariably, the same results: a finished product that had some—but not much—resemblance to piecrust.
The struggle to produce the perfect crust wore me out. Whether I was adjusting the basics like how many tablespoons of water to add or experimenting with the complex like gluten development, hydration and overworked dough, I got the same pathetic end product.
Even a recent candid admission by Cook's Illustrated editor Christopher Kimball that it took him twenty years to master piecrust, I was not persuaded to try yet again. Why waste another ten years in futile pursuit of flaky and tender pastry dough?
Abandoning piecrust has been a tentative journey.
First, I'll confess that I am not a big fan of fruit pie. Occasionally, I'll eat a slice at breakfast. But for the most part, the traditional fruit pie consists of an over-baked top crust and a soggy, inedible bottom crust. In between lies a goopy mess of steamed fruit. I'll take my dessert pleasures in other forms. For instance, my favorite chocolate cream pie has a wonderful Oreo cookie crust that is fool proof.
Still, tradition dies hard. So when Thanksgiving and Christmas roll around, the guests expect apple pie. After my initial decision to give up on piecrust, I went to the galette, the so-called free form or rustic tart loved by the French.
The galette's anything-goes concept encouraged me. No matter what shape I ended up with, if criticized I could always say, "Well, it's meant to be free form, don't you know?"
But then, perfectly pleated galettes began to appear on food magazine covers. They were masterpieces. I could not help but to try to imitate them in their geometric perfection.
And needless to say, my feeble efforts dimmed in comparison. As the galette gradually grew in popularity, it became more and more obvious mine were a little too "rustic."
But now I have liberated myself from the shackles of piecrust.