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Easy As Pie: Master The Art Of The Perfect Crust

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Those of us slaving over pecan and pumpkin pies ahead of Thanksgiving already know that pie-making season is decidedly in full swing. And on a segment for Morning Edition airing Thursday, host David Greene and I discuss the best advice for pie-making newbies. Really, it comes down to this:

Baking is not like cooking a stew or soup. Bakers can't take as many liberties — adding a pinch of this or that.

Baking requires more precision. And perhaps it's a pursuit better suited for the rule-followers of the world, who are happy to simply follow the recipe. (Hint: Save all your creative instincts for the filling.)

Last year, I visited the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., for a hands-on lesson in perfect pie crusts from George Higgins, a professor of baking and pastry arts. (An encore presentation of that story airs on Morning Edition Thursday.) Higgins says great crust boils down to 3:2:1 — that's three parts flour, two parts fat and one part liquid. If you follow Higgins' 3-2-1 recipe (we outline it in five slides above) you'll be golden. And so will your pie.

So good luck — but more importantly, have fun.

As my mom, Barbara Aubrey, reminds us in my story: "Nothing says 'home sweet home' more than a homemade pie." Truly, it's a labor of love.

But if you're still hankering to get experimental with your pies, try swapping out the flour in your crust. My daughter Lilly and I made a pumpkin pie last Sunday using a recipe for a walnut crust, replacing the flour with ground walnuts. I was inspired by the spate of studies suggesting benefits of the Mediterranean diet, rich in olive oils and nuts.

There are lots of recipes out there. I found mine in a print issue of Cooking Light. It called for 2 1/2 cups of walnuts, 2 tablespoons of butter, 1 teaspoon of baking soda and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Beware: This crust is more fragile than a traditional crust. It's nutty and rich as a bottom crust, so we loved the taste. But the aesthetics leave something to be desired. The top layer becomes more of a crumble.

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