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Upper Crust: Why Heirloom Whole Wheat Is Perfect For Pies

Give all-purpose a few days off, and explore the world of heirloom soft wheat flours this pie-baking season.

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Sure, apples, winter squash, root vegetables, and warm spices are the flavors of the season. But before you concoct elaborate fillings for your fall pies, I dare you to put as much effort into the piecrusts in which they’ll be encased. Throughout the year we’ve resorted to practical meals that come together in a jiffy, yet our autumnal piecrusts will ask us to slow down and be choosy of the ingredients we’ll put in them, and then find a pace in which each step of the pie-making process will lead us to the sublime pie we long for this time of year.

To make a piecrust you can be proud of, you must begin with the right flour. For this occasion, let your go-to all-purpose flour sit in the back of the pantry, and seek out one of the heirloom soft wheat flours that are available across the country. Heirloom wheats tend to be region-specific, although some, such as Sonora wheat, are available almost everywhere. The term “soft” refers to their lower gluten content, which make these wheats ideal for delicate pastries.

Pie-friendly heirloom flours can be found at farmers market stalls, independent mills, well-stocked grocery stores, or online. Every fall and winter, I rely on Sonora flour from Grist & Toll, my local mill in Pasadena, California, for all my holiday pies. However, I’ve also used other soft wheats with great success, among them Chiddam Blanc de Mars and Wit Wolkering. Vendors are very good at recommending the appropriate flour for different culinary uses. I only advise you stay away from varietals that are high in gluten and more apt for bread making, such as Turkey Red or Red Fife.

With great flour in hand, you can go through the motions of incorporating the cold butter into the flour and finally binding the crumbly looking mixture with just enough iced water. Pace is of the essence. Do not rush, but don’t let the butter linger to the point that it’ll warm up. The temperature of the dough plays a key role in creating a flaky and tender crust that is also sturdy enough to withstand the baking time and hold the filling together. A chilled dough will be easier to manipulate, so without exception, I always refrigerate the dough prior to rolling it out.

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