Real-Life Cooking Class: How One Food Network Chef Learned to Make Perfect Piecrust

Not long before my wedding day, my soon-to-be mother-in-law, Muriel, announced to me somewhat cryptically that the “big day” was here. Naturally, I thought she was somehow referring to my impending marriage to her son. Wouldn’t anyone? Turns out, the “big day” was actually the day I learned how to make her famous piecrust.

First, a little background. As an American engaged to a Frenchman, I knew that Thanksgiving cooking duties would always fall squarely on me. My first Thanksgiving at my future in-laws’ house went something like this: After promising to procure a turkey for me—no small feat in a country that eats whole turkeys almost exclusively at Christmas—my fiance’s father met us at the train station in Aix-en-Provence, where he told us we’d be “picking up” the turkey on the way home. Now, I’ve been to farmers’ markets, and Paris is loaded with little boucheries displaying meat in its rawest forms (Thumper on a hook, anyone?), so I am not squeamish. But when we pulled up to what looked more like a setting in a Laura Ingalls Wilder book than a Safeway, I got nervous. I’ll spare you specific details on what happened during the next half hour, but nothing says “welcome to the family” like plucking turkey feathers together.

So that was how Thanksgiving 2002 began. Eventually, the turkey started to look more like food than one of the dinner guests, and I turned my attention to my sour cream apple and pumpkin pies. I breezily pulled out my refrigerated store-bought piecrusts with the confidence of an accomplished cook being strategic with her time. Muriel looked at me in confusion. (Or was it horror? Dismay?) Why would I spend all day making an amazing homemade meal (did I mention I plucked the turkey?) and then use premade piecrust? It was easy to make yourself, and so much better, she insisted. I wasn’t convinced, although in all fairness, my experience with homemade crust was limited to my mom’s shortening-based concoction (so hip in the '70s!), which tasted like, well, white vegetable fat. And since my mom isn’t alive to defend herself, I suppose I’ve never felt right acknowledging how awful her recipe was, which is why I replaced it with its modern counterpart: refrigerated piecrust. But not long before I said “I do” in 2005—actually, “oui,” since we were married in Philippe’s home village—I learned to make the perfect piecrust. Why then, and not at that first Thanksgiving? I don’t know for certain. Perhaps Muriel wanted to let me know that while she’ll never be able to replace my mom, she intended to be mom-like to me. I would be her daughter. Or maybe she just wanted better pies on Thanksgiving. Muriel makes her crust using nothing but her hands and a floured surface. I, on the other hand, have adapted the recipe slightly to make it with a food processor. Muriel insists that a food processor will overmix the pastry; I think that pulsing the dough with a food processor is gentler on it, and that the butter stays chilled longer since it’s not exposed to warm hands. I suppose we have to disagree on something, being in-laws and all. Anyway, it doesn’t matter—I’m just happy to have the recipe. I am a daughter again, cooking in the kitchen.

 

Melissa d'Arabian is the host of the Food Network’s Ten Dollar Dinners.

Get the recipe for Melissa d'Arabian's piecrust

What kind of piecrust do you use? Chime in below!

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