It’s 3-14 today. Why does that number sound vaguely familiar? If you’re having flashbacks of high school geometry class, you’re on the right track…3-14 is the day we celebrate 3.14, the number with a funny name and its own Prince-like symbol. It’s Pi Day! So naturally, we’ll be celebrating with lots and lots of pie.
What is pi, anyway? It’s a mathematical constant as dependable as our undying love for pie. Just like that storied number with its infinite digits, there are infinite ways to make a pie. Sweet or savory, ordinary or ornate, stacked with butter or shortening...and let’s not forget the secret, naughty ingredient lurking in some of your favorite pie crusts: VODKA.
Today is the perfect day for baking enthusiasts and newbies alike to take to the kitchen and get creative for the love of pie. Here’s our simple recipe for a pie-tastic Pi Day:
First, give it up for the Greeks.
Many ancient civilizations had approximations of what we know today as pi: the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. But the Greek mathematician Archimedes took it to the next level, inventing an algorithm to calculate the number to seven digits somewhere around 250 B.C. Many, many moons later, the number was named pi, after the 16th letter in the Greek alphabet. Did we mention that the Greeks may also take credit for inventing pie crust? Greece...thank you for everything.
Next, pick your fat.
Flour + water = paste. Flour + water + fat = PASTRY. Fat is absolutely essential in a pie crust, and there are several options to fill the role — and just as many schools of thought about which is the best. An old-school option for a delicate flaky crust is lard, while many mid-century cooks lean toward shortening. But few would argue that in terms of flavor, nothing can beat real butter. Some crust recipes feature various combinations of those three options to capture the strengths of each.
A fourth, less popular option is oil, like olive oil or coconut oil. Oil will never create those lovely flaky layers, but oil crusts do stand up well to heartier creations, like quiches and savory tarts. They also offer a less-fussy alternative to the all-butter crust, since you don’t have to worry about keeping the butter cold as you work it into dough.
Then add an acid.
Acids inhibit gluten formation, and that’s a good thing in pie-making: gluten is the enemy of tender crusts. So instead of water, some bakers substitute an acidic ingredient like vinegar, sour cream, or even vodka! This element is optional, but it can make pie dough easier to roll out, which will help prevent overworking the dough. An overworked dough makes a tough pie.
Now live out your pie dreams.
Here’s where the options get endless. What kind of filling will you choose? In the modern United States, sweet pies are the norm, but in Britain (and many former colonies), savory pies are a staple for snacks and suppers.
Will you bake your pie in a classic round tin? Make mini calzone-esque hand pies? Or try a rustic slab pie in a sheet pan?
How about your flavor profile? Maybe an all-American apple pie? (Though to be fair…apple pie is actually Dutch.) Banana cream pie? (Pie purists, we hear you…banana cream pie is really more like cake.) Or do you want to say hey, life is too short for just one kind of pie! Here’s a kooky idea for making four pies in one.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed with options, don’t fret. When in doubt, remember this lesser-known mathematical constant: All pie = good pie.
Finally…finish with a flourish.
Were you blessed with both culinary and artistic gifts? Yeah, us either. But that won’t stop us from drooling over the jaw-dropping pie art taking Instagram by storm! Using colorful fillings and intricately patterned crusts, these pie visionaries are creating nothing short of edible art. (Seriously, check these out.)
As for the rest of us? Don’t worry if your pie won’t win any beauty contests. You just made a PIE, gosh darn it, and that’s something to celebrate. Pie doesn’t need to be pretty, and even if you dig in with a fork, that’s flourish enough for us. Happy Pi Day, everyone!