Sunday, November 15, 2009
A Perfect Pie Crust 101
Along with being eaten by sharks and giving a speech in public, many people are afraid to make a pie crust. A pie crust has no teeth whatsoever and can be done in absolute privacy, so let's abolish that fear so that a new dread can move into its spot. With a little practice, making a beautiful, flaky piecrust is actually elementary, my dear Watson
So let's make a pie crust, shall we?
A few tools will make your job a little easier. Waxed paper and a rolling pin, I wouldn't make a pie without them. If you have a pie cutter, your job will be quicker, but you can use two butter knives instead. I really can't say why I took a picture of a fork and ice water. They're not exactly special equipment, and if you don't have access to a fork and some cold water, then making the perfect pie crust isn't your most pressing issue.
In a large bowl, using a fork, combine 2 and 1/2 cups flour, 1 teaspoon salt and a teaspon sugar.
Let's talk a little about fat and flavor. Fact: Shortening produces a flakier crust than butter. Fact: Most people prefer the flavor of butter to shortening. Opinion: You need both butter and shortening to make a piecrust that has both the perfect structure and flavor. It's more expensive, but I like to buy the shortening in cubes (pictured above) in the baking section of the market. I only use shortening for pie crusts, and if I buy even the smallest can, I end up having to throw it out. The cubes are individually sealed and premeasured, so they're ideal for butter-bakers, like me.
I use half shortening/half butter, both of which should be firm and chilled. Dice them both into small pieces.
Use your pie cutter to "cut" the fat into the dry ingredients. You can use two knives in a slicing motion, if you're piecutter-less. It takes just a couple of minutes of constant cutting before the mixture resembles coarsemeal, with a few larger-pea size pieces. Stop there! You want bits of uneven fat throughout the mixture that will melt into your dry ingredients and create layers of flakes.
Take your ice water now and drizzle 6 tablespoons over your dusty dough. Use a fork to mix in the water and try to gather it into a ball. I neglected to take a picture of the drizzling process, because my sister came over with this dear little baby. She's my dear little friend. She's wearing dear little pink pajamas and looking at me with a dear little Gerber expression. I can't stop saying dear little whenever she is around, so shall we get back to my dear little pie?
Now, 6 tablespoons is NEVER enough water for my pie crust, so I always end up drizzling at least 1-2 tablespoons more. Go slowly, and get just enough in there to make the pie crust come into a ball. If you err, err on the side of too much water. It's just too hard to roll out a bone-dry pie crust. Here's my ball of dough just after I stopped sprinkling water and staring at the dear little baby visitor. Get out a generous sheet of waxed paper and a pen. We're going to trace a 12 inch circle onto our waxed paper as a size guide for rolling out the crust. (Just flip the waxed paper over after you make your circle, so that no ink comes in contact with your crust.) Put your crust in the middle of the circle and pat it out a little to make your rolling job a little easier. (If your pie crust is at all moist, lightly flour your waxed paper.) Pat your dough out from the center. There's very little rolling to do, if you pat your pie crust down first. But let's roll now. Start from the center and push lightly on the rolling pin. Move your pin 1/8th of a turn, and continue around the pie, pushing the crust to just outside your circle guide. If you like, you can trim your pie to a perfect circle with a pair of kitchen shears. I never do, but I always think it would be nice. Now, lightly flour the top of your pie crust and fold it in half with the waxed paper. Peel back 1/2 of the waxed paper and place the piecrust down into your piepan, centering the fold line with the middle of the pan. Peel of the rest of the waxed paper and unfold. IMPORTANT: Don't try to make the pie crust look pretty yet, I repeat do not try to make the pie crust look pretty yet. This is where most people make their mistake, and I'm speaking from experience because I did it for years. It's shaggy and uneven, I know, but we're going to fix it. Right now we're just going to build up a ridge. Fold up the extra pie crust over itself to create an even ridge around the top of the pie dish. If you have too much crust in one area, pull it off and add it where you need it. This still needs a little bit of work. When you have it as even as you like, then you can make it look nice. Force your knuckle into sections of dough, pinching it into place with your fingers on the other side. Go all the way around the pie. Now, take a look at the OUTSIDE of your pie dish. Oh, dear. If there's anything hanging over the edge too far, fix it now so it doesn't break off during the baking process. Much better.
And there you are, a beautiful blank canvas. It's ready to fill if you're making pumpkin, apple or berry pie, or ready to pre bake, if you are making quiche, cream pies, or pecan. It's just waiting for you, so get cracking.
Perfect Pie Crust
Estimated Cost: $1.25
Notes: Making your own piecrust is inexpensive and delicious!
2 and 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
5 tablespoons cold shortening
5 tablespoons cold butter
6 tablespoons and more ice water
Combine dry ingredients in large bowl. Cut in fats. Drizzle with ice water and shape into ball. Roll out and place in 8 or 9 inch pie dish.
Post Edit: Another wise Prudence from the comment section asked me some very good questions that I should have included, so here goes. I'm glad my readers are so on the ball, since I can be a bit of a ninny. You CAN freeze this pie dough very easily. I prefer to freeze it BEFORE rolling it out and let it thaw in the fridge for a couple of hours. It will freeze magnificentally, which is why you should always make a double batch at least.
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