Flaky Pie Crust

Making an excellent pie crust is a dying art.  Some folks don’t even try because they think it’s too hard, when in reality it’s pretty simple.  Have you ever heard the expression “Easy as pie”?  The most important things are to have a very simple recipe and to remember some of the rules and tricks.

(double crust)

2 c. flour

1/2 tsp salt

3/4 c. lard or Crisco

4-8 Tablespoons ice water

(*signature ingredients: nuts – 1/4 c.herbs – 1 Tablespoon)

Blend flour and salt in a  bowl.  Blend in signature ingredients (see below) at this time as well, if you’re using them.

Cut in lard or Crisco VERY well.  You cannot cut it too much.  A pastry cutter is most efficient, but a fork works, too.  At this point, your dough should look crumbly, but moist.  Pinch a bit of it between your fingers.  If it sticks together nicely, but isn’t gooey, it’s right.  If it’s gooey, just cut in a little more flour.  Start adding water with 4T. Once you start to add water, work the dough as little as possible, so just kind of ‘toss’ it around, gently getting all the crumbling parts moistened so they’ll form a ball that sticks together.

The key to flaky crust is minimal handling once you add water. The more you mess with it after the water, the more likely it is your crust will be tough and not so flaky.

Rolling out the dough can be tricky so I just I use a single paper towel sheet with flour sifted over it instead of trying to roll it directly on the counter.  Again, remember, minimal handling.  You really need to get it right the first time you roll it out.  A floured pastry sheet or a clean cotton dish towel works as well. I like the paper towel because they’re handy, clean, the right size and easy to flip into the pan.  I press out the dough as much by hand as I can, then roll it out with a rolling pin until it covers the paper towel. Edges of the circle should extend beyond the paper towel. If it sticks to the paper towel, dust the side facing up with a little flour, then GENTLY lift it off the paper towel, turn it over and then dust the other side.  Continue rolling until it’s big enough to cover the entire pie plate with some hanging over the edge for the crust.  Slip your hand under the paper towel and flip it right into the pie plate. Make sure that you dust it with flour before flipping it.  That way if it’s a little off center, it slides easily for you to adjust its placement. Remove paper tower and TA DA!  

*Signature ingredients give the crust a more interesting flavor.  For example, a pumpkin pie, I like to add 1/4 c. of pecans to the pie crust.  For a quiche, I add dill or rosemary. 

To review the tricks:

1. Cut the lard or Crisco into the flour mixture WELL.

2.  Minimal handling of the dough after water has been added.

3. Your goal is to roll it ONE time only.

Baking the pie crust

Some recipes will call for a baked crust. So once you have your crust in the pie pan you prepare the edges for the crust. There are a lot of methods for doing the outer edge. Some people just pinch the dough hanging over the side of the pie dish and call it good. I like to “flute” the edges. Press little sections of the dough around your thumb and pinch, alternating a pinch inside and then a pinch outside until you’ve gone around the entire crust.

It is recommended to put dry beans in the bottom of the crust before baking to prevent bubbles forming in the dough. I don’t do this too often. I just poke holes in the dough with a fork, but I will confess, I do indeed get some humongous bubbles sometimes. So it’s up to the baker. Bake the pie crust at 400 for about 20 minutes or until it’s a light brown.

Custard type pies, like quiches and pumpkin pie, can be put in an UNBAKED shell. Again, it’s a matter of preference. If you are going to use an unbaked crust, place the pie on the BOTTOM rack of the oven to ensure that the bottom gets cooked.

Double Crust

This is what you use for fruit pies and pot pies. Once you have your crust flipped into the pie dish, do not flute the edges yet. Fill the pie with whatever fruit or meat you want. Yes, this is the same recipe you use if you want to make a homemade pot pie. When you have your ingredients in your pie dish, cover them with a second crust. Once the dish is covered, go around the edge and pinch together the top and bottom crusts, forming a seal. Cut off excess crust. You will need to vent the pie as well by cutting a few slits into the top of the crust as seen above. Then go around a second time, flute the edges and pop it in the oven at 350, Usually these take around 45 minutes to an hour to bake. Shortly before they’re done, it’s a nice touch to brush a little milk or cream over the top and then sprinkle some sugar on the crust. Pop it back in the oven for another 5-10 minutes. Let the pie cool at least an hour before trying to cut it.

After trying to explain how to do it, I must admit it does all sound very complicated, but really, it’s not. Pie crust is one of those recipes that just takes practice. After you have successfully done a couple by yourself, you’ll wonder what all the fuss was about and then you can start having FUN with the crusts.

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