Friday, December 21, 2012

Pie Crust 101

Some people have a hard time making pie crust.

Let me share a secret with you: it's easy.

My mom made legendary pie crust. "Why, it just melts in your mouth," her mother, my late grandmother, would say.

So maybe there's pie crust in my genes.

But it's easy. Let me show you.

First, the ingredients:
  • 1 1/3 (one and one-third) cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup vegetable shortening (plain)
  • ½ teaspoon kosher or coarse salt
  • 3 tablespoons ice water

These proportions are for one crust. If you want a pie with a bottom and top, you'll need to double them.

I usually start by filling a glass with water and adding the ice, so it's ready when I need it. Then, these steps:

1. Mix flour and salt in mixing bowl. Cut shortening into the flour with a pastry cutter or fork. (It never completely mixes. When it's ready, it will still look like flour, but with chunks of fat in it.)

Do not use your hands to mix it. This is a textbook no-no. The heat from your hands is supposed to be bad for it. (I've handled the dough more than is recommended before, and it turns out okay. But you should go by the book until you get a feel for it.)

2. Once it's the right texture, add the ice water and combine with a fork. Quickly gather the dough into a ball and flatten into a disk. (This will help when you roll it out.)

Wrap in plastic (I use produce bags from the grocery store) and refrigerate at least 30 minutes. 

3. Remove dough disk from refrigerator. If stiff and cold, let stand until cool but malleable. 

4. For this last stage, I suggest using either wax or parchment paper. (There's a better way, which I'll get to momentarily.)

Using a floured rolling pin, roll the dough disk out in each direction, forming a 12- to 14-inch circle. I usually rotate the paper as I roll it, to help keep the crust even.

To transfer the dough, roll it around the rolling pin, lift,  center it over an ungreased 9-inch regular or deep-dish pie plate, and unroll. 

A couple of years ago my mom, that maker of legendary pie crust, gave me a big piece of canvas to use for rolling out the dough. It came in a kit that included a sleeve for the rolling pin. What a difference! The dough doesn't stick. Makes things a lot easier.

My crusts tend to be light and flaky, and to die for.

Note: I did not make the crust in the above picture. I don't know how to do that fancy crimping thing around the edges. I think you just use your fingers to wedge up the sides. Also, see those fork holes in the picture? I don't do that. I'll have to try it next time.

Another note: I usually use plain old unbleached all-purpose flour, most often the King Arthur brand, although any will do. I've used bread flour once or twice and it works fine.

I also usually use Spectrum brand organic vegetable shortening, but in a pinch have used Crisco. I'd rather not. But I have. Works fine.

Final note: my daughter is on a gluten-free kick, so I sometimes make pie crust with white spelt flour instead of all-purpose wheat. The all-purpose wheat is better, I think, but the white spelt flour works pretty good, too – much better than I thought it would.

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