Perfect Pie Crust

I know, from speaking with some of my friends and clients, that people find pie crust a little intimidating.  My grandma was a big pie maker.  My cousins and I have been making pie crust from scratch since we were in the single digits, so it’s took me a while to really understand this.  Pie-making is in our family culture.  It’s fun, it’s creative, and man does it taste good.  One of my personal passions is to help others learn how to master this old-fashioned baker’s skill.  Here is my (not very) top secret recipe.  The only thing that can go wrong is the adding of the water, and the rolling out.  These parts take some practice, don’t beat yourself up if it isn’t perfect the first time.  The most important part is to try.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 2/3 cup all purpose white flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup butter flavored Crisco (for real, I said butter flavored Crisco)
  • 3/4 to 1 cup of cold water

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Add the flour and salt to a large mixing bowl.  Toss with your fingers or a fork to combine.  Add the shortening.  Now I know I’ll get a lot of guff about the shortening, but I’m not kidding.  Of COURSE chilled real butter is better.  But only a little bit and who the h*ll has time to deal with all that when the kids are screaming and the house is 90 degrees? Not Farmer Sadie.  My grandma use regular Crisco and it was bland, but flakey.  The butter flavored stuff is much more flavorful – and it makes your pie vegan!

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This next part is a little tricky.  You can do it a few ways (pinch it in with your fingers, use two forks or knives, run it through the food processor), but I use a standard issue pastry cutter.  You are trying to cut the fat into small pieces while simultaneously coating the pieces with the flour.  Don’t overwork it.  The fat pieces should be about the size of large peas – if the look like oatmeal, you’ve overdone it a bit.  They don’t all have to be the same size, just the majority of them.

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Once that is done, grab a long-tined fork and your water.  Drizzle about 1/4 cup of the water in at a time, followed by several quick stirs with your fork.  Stir from the edge of your bowl to the bottom and back up.  I usually use a full cup of water, but you might only need 3/4 of it.  When there are no more separate pieces and no more little flour-y spots at the bottom of your bowl, it’s done.  The dough should mostly hold it shape and should not be sticky.

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Pick up the ball of dough and pat it all together with your hands.  DO NOT KNEAD it.  This recipe makes enough for a perfect two-crust 10-inch pie. Use your hands to create two pieces (think play-dough), and pat them into balls.  Flatten them into discs and set one aside. I work fast, but if you don’t, cover the one you set aside with a dishtowel or Saran.

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Dust a large cutting board or counter-top with an even amount of flour.  Put your first disc on the flat surface and use a well-floured rolling pin to make a circle approximately 4 inches larger in circumference than your pie plate.

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You’ll need to gently pick up your dough at least a couple of times and re-flour the surface beneath it. Use your rolling pin to help you pick it up.

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Roll it up on to your rolling pin for transport and positioning.

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Place it gently into the pie plate and help ease it into the bottom of the pan by picking it up and setting it back down.

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Trim the excess dough, leaving about an inch of dough hanging over the side of your plate.

If you have any areas that cracked or aren’t covering the edge of the pie plate, use one of your scraps to “patch” the area. Dab a little water on the crust with your finger, then gently press the patch into place.

If you have any areas that cracked or aren’t covering the edge of the pie plate, use one of your scraps to “patch” the area. Dab a little water on the crust with your finger, then gently press the patch into place.

If you are making a two-crust pie, set the first crust aside and roll out the top crust the same way as the first. Remember to make some kind of decorative incision on the top for steam to escape through.  Work on your filling, and add it to the bottom crust.  Before you add the top crust, dip your finger in some cold water and moisten the top edge of the crust.  It will sort of glue the two crusts together so  no filling can leak out.

Gently place the top crust over the filling – trying hard to center it over the bottom crust – and press down on the edges to seal them together. Roll or turn the edge of the dough under so it makes a nice fat, sloppy edge.  Use your fingers or a fork to crimp it all together and seal it all in.

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You can roll it under, but I find a slight twist and roll works better.

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My preferred crimp technique – left hand fore-finger and middle-finger knuckles along the outside holding the crust, right hand index finger gently pushing into the space between the knuckles.

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PRE-BAKED, ONE-CRUST

At this point your oven should be pre-baked to 375 degrees.  You can just prick the bottom of the crust with a fork and pop it in the oven, but I prefer to use pie weights so the edges don’t slip down the side of the plate. You don’t have to buy anything fancy like ceramic weights or stainless steel chains, I just use a few cups of white rice, but the important part is that you should put something between your weights and the crust.  A piece of aluminum foil should be fine, a piece of parchment paper works, too.

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Just fit the foil (or paper) gently into the middle of your crust and get it as close to the edges as you can.  Then pour in the weighting material, spreading it to the edges.  This will keep those pretty edges up high on your plate instead of slumping down into the dish.  NOTE: if you do use weights, take them out for the last 10 minutes of baking.  If you don’t, the middle will not cook uniformly.

Okay, that’s it!  You have one pre-baked pie crust.  Usually when a recipe calls for this, the filling is pre-cooked as well, so you can just pour in and chill.  I’m thinking banana cream pie, lemon meringue, grasshopper… If you use the recipe I’ve included above, you’ll have one crust disc left over.  Throw together another pie – or a quiche! – or just double wrap it and pop it in the freezer for the next time you don’t really feel like making a crust 🙂

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