Wednesday, July 20, 2011
The Perfect Pie Crust
I'm sitting here at a friend's house, and we're planning on doing some baking together this afternoon. She's actually got blackberries outside her front door that are needing to be picked. We're going to turn them into a blackberry pie, which we'll serve up with homemade vanilla ice cream.
It got me thinking...I've already posted my blackberry pie recipe. Actually I've posted a lot of pie, tart and quiche recipes on this blog. However, I've never posted my pie crust recipe. I'm going to do that right now. This is the butteriest (not sure if that's a word!), flakiest, and most tender pie crust recipe I've ever tasted. But I won't take the credit. It's my grandma's recipe, one that I've been using my whole life. Here it is:
Grandma's No-Fail Pie Crust
2 1/3 cups unbleached white flour
1 tsp. salt
6 T. unsalted butter (straight out of the fridge so it's very cold)
2/3 cup Crisco (frozen)
5-6 T. cold water
Sift flour and salt into a mixing bowl. Using your fingers or a pastry blender, cut in butter and Crisco until the mixture resembles coarse meal. (If there are some pea-sized pieces of Crisco or butter in the mixture, that is fine.) This is what the mixture should look like:
Sprinkle water on top of flour and salt mixture, 1 tablespoon at a time. After each sprinkling of water, gently mix in the water drops with some of the dry mixture. After 5 tablespoons of water has been sprinkled in, the mixture should hold together in a ball. If it doesn't, sprinkle one more tablespoon worth of water onto the dough. Shape dough into two equal-sized balls. Roll each into a crust (either a bottom and top crust, or two bottom crusts).
This is a recipe where your technique really matters. Here are some extra tips:
1. Be careful not to over-handle or over-blend the dough. You want to mix in the water just until it is able to be shaped into a ball. If you mix the dough too much, the crust will be tough when you bake it.
2. Add just enough water until the dough just holds together in a ball. Too much water results in a sticky or wet dough ball, which turns into a tough pie crust.
3. A key to a flaky crust is not having the shortening or butter melt or soften when you are making the crust. That's why it helps to use very cold shortening and butter in the recipe. I usually freeze pre-measured amounts of Crisco in the freezer at least several hours before I plan on making a pie crust. If it's summer and your home is warm, it helps to have the air conditioner on while you're working, or at least a fan blowing in the direction of your work station.
4. Another key to a flaky crust is using at least some shortening (I like Crisco better than off-brands) in the recipe, as in the recipe I've posted here. This recipe is close to being half butter and half shortening. The shortening makes the crust flaky, whereas the butter makes the crust tender and adds flavor. If you substitute butter for the shortening and make the crust all butter, it will result in a crust that is more crumbly than flaky. Now some people don't like the shortenings (which do not melt at room temperature and stay solid, even though they are oil) because they don't want the hydrogenated trans fats. Well, there may be some shortenings that still are made with trans fats, but Crisco no longer has them. That should ease some people's concerns. However, if you still prefer to avoid Crisco, you can find some organic and "natural" shortenings in health and specialty food stores. I have used those on occasion, and they still do okay in pie crusts (but I don't think they do nearly as well as Crisco).
5. Cover your rolling pin with a cloth rolling pin cover or stockinette. This prevents the rolling pin from sticking to the pie crust dough when you are rolling it out, and requires less flour on the surface. Using too much flour on the rolling surface can incorporate a lot of extra flour into the dough, which also results in tough crusts.
One final note: Pie crusts can be made ahead and put in the freezer or refrigerator until ready to bake. For bottom crusts, I just fit them into a pie plate, cover them with plastic wrap, and refrigerate or freeze them. For top crusts, I will often roll them out on a pie crust "bag" or transfer the just-rolled top pie crust into one of these bags. These are circle-shaped plastic bags, usually around 14 1/2 inches in diameter, that zipper up around the perimeter. Once the crust is rolled, you just zipper it shut and stick the crust into the refrigerator or freezer until you are ready to use. You can buy these pie bags on Amazon.com as well as cooking stores.
Okay, that's about it for pie crusts. I know a lot of people who have difficulty with them, but they're really not that hard to make. And they taste SOOOOO much better than store-bought pie shells.
Now I'm off to do some of my own baking! Hope you're all enjoying your summer!