Crusts

Defined by their crusts, pies are a pastry crafted around a savory or sweet filling. The crust is a basic pastry, made of flour, sugar, water and butter or shortening. Though simple in theory, piecrusts are meant to be light and flakey and can sometimes be difficult to achieve. Knowing what it takes to keep your crusts from being hard and crumbly helps prevent such travesties. Really, the trick is to make sure that you just coat your butter or shortening with your dry ingredients instead of blending them. Making sure that your wet ingredients are cold helps with this and can be the difference between a tough, grainy crust and a light and fluffy pastry. Tips

If you don't feel like tackling a crust, you could always use one of a variety of pre-made refrigerated or frozen crusts found in your local grocery stores. Although not homemade, these crusts can still be pretty tasty. Personally, I prefer the Pillsbury refrigerated crust, as it comes with two crusts that are already rolled out and ready to go in the dish. Basically no effort required.

Single Pie Crust

  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
  • 1/4 cup cold water

Double Pie Crust

  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
  • 1/4 cup cold water

Whole Wheat Pie Pastry: Follow the basic recipe above, substituting 1 cup whole wheat flour for 1 cup of the all-purpose flour for a double crust, ½ cup whole wheat flour for a single crust. Proceed as directed.

Cheddar Cheese Pie Pastry: Reduce the flour to 2 3/4 cups in the double crust recipe. (Do not reduce for a single crust.) When using a food processor, after you've added the shortening, pulse 3 or 4 times. Add 1 cup (1/2 cup in single crust) finely shredded, sharp cheddar cheese and pulse 3 or 4 times more. Add the water and proceed with the instructions. When making the dough by hand or with an electric mixer, add the cheese after you have cut or mixed in all of the fat. Toss with your hands to mix, then add the water as instructed for each method.

1. To make in a food processor: Put the flour, sugar, and salt in food processor. Pulse several times to mix. Scatter the butter over the dry ingredients and pulse the machine 5 or 6 times to cut it in. Fluff the mixture with a fork lifting it up from the bottom of the bowl. Scatter the shortening over the flour mixture and pulse 5 or 6 times. Fluff the mixture again. Drizzle half of the water over the flour mixture and pulse 5 or 6 times. Fluff he mixture and sprinkle on the remaining water. Pulse 5 or 6 times more, until the dough starts to form clumps. Overall it will look like coarse crumbs. Dump the contents of the processor bowl into a large bowl. Test the pastry by squeezing some of it between your fingers. If it seems a little dry and not packable, drizzle a teaspoon or so of cold water over the pastry and work it in with your fingertips.

2. To make by hand: Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Toss well, by hand, to mix. Scatter the butter over the dry ingredients and toss to mix. Using a pastry blender, 2 knives, or your fingertips, cut or rub the butter into the flour until it is broken into pieces the size of small peas. Add the shortening and continue to cut until all of the fat is cut into small pieces. Sprinkle half of the water over the mixture. Toss well with a fork to dampen the mixture. Add the remaining water, 1 ½ to 2 tablespoons at a time, and continue to toss and mix, pulling the mixture up from the bottom of the bowl on the upstroke and gently pressing down on the downstroke. Dough made by hand often needs a bit more water. If necessary, add water 1 or 2 teaspoons at a time until the pastry can be packed.

3.To make with an electric mixer: Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Add the butter, tossing it with the flour. With the mixer on low speed, blend the butter into the flour until you have what looks like coarse, damp meal, with both large and small clumps. Add the shortening and repeat. Turning the mixer on and off, add half of the water. Mix briefly on low speed. Add the remaining water, mixing slowly until the dough starts to form large clumps. If you’re using a stand mixer, stop periodically to stir the mixture up from the bottom of the bowl. Do not over mix.

Using your hands, pack the pastry into a ball (or two balls if you’re making a double crust) as you would pack a snowball. If you’re making a double crust, make one ball slightly larger than the other; this will be your bottom crust. Knead each ball once or twice, then flatten the balls into ¾-inch-thick disks on a floured work surface. Wrap the disks in plastic and refrigerate for at least an hour or overnight before rolling.

Basic Flaky Pie Pastry by, Ken Haedrich's Pie: 300 Tried-and-True Recipes for Delicious Homemade Pie

Tips

Rolling it out:Flour, flour, flour. Don't be afraid of using a lot of it, but not TOO much. Dust your counter top with flour so that you have a thin layer covering your working area. If you have grouted counter top, use a piece of parchment paper and do the same. Put your cold dough in the center of the flour and dust that with flour too. Cover your rolling pin in flour, then proceed to roll out your dough, keeping it in an even, circle-like shape as much as possible. Your dough should have a diameter several inches larger than your dish. Don't be afraid of adding more flour either on top or on the bottom of the dough if it starts to get too sticky.

*If you don't have a rolling pin, try kneading the dough down with your hands. It may not be as flakey as it would be if you use you rolling pin, but it will get the job done.

Getting your pie crust into the dish: Roll your dough onto your rolling pin and simply roll the rolling pin gently over your pie dish. If you don't have a rolling pin, center your open hand on the underside of your pie dough and try to slide your dough over your dish in one swift motion. Pull up on the edges until it sits comfortable and evenly in your dish.

Edges: For single-crust pies, you will be left with some extra dough around the rim of your pie. To form neat ridges, simply fold the overhanging dough back on itself and pinch. It's as simple as that. It tends to be thinner and thicker in some places, but that's not something you need to worry about. If it bothers you, simply pull the thicker areas out further and cut off some of the excess dough, then fold over and proceed with the pinching.

Prebaking: Some recipes,mostly single-crust recipes, require you to briefly bake your crust before adding the filling. To do so, you will need tin foil and some sort of weight. Some people use pie weights, but you can use dried beans, rice, marbles, or anything else you think is heavy enough that won't catch on fire while in the oven. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and cut a piece of tin foil that is the same size as your crust. Set the tin foil on top of your dough. The foil should fit like a second layer of skin. Add your pie weight of choice on top of the foil. If you're substituting something for the pie weights, you should have enough of whatever you choose to fill the dish up halfway. Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce the oven to 375 and bake for around 10 minutes for a partially prebaked pie crust. If the recipe calls for a fulling prebaked crust, bake for closer to 20 minutes (until it's golden brown). Make sure to check your crust periodically to be sure it doesn't puff up. If it looks as though it's getting air pockets, simply flatten them with a fork and make sure that your weight is covering that spot.