As Food Friendly May comes to an end, it’s only right and fitting that I do my best to pass on what I know about one of the most universally frustrating challenges faced by cooks the world over: pie crust.
I honestly don’t know if what I have to say will do the trick for you or not because I am one of those revolting people who just plain has The Touch for pies. I made my first pie crust at seven. My mother nearly cried. Pie crust was her culinary Achille’s heel and somehow she’d produced a daughter who seemed incapable of turning out a bad pie crust.
This is why I rarely attempt to explain to anyone how I do it: because it comes to me so easily that I don’t know why what I’m doing works so well. It just does.
Still, I can pass on what I do in hopes that someone will find it helpful. There are a few hints I know that might be useful to somebody. For one thing, start with very cold ingredients. The colder the better, as long as you can still work them. I even put my flour in the fridge before I start work, because it’s always produced a better result. I don’t know why this works, only that it does for me. The other really important one – and I cannot stress this enough – is not to overwork the dough. Once it almost holds together, stop fussing. Once you get it about the right size, stop rolling and get it in the pan. Pie crust is never improved by extra efforts, but can be by a quick hand.
So what’s my recipe? It’s simple enough. Here’s hoping it works for you:
1 1/2 Cup flour
1 Tablespoon sugar (unless filling is savory, in which case leave the sugar out completely)
1/2 Cup (one stick) unsalted butter cut into small pieces
A few tablespoons ice water
In a large bowl stir together the flour, salt, sugar, and any other dry flavorings you may wish to add (I often throw in a dash or two of a spice or herb going into the filling, such as cinnamon and cloves with apple or ginger with pumpkin or even a touch of thyme or rosemary if I’m doing a beef or savory vegetable filling) with a wooden spoon.
Using a pastry cutter, two knives, or your fingers (I use the pastry cutter because it’s always worked nicely for me, but your mileage – and kitchen equipment – may vary), work the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles fine crumbs. Don’t get too fussy about this stage. By the time there are a few slightly larger lumps and a little bit of completely unincorporated flour, it’s more than ready for the next step. Just try to get it fairly well mixed, not precisely.
Add ice water a tablespoon or two at a time and mix with a dinner fork until the dough comes (mostly) together. Again, this is a point where less exact is actually better. If there’s a bit at the bottom that just isn’t sticking, don’t worry about it. Get most of the dough together and get it on to the next step.
Pat the dough into a slightly flattened ball and wrap in waxed paper. Place in refrigerator for 1/2 hour to 2 hours. It’s probably fine if you leave it a bit longer, but it’s definitely ready to work with by then.
On a lightly floured surface (a marble slab is the absolute best for this, because it keeps the dough slightly colder and is very even), roll out the dough. I swear by my mother’s old hardwood rolling pin. If you plan to make much pie, a really top notch rolling pin is an excellent investment.
Roll out the dough until it’s fairly uniform in thickness and larger than your pie pan. There are a lot of ways people tell you to get the crust from the rolling surface into the pie pan, but the one I’ve used since I was seven and has never failed me yet is to simply dust a final bit of flour over the top of the crust, use a thin spatula to make sure the bottom is free from the marble and not going to tear, then fold the dough into quarters and place it in the pan. Unfold, press lightly into the bottom of the pan. Then, using a knife or the thin spatula, cut off the excess dough about half an inch or so beyond the edge of the pan.
Fill your crust. If it needs a top, re-roll the excess and place it over the top by the same method. Pinch edges together, poke a few holes with a fork, and bake according to your filling recipe.
This recipe does nicely for a two-crust nine-inch pie.
Oh, and I have to say, I absolutely adore my Emile Henry Pie Dish. Not only is it pretty, but it goes from freezer to oven to microwave and is insanely easy to clean. I highly recommend it to any pie baker.
If nothing I’ve said or done helps you, though, there is yet hope. The superfantastic Rose Levy Beranbaum has written The Pie and Pastry Bible. Just as her Cake Bible explains the whys and wherefores of cake, this will explain what precisely is going on with your flour, butter, etc. so that those of you without The Touch have a better chance of making good pie crust. See, Ms. Beranbaum actually understands what she’s doing. That means she can pass it on far better than I can.
Best of luck with your pies!