As you may note, today’s post is not actually the expected “Cooking with Abby” but instead a guest post from Becca, one of my dearest and oldest (in terms of length of friendship, not age) friends. But seeing as a certain day of major cooking festivities is coming up on Thursday, I thought I would switch my order around and do a Cooking with Abby post then. Plus as you will see, this post may come in handy for all your pre-festivity pie baking because, trust me, this girl knows her pies!
Pie Crust 101
I have been baking since elementary school. I don’t remember what my first project was, or even why I began baking in the first place. What I do remember are lovely afternoons in the kitchen experimenting with new recipes, my first measuring spoon set (brightly colored spoons that came with a kid’s cookbook), the wrath of my parents when they discovered the inevitable mess I would made in the kitchen, and, of course the finished products (or “goop” as my dad calls it). I had a number of successes, and even more flops–the pancakes that were so bad they got fed to the dog (my thoughtful and amazing Grandpa also forced some down), the cake with Pepto Bismal-colored frosting, and of course the Jessica Fields Marshmallow Cloud Cookie disaster (ask Abby about that one)–to name a few.
I have always loved making pie. I love trying new fillings and learning different techniques for making the perfect pie crust. The first pie I ever attempted was an unmitigated disaster. I was probably about 9 years old, and I decided that it would be a good idea to make a pie in the middle of July on one of the hottest, most humid days of the year. Several attempts at getting the rolled out dough into the pie pan proved fruitless. Frustrated, I gave up and went swimming, leaving my poor mother to finish the pie for me.
Since that day, I have made more pies, most with more success than that first one. I made a pie the other evening, and Abby asked me to share the crust recipe. The recipe is from Pie, by Ken Haedrich. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in pie making. There are 50 pages devoted to apple pies alone!
When in comes to pie crust, I am firmly in the all-butter camp. Using shortening does make for a flakier crust, but butter gives a much better flavor. If you have access to it/are not a vegetarian/ are not grossed out by it, lard actually makes the best crust, giving both amazing flavor and texture.
A caveat: Don’t be discouraged by the length of this recipe, I was just super detailed. Making pie crust really is pretty easy once you get the hang of it!
Single-crust all butter pie dough (with the double crust measurements in parentheses):
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour (2 3/4 cups)
1 1/2 t sugar (1T)
1/2 t salt (1t)
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4” pieces (1 cup)
About 1/4 cup ice water (about 1/2 cup)
You can make your pie dough by hand, in a food processor, or with an electric mixer. The following are directions for mixing by hand. Whichever method you use, the trick is not to overwork the dough. Work it as little as possible to prevent activating the gluten in the flour, resulting in a chewy, elasticy crust.
Begin by mixing the flour, sugar, and salt together in a bowl. Add half the butter, and cut in with a pastry blender or two forks. The pieces can be fairly large. (This is a trick I learned from my middle school teacher Mrs. Gleim. I’m not sure if there’s any merit to it, but she swore that cutting in half the fat, then the other half gives a flakier crust.) Cut in the rest of the butter. The pieces should now be about “pea-sized”–basically, you don’t want the pieces of butter too small, because it’s the pockets of unincorporated fat in pie crust that add to the flakiness.
Next, slowly add the water. This is the tricky part. You want to add just enough water so that the dough just begins to stick together, but not so much that it becomes sticky. I usually add about half the water, toss the dough with a fork, then continue to add the water in a slow stream with one hand while tossing the dough with the other. When you have added enough water, pack the dough into a ball and wrap it in plastic wrap (If you are making a double crust, make two balls, one slightly larger than the other). Place the dough in the refrigerator for at least an hour.
When you are ready to roll out the crust, take the dough from the refrigerator (if it’s been in the fridge for more than an hour, let the dough sit on the counter for 5-10 minutes to soften a bit before rolling it out). If you wish, you can roll out the dough on silpat or waxed paper for an easier transition to the pie plate, but I usually just roll it out on the counter because I’m lazy and/or I forget about it until it’s too late.
Liberally flour your work surface. Place the ball of dough in the middle. Flour the top of the dough, as well as your rolling pin. Flatten the dough a bit with the rolling pin, then begin rolling out the dough. Begin in the middle, and work your way out to the edge in one motion. Do not roll back and forth. Always start in the center and work outward, then go back to the center to get a consistent thickness (another Mrs. Gleim trick). After the first few rolls, pick up the pastry, add more flour to the counter, and place it back down. Do this a couple of times until it becomes too big to pick up to prevent it from sticking to the counter.
When your crust is all rolled out, you need to get it into the shell. If you are using waxed paper, pick up the paper, invert it over the shell, and gradually peel it off. What I usually do is gently pull up half the crust and fold it over the other half. Then I take half of that and fold it over (so it is folded into fourths). I then pick up the dough from the counter, place it in the pie pan, and unfold it. This usually works for me, but you may have your own way that you prefer.
Pat the dough into the pan. if it tears, you can fix it with a bit of water. There should be about 1/2”-1” overhang around the edge of the pan. Trim this overhang with a knife so that it is about 1/2” all the way around. Next tuck this overhang under itself, so that it is even with the edge of the pie pan. Bring the edge of the pie crust up off the pie plate so it is standing up. Flute the crust by placing your left thumb and forefinger on the inside of the crust while pushing the crust inward with your right forefinger. When this is done, chill your crust. If you are making a single crust pie, chill in the freezer for 15-20 minutes. If you are making a double crust pie, chill in the fridge for 15-20 minutes.
If you are baking your filling in the shell, make the filling, place it in the shell, and cook according to your recipe. If you are making a cream pie, or another pie that requires a prebaked shell, read on.
Get a sheet of aluminum foil (preferably not heavy-duty) and line the inside of your shell, with the excess foil flaring out like wings. Get some rice or dry beans and fill the shell the entire way up (you can save these and use them over and over). This is to prevent the pie shell from shrinking. Bake the shell at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. Slowly lift the foil with the weights out of the shell (you can usually do this with your bare hands because the aluminum will cool when it hits room temperature). Take a fork and prick the shell on the bottom 7 or 8 times.
Lower the oven temperature to 375 degrees and further bake the shell 10-12 minutes for a partially prebaked shell and 15-17 minutes longer for a fully prebaked shell (depending on what the recipe calls for). Check the shell occasionally to make sure it isn’t puffing. If it is, prick the area with a fork. When you take the pie out of the oven, a partially prebaked shell should be just starting to brown, while a fully baked shell should be golden brown.
When the pastry is cool, fill with you desired filling and enjoy!!