Perfection and pie crust are two words that, when arranged side by side, make me want to tear out my hair.
The perfect pie crust! The only pie crust recipe you’ll ever need! No more tears: perfect pie crust every time! Foolproof pie dough!
These are bait and switch words. They hook you and slowly reel you into the madness of trying to achieve perfection.
Can I let you in on a secret? The perfect pie is the one that you make today or tomorrow, filled with some gorgeous summer fruit, and shared with your family and friends. There are a gazillion ways to approach making a pie, and that many recipes to go with them.
Do not be afraid.
Here’s a fact that I have noted before: I have made at least 2,000 pies. I stopped counting after that. Luckily I did not eat all of them, or I would not be here today to tell the tale. My first efforts were not so stellar, but I soldiered on—it was my job—and eventually I came up with a formula that works. It’s a process. Keep going.
Oh, but that hasn’t stopped me from taking the bait. Yes, I am that fool in the kitchen seeking foolproof. As I worked through some difficult times recently I embarked on yet another pie project. Is there really such a thing as a perfect pie crust? Is there really a perfect chocolate chip cookie? Is there really a perfect husband? That depends. Or in other words, of course not. But it was good therapy.
My curiosity was piqued after reading about Kenji Lopez-Alt’s vodka pie crust, which he developed for Cook’s Magazine. I actually never got around to that one because I found his newest method on Serious Eats. I tried Kenji’s method and about seven other different pie crust variations. I baked off samples (and forgot to take photos, sorry) to compare them. I also froze the dough, so there are more pies in my immediate future. The results? Well, they were all pretty darn good.
I liked Kenji’s a lot, so I am sharing my version using his method. It was crumbly and flaky. But I also liked my old standby version, and truth be told, it was hard to discern too much difference. If you are newly embarking on pie or are just an obsessively curious cook like myself, then read his post—it has some great insights into the science of crust-making and explains why Kenji’s method works. If you just want to dig in, then skip the reading.
The main thing is to dig in.
There’s a lot to say about reaching for perfection, but we’ll keep it to pie, for now. Perfection is in that moment when your kitchen fills with the aroma of pie goodness, and everyone who partakes of the result is your new best friend. I don’t think you can ask for more than that.
Strawberries are at their peak right now, so I took advantage of them to make my most favorite (redundancy necessary here) pie in the whole world. I am not kidding. You will have the best results if you use a scale, but it you don’t have one, don’t sweat it. Use the fluff and spoon method of measuring: Fluff up the flour in the canister with a spoon, and then spoon it into a dry measuring cup so it mounds on top. Scrape the excess back into the flour canister with a knife. I also used some shortening in the recipe for tenderness, since there is no water content in it. For an all-butter dough, replace the shortening with butter. I have given instructions on how to roll dough between 2 pieces of parchment, which is quite easy especially if you are new to pie making. You can check out another rolling method here.
And now ladies and gentlemen, I hereby present the cheater, anti-perfectionist lattice crust.
Pie is just so much more than a tart. A tart is a beautiful thing, don’t get me wrong. But a pie? A pie answers the soul’s call for wonder.
Strawberry rhubarb pie with a cheater lattice crust: the recipe
For the flaky pie crust (Kenji’s method)
Makes enough for one 9-inch double crusted pie
13.5 ounces (3 cups)
1.5 ounces (3 tablespoons) sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
8 ounces (2 sticks) cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices
1.5 ounces (3 tablespoons)
trans-fat free shortening
, cut into pieces*
5 tablespoons ice water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
*Substitute an equal amount of unsalted butter if you want to make an all-butter pie crust
1. Whisk the flour, sugar and sea salt together in a mixing bowl. Set aside 1 cup of the dry ingredients.
2. Tip the flour mixture into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Spread the butter and shortening pieces on top. Pulse the machine 15 to 20 times, or until the dough forms clumps. Transfer it back to the mixing bowl. (By hand, use a pastry cutter or a hand-held mixer, but be prepared to put in more time.)
3. Add the reserved 1 cup flour to the mixing bowl and with your hands, toss with the clumps until flour is well distributed. Sprinkle the ice water and lemon juice over the top. With your hands, toss like a salad, until dough comes together in larger clumps.
4. Tip the clumps onto the counter and divide into 2 piles, one slightly larger than the other. Press each pile into 2 flat, round disks and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for 1 1/2 hours, or up to 1 day. Wrapped in several layers of plastic and foil, the dough can be frozen for up to one month.
For the pie
Makes one 9-inch pie
Pie dough (see above)
1 1/2 pints fresh strawberries, hulled and halved to make 4 cups
About 4 stalks (8 ounces) rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch slices to make 2 cups
1 cup blond cane sugar, and a little for the top of the pie
1/3 cup flour
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 tablespoon butter, cut into small pieces
1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water
Coarse sugar for garnish, optional
1. Have on hand one 9-inch pie pan.
2. Remove the dough from the refrigerator. Let it sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes to soften. Set an oven rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 375 degrees F.
3. Cut two 14-inch long pieces of parchment paper. Lightly flour the dough. Set the smaller disk of dough on 1 sheet and set the second sheet on top. Roll into a 1/8-inch thick circle. (If the dough has become soft while rolling, transfer it to a baking sheet (still between parchment) and refrigerate for about 10 minutes to make it is easier to handle.) Pull off the top sheet of parchment and flip the dough over the pie pan. Pull off the top sheet of parchment. Fit the dough into the sides and bottom, lifting it at the edges to avoid stretching it. With a paring knife, trim the dough so that it is even with the edge of the pan; refrigerate.
4. Roll the second disk of dough in the same way, into a 1/8-inch thick circle. Slide onto a baking sheet and refrigerate while you prepare the filling.
5. Toss the strawberries, rhubarb, sugar, flour, and salt together in a large bowl. Transfer to the pie shell and dot with butter. Brush the rim with water.
6. Slide the parchment paper with the second round of dough onto a cutting board and lift off the top piece of parchment. Now, for the cheater lattice crust, no weaving: With a pizza cutter or a sharp knife, cut 1-inch wide strips. Lay 5 strips on top of the pie, using the shorter pieces for the edges of the pie. Turn the pie 45-degrees, and lay 5 more strips across the pie. Trim the strips so that they are even with the edge of the pan. Cover the rim all around with more strips of dough. Crimp the edges or press down with the tines of a fork. Brush with beaten egg. Sprinkle with coarse sugar, if you like
7. Set the pie on a baking sheet and bake for 80 to 90 minutes, or until the crust is golden and the filling is bubbling. If the crust browns before the filling is done, cover the pie loosely with foil.
8. Transfer the pie to a rack to cool for at least 45 minutes before serving.
Are you pie-phobic? Ask me questions. I swear to tell the truth.
Process until large clumps form.
Dump into a bowl, and add the reserved flour. Toss together with your hands. Sprinkle water and lemon juice over the dough, and toss again with your hands, like you are tossing a salad, until clumps almost form a dough.
Tip the clumpy dough onto the countertop and form it into two piles, one slightly smaller than the other. The small clump is for the bottom crust.
Gently press the dough into disks. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 1 1/2 hours to allow dough to completely hydrate.
Lightly flour the dough and place it between 2 sheets of parchment. Roll into a 1/8-inch thick circle (about 11-12 inches in diameter)
If the dough has softened during rolling, slide it onto a baking sheet and refrigerate for 10 minutes. Peel off the top sheet of parchment. Turn the dough upside down and lift off the second sheet of parchment. Fit it into the pie pan, lifting at the edges to avoid stretching the dough. Trim with a paring knife or scissors. Brush the the rim of the pie with water.
Use a rolling pin as a guide to cut 1-inch wide strips.
Fill the pie. Lay the strips over the pie and trim the edges. Lay more strips all around the pie. Crimp or press with a fork. Isn't it pretty? Brush with egg wash. Don't get attached to its perfection! Put it on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake at 375 degrees for 80 to 90 minutes.