Well, push has come to shove, boys and girls. Pie Day, I mean, Thanksgiving, is just a few days away and if you are about to revisit your yearly, perhaps frustrating, encounter with piecrust, I hope this will help.
Claims of perfect piecrust aside (if only life were as simple as perfect piecrust!) this is my method, honed after making thousands of pies. Seriously. But that was then (when I made about twenty pies a week for years on end) and this is now. Now I don’t make nearly enough pie and it is sad because I love pie almost as much as life itself. I have a lot to say about pie, but as I mentioned earlier, we’re down to the wire.
This is a plain, old-fashioned, American style pastry, the ideal crust for a fruit pie, chicken pie or any traditional, down-home kind of pie. Its very plainness does not clash with or overpower the filling in the way a rich, buttery crust would. The shortening makes the crust very tender and flaky, and the butter zaps it with flavor. A small amount of sugar in the dough adds a hint of sweetness and helps the crust turn a lovely golden brown when the pie bakes. When using this dough for a savory pie, omit the sugar.
Visible pea size pieces of butter and shortening are what give this dough its irresistible flakiness, so while a food processor gives you quick results and keeps the ingredients from warming too much from your hands, you must take care not to over-process the mixture. When the fat melts in the oven it turns to liquid, creating pockets of steam in the layers of dough; hence flakiness.
Flaky Pie Dough (see detailed how-to after the recipe)
Makes enough for two 9 or 10-inch pie shells, or one double-crusted 9 or 10-inch pie
3 cups (13.5 ounces) all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons (1.5 ounces) sugar (omit if making dough for a savory pie)
1 1/2 teaspoons
fine sea salt
2 sticks (8 ounces) cold, unsalted butter, cut in 1/4-inch slices
3 tablespoons (1.5 ounces) cold, trans-fat free vegetable shortening
5 tablespoons ice water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1. Combine the flour, sugar and salt together in a large, zip-loc plastic bag and shake to mix. Add the butter, seal the bag and shake again to separate the butter pieces and coat them with the flour. Measure the shortening onto a piece of plastic wrap. Wrap it and flatten it with the palm of your hand. Place both parcels in the freezer for 20 to 30 minutes.
2. Pour the cold flour and butter mixture into the bowl of a food processor. Break the shortening into butter-pat size pieces and add them to the work bowl. Give the machine 4 to 6 two-second pulses, until the butter and shortening are in pea-size pieces. The mixture should look unevenly crumbly.
3. Dump the mixture into a mixing bowl. Dribble 1/2 cup of ice water over the mixture and toss it together with your hands as if you were tossing a salad. (Use 1/4 cup if only mixing half the dough.) If the dough feels dry, dribble in an additional tablespoon or two of ice water.
4. When the dough starts to clump together without any dry spots, tip the dough onto the clean countertop. Divide it in half and cup your hands to press the sides of the dough together to form two disks. Resist the temptation to knead or squish the dough too much, just push it firmly into flat disk shapes, so that it holds together.
5. Enclose the disks of dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes, or longer if you need to walk the dog. Use the time to preheat the oven, clean up, and ready the countertop for rolling the dough.
To Make the Dough By Hand: Complete step one, above. Pour the chilled flour and butter mixture into a bowl. Use a pastry cutter or a wire whisk to break up the butter in pea-size pieces. Break the shortening in pieces, add it to the flour mixture, and cut it in with the pastry cutter. The mixture should look unevenly crumbly with visible pea-size pieces of butter and shortening. Continue with recipe in step three.
LOOK AND COOK
Cut the butter in thin slices. Mix it with the flour, sugar and salt in a sealed plastic bag.
Wrap the shortening in plastic and smash it down to flatten it. That felt good, didn’t it?
Put them in the freezer for 20 to 30 minutes, or whatever is most convenient.
Transfer the chilled flour and butter to the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Break up the shortening and put it on top. (If you don’t have a food processor do all this in a bowl and use a pastry cutter or two knives to produce the same results.)
Pulse the machine four to six times (count one-chim-pan-zee, two chim-pan-zee, etc. for the pulses) until the mixture looks crumbly with uneven, small pea-size pieces of butter and shortening, like this. Don’t overdo. You need to pace yourself, and you want some little chunks of butter to make your pastry flaky.
Tip the mixture into a mixing bowl. If you are only making one crust, scoop out half of it and put it in a plastic bag; refrigerate or freeze for later. I will elaborate on freezing the dough/pastry mix at the bottom of this post.
Sprinkle the ice water and lemon juice over the top of the dough (finally you have another use for the gravy separator.) Remember, you only need half the liquid if you are making a single crust.
Mix the dough with your hands, tossing it lightly like a salad until all the crumbs feel damp. Add a little more water if necessary.
Empty the contents of the bowl onto the countertop. Shove the crumbs together to make a round, flat disk. (If you used all of it, shape it into two disks.) Please, no excessive squishing or kneading. If you haven’t handled the dough too much, you can roll it out now, but it will be better to refrigerate it for at least 15 minutes to allow it to “hydrate” (allow the flour to absorb the water.) And if you have disobeyed me and squished your dough, the butter will have softened from the heat of your hands, so it needs to chill.
So far so good, right? The tricky part is rolling out the dough, but the method of sandwiching the dough between two layers of plastic wrap or parchment makes it easier. The catch: just try getting that plastic wrap to lay flat in one go.
One piece is not wide enough, so you will have to lay two pieces, overlapping slightly, on the countertop. Place the disk of dough on top of the plastic and sprinkle a teensy bit of flour on top. Press down with the rolling pin in several places to flatten the dough.
Cover the dough with two more pieces of plastic wrap (side by side.) Start rolling from the center outward going round and round in all directions. Start at the center each time, until the dough is 3 inches larger than your pie pan. Do not press the rolling pin down at the edges. Rather, pull it up as you reach the edge, so the dough is of an even thickness. Anytime the dough becomes too soft, put it on a tray and refrigerate it for 10 to 15 minutes.
Go ahead, be a pie geek and measure before you move the dough.
Finally! The dénouement. When the circle of dough is large enough, pull off the top layer of plastic wrap.
Slip your hand under the dough and spread out your fingers. Move the pan next to the dough and flip the dough over onto the pie plate. Gently maneuver the dough to fit it into the pan all around. NOW you can pull off top layer of plastic. Ta dah!
Roll the edges neatly under themselves all around the pie.
Crimp. This is the easiest crimping style to learn: place your thumbs on the outside of the rim and your index fingers on the inside. Push your thumbs toward your index fingers. I said crimping style, not crimp my style. You’re done. Fill and bake, OR wrap in plastic and store in the refrigerator for a couple of days, in the freezer for 3 to 4 weeks.
To Blind Bake: When you want to bake a crust without the filling (for a cream pie, for example) it is best to fill it with a "blind filling."
Chill the pie shell (you can pop it in the freezer for about 20 minutes). Line it with parchment and fill it with dried beans, like navy beans or chick peas. Bake the pie shell at 350 degrees F for 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven, remove the parchment and the beans. If it has puffed in places, gently push it down with a spoon. Return the pie shell to the oven to bake until it is golden brown, about 25 more minutes.
If you want to partially pre-bake it for a quiche or something like a pumpkin pie, bake it with the beans, remove it from the oven and brush the bottom of the pie with beaten egg. Return it to the oven for 5 to 6 minutes, until the dough looks dry. Fill and bake as directed in the recipe.
Cool the beans and store them in a jar for the next time you need them.
FREEZE-AHEAD METHOD: Instead of making and freezing disks of dough, which take several hours or overnight to defrost, freeze the pastry mix. You can add water, shape and roll, no waiting. Presto! Easy as pie.
P.S. Share the love! If this post helped, e-mail it to a friend. Let me know, too, and ask me questions if you like!