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Pie. I love pie. But to be honest, I don’t make pie. I bake cookies, cakes, cupcakes, cobblers, bars… pretty much everything but pie. Why not pie? Because making a homemade crust is daunting. Or at least, I thought it was until I took a pie crust class during the Lunch and Learn program at the Jeff Davis County Library last week. When our library director, who is also a trained chef and owned an artisan bakery once-upon-a-time, walked us through the steps of pie crust making, I found that my fears were unfounded.
Our librarian extraordinaire Gwin Grimes demonstrates the crumbly dough below.
I made two pie crusts. I fear the pie crust no more! See below.
There are many different types of pies, and they are typically defined by their crust. A “filled pie” (also called “single-crust” or “bottom-crust”), has crust lining the baking dish, filling placed on top of the pastry and it is left open. Pecan pies and custard pies are examples of a single crust or bottom crust.
A “top-crust pie” has the filling in the bottom of the dish and is then covered with a sheet of crust before baking. A “two-crust pie” has the filling completely enclosed in the pastry shell. Our iconic American Apple Pie and other fruit pies are often top-crust and two-crust pies. A “galette” is a free-form pie, baked on a flat sheet instead of in a pie dish. Cobblers, crisps, and buckles are also considered part of the pie family. I didn’t know that before our pie crust class.
A standard pie crust is simple in its ingredients. Flour, a fat, salt, sugar, ice water. Five ingredients are all it takes to make a flaky, buttery, delightful crust to hold sweet or savory fillings like fruit, custard, nuts, egg mixtures, and meaty ingredients. There are endless options for what you can fill your standard pie crust with.
For a perfect pie crust, you want flakiness. Flakiness can be achieved by not working your dough too much and keeping the dough cold. You want to handle the dough as little as possible, and only use your fingertips… otherwise the heat from your hands will melt the fat too much and you’ll end up without the air pockets and fat pieces needed for the science behind the pie crust dough to work its magic.
Make your life easier by pre-measuring your ingredients and having them ready so you don’t have to lose valuable time reading the recipe and measuring ingredients. And don’t ever buy another frozen pie crust at the store without reading the ingredients – if there are more than five or six, just go home and make your own!
Homemade Pie Crust
2-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons white granulated sugar
½ cup (or 8 tablespoons) vegetable shortening or lard, cold*
¾ cup (or 12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cold
6-8 tablespoons ice water
Extra flour to dust your work surface
*butter can be replaced with same amount of vegetable shortening (for vegan) or lard (non-dairy)
In a large mixing bowl, mix together the flour, salt and sugar. Add the shortening and break it up with your hands as you start to coat it all up with the flour. Add the cold butter cubes and work it into the flour with your hands or a pastry cutter. Work it quickly, so the butter doesn’t get too soft, until the mixture is crumbly, like very coarse cornmeal. Add the ice water, a little at a time, until the mixture comes together forming a dough. Bring the dough together into a ball.
When it comes together stop working it otherwise the dough will get over-worked and tough. Divide the dough in half and flatten it slightly to form a disk shape. Wrap each disk in plastic and chill in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes. On a floured surface roll each disk out into a 10 to 11-inch circle to make a 9-inch pie.
HINT: to clean the gooey dough off your hands, grab a handful of flour and scrub your hands with it over a trash can. The dough will come off ease.