Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Usurp Authority: Make Your Own Pastry Pie Crust

So you want to join the revolution, but you’re still clinging to your last box of cupcake mix. Why? Because cupcakes, you say, don’t bake in crusts. Store-bought crusts don’t appeal, and nothing seems scarier than recreating that dense, flour-dusted hockey-puck of a crust you made way back when. Never fear! Yes, pastry pie crust can prove temperamental. But a few simple tricks will have you turning out pie crusts so good, your friends will wonder just when you spent time on an Amish homestead.

Choose Your Fat Wisely

Pastry pie dough’s a simple creature. It contains flour, liquid, fat, and salt. The flour’s easy. Use all-purpose flour (some books will say to use half all-purpose flour, half pastry flour). If you’re feeling fancy, feel free to test out polenta or gluten-free flours, but when it comes to pie, simplicity never hurt anyone. I use ice water for the liquid, though you might find some recipes that call for chilled milk, cream, vinegar, or buttermilk. When it comes to pie dough, fat’s the key. Lard, shortening, or butter? That’s the question – and the answer depends on how you like your pie.

Lard’s what Grandma used. Lard, or rendered pork fat, makes for tender, flaky pie crusts. I don’t eat pigs, so I’ve yet to use lard. My mother claims she never liked lard crusts – she says they tasted too animal, too greasy. Professional food writers like lard pie crusts’ texture, but dislike it’s flavor.

Vegetable shortening’s what Mom uses. Like lard, it creates a flaky pie crust. Unlike lard, vegetable shortening won’t taste like animal product, so it works better in sweet pies. Vegetable shortening comes from hydrogenated oil, so be prepared to eat your trans fats and like them, too. Even if the label says there’s no trans fat, read the ingredient list: if the list says: “hydrogenated oil,” you’re consuming trans fat.

Butter’s what I use. It creates a better flavored pie crust, but the flavor comes with some textural drawbacks. With butter, you’re more likely to create a soft pie crust. And if something goes horribly wrong, the crust could go greasy. Some bakers will mix butter with shortening for a flaky pie crust that tastes like butter. Personally, I just make an all-butter crust and use special fancy tricks to get a flaky texture.

Special Fancy Tricks

Special Fancy Trick Number One: whatever fat you choose, keep it cold. Keep the fat in the refrigerator or the freezer until you’re ready to make your dough.

I make pie crust by hand. To make pie crust, I use a metal mixing bowl, a knife, a fork or a pastry cutter, a tablespoon, and a rolling pin.

First, measure two cups of flour into the mixing bowl. Special Fancy Trick Number Two: use a new bag of flour. Older flour might have absorbed moisture, which will result in mini hockey pucks. Special Fancy Trick Number Three: don’t scoop the flour out of its bag or bowl with your measuring cup – this will pack the flour. Instead, use two measuring cups. Use one cup to remove the flour from the bag, then gently shake the flour into your second measuring cup. You want level cups, but do not pack the flour.

Put the measured flour in the mixing bowl. Pour a little salt into your palm – no more than a tablespoon, and throw it into the mixing bowl with the flour. Here, you can either sift the flour and the salt together (the proper method), or fluff the flour and salt together with a fork (the lazy cook’s method).

Chop up a stick and a half of cold butter into one-tablespoon measurements. Drop the cold butter into the mixing bowl. Using a pastry cutter or a fork, cut the butter into the flour. Really use your muscles. Work quickly - if the butter starts to melt, put the bowl straight into the freezer. Melting butter = bad pie dough. You know you’re finished when the mix looks dry and crumbly, and there are no more large pieces of butter in the bowl.

Take your ice water from the freezer or refrigerator. Measure three tablespoons of ice water into the into the middle of your mixing bowl. Now, using a rolling motion and the back of your hand, work the flour, butter, and ice water into a ball. If the ball forms easily, you’re done. If not, add another tablespoon of water. Knead the dough. If it still doesn’t come together, add another tablespoon of ice water. It should take between three and five tablespoons of ice water to make pie crust dough.

Put the mixing bowl with the dough inside in the refrigerator or freezer for ten to fifteen minutes. While the dough cools, pour a little flour onto a flat surface. Spread a little where you will roll out your dough. Lightly dust your rolling pin. Special Fancy Trick Number Four: do not over flour your rolling pin or your flat surface – too much flour will make inedible mini pies.


Take half of your dough from the mixing bowl. Plop it onto your floured surface. Starting in the middle of your dough ball, flatten out the dough. If your rolling pin picks up some pie dough, flour it again. Rotate the dough after every roll with the rolling pin. You want the dough to form a circle. If the dough becomes too thin to rotate, don’t pick it up again, but do continue rolling the dough. Special Fancy Trick Number Five: do not overwork the pie dough. Ideally, you should roll it out only once. Make the dough as thin as you can – this is especially important for mini pies.

Take a mug or a cup with a wide rim. Put it on the rolled-out pie dough. Using a knife, cut out a circle of pie dough. Put the pie dough circle in one cup of your cupcake pan's cups. Press it into the cup’s bottom. Using a fork, poke the dough at the bottom of your cup. Crimp the edges for an open-faced pie. For a double-crusted pie, scoop filling into the cup, top it with a second layer of pie dough (make sure the top crust has holes in it, too), and then crimp the mini pie’s edges. Continue filling the cupcake tin with mini pie crusts (the dough recipe I gave will make two nine inch pies and at least twelve mini pies, depending on the size of the pans used).

There, you have it. You can go on and fill cupcake tins, then the world, with mini pies!

Unless you don't trust me. Then, check out these pie dough resources:

The New York Times Recipe for All-Butter Pie Crust

Epicurious.com's Search Results for Pie Crust

I'll leave you with Special Fancy Trick Number Six: keep graham crackers in your pantry, just in case your pastry pie crust fails. No one ever hated a cookie crust.

1 comment:

chou said...

Perhaps the best pie crust making tips, ever!