Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Let's Talk Pie Crust

This is one of those posts that I have been wanting to share for a long time- a very long time.

There have been a couple of things getting in the way of that- first of all, when I make pie crust for desserts I am generally serving it to a crowd.  While some of my close family know I'm a crazy picture-taker that doesn't mean that I want to stop the festivities and make people wait for their pie while I get that perfect shot.

The second problem is that when I make pie crust for savory pies, like Chicken Pot Pie, I generally serve it for dinner- which might sound irrelevant but for a large portion of the year that means the sun has already gone down...which means the lighting isn't great for picture-taking either.

Ah, the problems of a crazy photo-taking blogger. :-)

Anyway, when my husband asked me to make an apple pie for a family gathering this past weekend I decided to go ahead and snap some pictures before we brought it.
I might have even cut out a slice of pie for picture taking purposes and replaced it before we left.
It's family...I'm sure they don't mind.

So anyway, while today we're discussing crust (very) soon I will share my absolute favorite apple pie recipe in the entire world.
It's amazing.  Seriously.  The best apple pie ever.  So stay tuned!

 So crust.
Are you afraid of it?

The truth is, there are plenty of decent store-bought pie crusts, so you may have never even attempted to make it at home.  It's just so easy and rewarding to do it yourself- plus I always have the ingredients on hand in the pantry so it's easy to throw together with very little planning ahead.

So first of all, the basics.  You like a flaky crust, right?  Of course you do.
Do you know what makes those flakes?  It's really pretty simple.  The fat in the crust.
Whether you choose to use shortening, butter, lard, or some combination of them all, the fat forms little pockets as the crust bakes.  As the crust bakes the fat melts leaving empty space where it previously was.
This is why using ice cold water is super important!

• Starting with extremely cold water helps to prevent the fat in the dough from completely melting before baking, because you want little pieces of fat to be scattered throughout the dough.  In fact, if you're using butter you can make sure you start with cold butter as well!

• To each their own, but I prefer to cut the fat into the flour with my fingers.  This is no small feat for someone who can't stand having messy hands!  However I've found that it's really the best way to get small, mealy flakes rather than lumps.  After you've made crust a few times you will get to know when you're ready to add the water simply by feel.

• Also, do not overwork the dough.  Treat it gently.
No one likes tough dough.  When you're cutting the fat into the flour, stop when it resembles coarse meal.  When you're incorporating the water, stop when the dough is no longer sticky but just barely holding itself together in a ball.

• Refrigerate the dough to give those little fat pockets we talked about a chance to get cold again.  When you put your crust in the oven you want the flour mixture to have the chance to bake before the fat is completely melted so you get those beautiful flakes!

•After rolling, when placing the dough in the pie plate do not stretch.  Let it sit loosely in the pan without stretching or pulling- otherwise your pie crust will shrink back as it bakes.

Got it?
It's really one of the easiest recipes to make, to be honest.  No reason to be intimidated!

After years of trying out different pie crust recipes, the one below is my go-to.  It is fairly fail-proof and always produces great results.  I use it for both sweet and savory pies.  It calls for shortening, which I like because it produces a tender result, however if you like a more flavorful crust I have used butter and a mix of butter and shortening before and it turns out beautifully as well.  It also freezes perfectly!  I just shape it into disks, wrap in wax paper, and place it in a freezer bag.  That way all you have to do is defrost if you need it!

1/2 C vegetable shortening
1 1/2 C all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 C ice water

1. Mix shortening, flour, and salt together with a fork or a pastry blender (or your fingers!) until very crumbly. Add only as much water as needed to hold together, and mix lightly with a fork.

2. Form dough into a disk and wrap in wax paper.  Refrigerate at least 30 minutes.

3. Roll disk of dough gently on a floured surface to about an inch larger than pie plate. Fold carefully in half, lift to pie plate, and unfold. Press into pan. For a single-crust pie, trim with a small knife to about 1/2 inch beyond rim. Fold up, and pinch so edge of pie is raised from rim.  

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