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Tips for Making Pie Crust

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Tips for Making Pie Crust

Once you make your own crust, you'll never go back to the store-bought variety again.

Who hasn't been subjected to a slice of pie that featured crust that was either too hard or too chewy? Ultimately, pie crust is simply a vessel to hold a filling, whether sweet or savoury and for many cooks the goal is to produce a flaky, buttery end result.

The first thing to understand about pie crust is that it is dough and not batter. If you're used to vigorously mixing together ingredients or using your hands to thoroughly bring dough together, keep in mind that pie crust is a creature all onto its own. The goal is to create little pockets of fat throughout the flour, not consistently incorporate the fat into the flour.

You can either use butter or shortening as your fat content. Butter will give your crust that familiar flavour, while shortening will make it light and flaky. You can use half shortening and half butter to get the best of both worlds. Next, choose your flour-all-purpose or pastry flour. Pastry flour contains 8-9% protein and lets you create baked goods with a little more body and texture than cake flour, but still with the tenderness we associate with a well-made biscuit or pastry. All-purpose flour contains about 12-13% protein, but as the name implies, it will do in a pinch.

Keep your butter or shortening in the fridge until you're ready to use it. The colder your fat content, the better; the fat will clump around the flour and not melt and mix with it. Place your butter or shortening in the bowl with the flour and with a pastry cutter or two forks, break up the butter into the flour. You want to get to the consistency of lumpy oatmeal, not cornmeal. The lumps will be different sizes, which is what you want. Anna Olson has a great trick for making this task easier: use a grater and run the cold butter along it into the bowl. Use your fingers to lightly squish the butter with the flour. Now you're ready to add the water. Add it gradually so that you use just enough to bring the dough together. And, like the butter or margarine, the colder the water the better, so go ahead and add a few ice cubes.

Once you've incorporated the butter into the flour, resist the urge to over kneed the mixture. Instead, scoop it out onto a lightly-floured surface and with your finger tips bring the dough together into a ball. The colder your work surface, the better (to help keep the butter from melting from the heat of your fingers). If you do a lot of baking you may want to invest in a marble baking slab for this very purpose.

After your bring the dough together, take a rolling pin and dust it with flour, working from the centre out, roll the dough out into a circle (it doesn't have to be perfect). Fold the dough in half and then in half again until you end up with a rough triangle, repeat the steps as before.

Now you're ready to bake your dough. Transfer the rolled out dough into a baking dish and with a knife cut off any excess hanging over the side. If you want you can do a pinch pleat with your fingers around the edge. Fill the centre of the dish with dry beans and bake in the oven for a few minutes. Take the dish out and allow to cool. Remove the beans and fill the dish with the filling of your choice, return to the oven and bake for the instructed amount of time.

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