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
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.