101: A+ pie crust

101: Basic Pie Dough

Having a staple pie crust recipe is one of those things that makes life in the kitchen so much easier.  Eventually you will know it by heart, and will be whipping up crusts in no time, filling all your little pies & tart desires.  You can also prepare your dough in advance, freezing it until it's needed.  Moral of the story: making a homemade pie does not need to be as time-consuming as most imagine! 

So why are there so many recipe variations for plain ol' pie dough?  Since dough is basically just flour, water, and fat...striking the "perfect" combination of ingredients has been sought after by many for years.  The idea is to create a crust that is flakey & fine textured (use shortening instead of butter), but not lacking flavor (don't use ALL shortening), and definitely not one that is heavy & overpowering (all lard), since that raises health concerns about the effects of animal fat. 

What type of shortening to use? We highly recommend Crisco - a vegetable oil that has been hydrogenated (about 10% gas - which incorporates air, thus raising the melting point above room temperature, ultimately lightening the dough). Unhydrogenated vegetable oil, on the other hand, holds no extra air, so it makes for poor pie doughs.

Different recipes also vary the types of flour (flour, flour with cornstarch/baking powder/cake flour/pastry flour, or some combination of these) & liquid (water, buttermilk, milk, cider vinegar) used - but many come back to all-purpose flour and ice water.  

When making your pie dough, you can do it by hand...but a food processor does a great job of incorporating the fat into the flour - and it is easier. (Yes, you have to clean the appliance, but something tells me us will have other dishes & utensils to clean anyway...) 
- If you undermix, your crust will shrink when baked, becoming hard & crack
- If you overmix, your crust will be crumbly instead of flakey
Pulse the shortening with the flour until sandy, then incorporate the butter by pulsing until you have coarse crumbs.  Transfer to a bowl, and slowly mix in the ice water - as little as possible - with a rubber spatula & a folding motion until the dough sticks together. Caution: use at least the minimum amount of water, if you are too stingy with the water the dough will be crumbly & hard to roll.

Lastly, when rolling out the dough, make sure it is well chilled & add a minimum amount of flour to the workspace.  The dough will toughen if too much flour is absorbed when rolling.  If the dough seems to soft, it is best to refrigerate it rather than adding more flour. 

Total time: 1 hour & 20 minutes minimum
(Prep time: 20 minutes; Refrigerator time: 1 hour up to two days, or freeze)
Makes two pie doughs: enough for one double crust 9-inch pie or two 9-inch tarts

  • 2 1/2 cups of unbleached, all-purpose flour (plus extra for dusting workspace when rolling out the dough)
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 2 tablespoons of sugar
  • 1/2 cup of Crisco (vegetable shortening), chilled
  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) of cold, unsalted butter
  • 6-8 tablespoons of water
- Combine the flour, salt, and sugar in a food processor.
- Add shortening, pulsing until you achieve a sand-like texture
- Add butter, pulsing for about 10 seconds, until you achieve a coarse crumb-like texture with butter bits no larger than the size of a pea.
- Transfer mixture to a medium bowl.
- Sprinkle 4 tablespoons of ice water over the mixture.
- With a rubber spatula, use a folding motion to mix, adding 2 more tablespoons of water.
- Press the dough downwards from the sides until the dough sticks, adding up to two more tablespoons of water if necessary.
- Divide the dough into 2 sections, flattening into four-inch disks.  Wrap in plastic & refrigerate for at least one hour, up to two days, or freeze.

Variation for "lattice-top pie" pie dough:
- Follow the above recipe, using 3 cups of flour, only 7 tablespoons of shortening and 10 tablespoons of butter, and increasing the ice water to 10 tablespoons.  
- When you divide the dough into 2 pieces, make one slightly larger than the other (16 vs 14 ounces), flattening the larger piece into a rough 5-inch square, and the smaller piece into a 4-inch disk.  

Waste not, want not
elz + pab
A+ Pie Crust on Foodista

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