Basic Pie Dough
It is definitely summer around here. I’m not sure whereabouts you call home, but we live next to a gorgeous lake surrounded by vineyards and orchards. This past weekend, our crew drove over to a local blueberry farm to do some picking. We’ve done this the past couple years now and it is always a good time. Plus, due to our unbridled picking enthusiasm, we end up coming home with a couple buckets of berries that are just begging to be eaten by the handful and hidden in whatever baked goodness comes to mind. Where in the past I’ve gone for cobblers, boy bait, and slumps, this year the man and I both felt pie was the correct answer to our berry surplus.
Which brings us to pie crust.
Perfect pie crust is just one of those recipes that many seek and struggle to find. Though it really isn’t rocket science, there are a few techniques that make all the difference. Of course, starting with a good recipe helps. I’ve found several that I really like; this particular recipe is an adaptation from The New Best Recipe by the editors of Cook’s Illustrated.
When it comes to pie crust, the first topic that is often heatedly disputed is what sort of fat should be used. Your grandma would probably tell you that lard makes the flakiest pastry–and she’d probably be right. But what about flavor? Though it’s hard to imagine anything better than butter, an all butter crust definitely loses some of that flakiness and tenderness. So how do you get great flavor AND flakiness? The best recipes I’ve tried use a combination of butter and shortening (Crisco) to get the best of both worlds.
Once you’ve got your ingredients sorted out, I think the second most important tip is to keep everything extremely cold. The fats should be quite cold, as will be the ice water used to pull everything together. If the fats seem to warm up on you as you’re cutting them in–this is especially likely to happen if you’re cutting in your fats by hand–don’t hesitate to pop everything back in the fridge for 15 minutes before adding the water.
Finally, to keep your crust tender, don’t over-work the dough and go easy with the flour when you’re rolling it out. Once you’ve got the fats cut in and you’re ready to add the water, use the lowest setting on your mixer and only mix until the dough comes together. I think this step took me less than 30 seconds. And, when you roll the dough out, make your life easier by rolling the pastry between two sheets of lightly floured parchment paper. Not only will you avoid adding excessive flour, but who needs the frustration of sticky dough on a rolling pin?? No thanks. Simply roll your dough out between the sheets of parchment, pop them back in the fridge for a few minutes (if they’ve gotten sticky on you), and then peel away the paper and invert into your waiting pie dish. So much easier than trying to wrangle the dough into your dish with only your hands and prayer that the thing won’t rip to pieces before it’s all said and done.
Basic Pie Dough
Makes enough for 1 double-crust 9-inch pie
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the work surface
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
½ cup vegetable shortening (Crisco), chilled
12 tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
5-8 tablespoons ice water
Begin by combining the flour, salt, and sugar in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to combine. Add the shortening in several pieces and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse sand, about 10 seconds or so. Then add the butter cubes over the top and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs, with no butter bits larger than small peas.
Turn this mixture out into the bowl of an electric mixer. Sprinkle over 4 tablespoons of the ice water and, using the paddle attachment, mix on low speed until the dough begins to come together, adding more water as needed to form the dough. I needed only 5 tablespoons, but go with what works for you.
Dump your dough out onto a lightly floured surface, divide it into two equal portions, and then shape into discs. Wrap each disc in plastic wrap and then pop in the fridge to chill for at least 1 hour or up to a couple days before rolling out.
Nutrition information per serving (1/10 of recipe): 336 calories, 24 g total fat, 11 g saturated fat, 26 g carbohydrate, <1 g fiber, 3 g protein