Sunday, January 6, 2013

How to Make Easy Simple Perfect Pie Crust

I struggled for years to make a decent pie crust. My crusts were never flaky, they were always thin and tough. 

Growing up, I spent summers on my Grandma's farm.  Grandpa usually had multiple young, sweaty farm hands who came back to the house for a noon meal. Grandma often made 3 or 4 pies each morning. I spent a lot of time primping for the farmhands arrival and none learning how to make pie.

If I had been slightly smarter, perhaps I would have discerned men are more attracted to women who smell like pastry and are friendly, than those doused in Jovan Musk perfume who think ignoring them makes you alluring.  Though I never attracted any men, I do believe there was probably more than one muskrat in the county who would have jumped at an opportunity to invite me back to their lodge to view their gnawings.

Girls, learn from my mistakes. It's time to learn to make pie crust.

Begin by measuring three cups flour and one teaspoon salt into a bowl. Mix together. 

Next, add 1 1/2 cups LARD to the flour.  Do not use vegetable shortening. NO CRISCO. NO BUTTER. NO MARGARINE.

My grandma always used Lard when she made pie crusts and I now know this is what made her crusts so light and flaky. It's also what made her fried chicken so good. It is getting harder and harder to find lard.  Here in Topeka,Kansas, it is sold at Apple Market. Trust me, use lard. It was your Grandma's secret weapon.

The hardest part of making pie crust is "cutting" or mixing the Lard into the flour.  The strange contraption pictured above is called a pastry knife and was designed for the task.  If you don't own a fancy pasty knife, you can just use a large fork. 

Mix until the lard and flour combine into globs about the size of marbles but no smaller.  The globs of fat above are what will make your crust flaky. If you mix until it looks like sand, your crust will not be flaky.

Beat one egg in a small bowl, then pour into the mixture.

Next add about 1/4 cup (around 5 Tablespoons) water and 1 Tablespoon Vinegar.  When flour is mixed with water, gluten forms.  The acid in vinegar will keep the gluten strands from getting too long and keep your crust flaky. Some people actually use vodka instead of water but I have not yet tried this method. Somehow, it just seems like a waste of good vodka.

Mix all ingredients. Pay attention, this is very important, as important as using lard:  Do not over mix the ingredients. Stir just until combined and stop. Overworking the crust makes it tough.

I always use a pastry mat to make clean up easier but it's not required. Flour the surface where you plan to roll out the crust. Flour your hands and flour your rolling pin.  I also have a plastic and a marble rolling pin. In my opinion, the wooden pin is the best. Form the dough into two balls with your floured hands. This recipe will make at least two crusts. 

The second half is going in the freezer for another day.  This recipe will make at least two, if not three pie crust,s depending on how thick you like your crust.

Slightly flatten the round dough with your hand or the rolling pin.  Begin rolling out the dough. Roll from the center out. Take your time. If it starts to stick, sprinkle more flour on the dough and the rolling pin. If you use a baking mat, it has circles to guide you as to the size to roll your crust. I usually roll mine to about 1/8 inch thick but you can make yours thinner or thicker depending on your own preference.

Transferring the crust to the pie pan can be a little tricky.  I fold mine in half then bring the pie pan close. I gently lift the crust on the pan about half way then flip the other half over the rest of the pie pan.

Don't freak out. It probably will tear a little and not look very pretty. Push the crust into the pan and start pinching together any tears.

After repairs, it will look like this. I could have skipped the above picture and made you think I was a much better baker than I am. Aren't you glad I am honest? 

Take a knife and trim off the excess edges. It's easy. You can take the trimmings and make a pretty edge if you like. I didn't this time.

Take all the crust you trimmed off and lay flat on a baking sheet. Usually there will not be this many trimmings. I made extra for a separate dessert. 

My favorite treat as a child, OK who am I fooling, my favorite treat now is leftover pie crust sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon and eaten warm.

I made an excellent little separate dessert with these pie crust pieces. Simply take a scoop of vanilla ice cream and sprinkle with baked pie crust pieces and fresh blackberries (or your berries of choice). It is like an easy fresh fruit cobbler. 

If you are baking the crust alone, you will need to use a fork tine to prick a few tiny holes in the crust or use pie weights to keep it from rising and bubbling. See my next post for the actual delicious squash pie recipe.

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