Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Pie Crust

I make no secret of the fact that I usually buy my pie crusts. The ones from the freezer section come out consistently right. The graham and cookie ones near the flour aisle mean no mess on the kitchen counter, and usually come with a plastic lid. Both kinds are made in disposable pie dishes, so you don't have to get a pie plate back when you take them somewhere.

But, sometimes you make a 2-crust pie or just run out. (I don't like the rolled refrigerator crusts. They're usually too thick.) I've tried using a store-bought for the bottom crust and making only the top, but then they don't match. I do have that really cool pastry board with built-in guides for how big to roll a pie crust for any size pie plate, but simply putting the plate over the rolled crust and adding an inch all around works just as well. Anyone who bakes even once a month usually has the ingredients for a pie crust sitting around.

I've found that the best kind of fat to use in pie crusts is a combination. An all-fat source, like lard or shortening, will give you flaky layers, but it doesn't taste very good. Butter and margarine taste better, but have lower melting points and more moisture, which brown better but can create a tougher crust. By using some of each, you get a crisp, flaky crust that browns well and actually tastes decent.

I don't own a pastry cutter. I use very well-washed hands instead. Make sure you're cleaning under the fingernails, too. It's easier to feel for larger pieces of shortening/butter, and rather therapeutic. To avoid toughness, add as little water as possible and make sure it's cold. This will reduce the gluten development and keep the layers flaky. This is why I don't like to make my crust in the food processor. It's too easy to overwork the dough.

This is a variation on the Bible's 2-crust recipe.

2 C flour
1 tsp salt
1/4 C butter or margarine
1/2 C shortening or lard
5 or 6 Tb cold water

1. In medium bowl, stir together flour and salt. With pastry cutter, cut in butter and shortening until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

2. Sprinkle in cold water, 2 tablespoons at a time, mixing lightly with a fork after each addition. Add until pastry holds together, but is not wet.

3. Shape pastry into a ball. Chill in fridge for 30 minutes, if needed. Can also be frozen at this point for up to a month.

4. For a 2-crust pie, divide into two pieces. On a floured board, roll out the first slightly larger than the pie pan. Set crust in pie plate* and fill. Roll out other half and set on top, then bake according to pie recipe's directions.

5. For a pre-baked crust, set half in pie plate. Prick all over with fork to avoid bubbles, and trim edges. Bake at 425º for 15 minutes, or until golden.

*crust transfer methods
1. Fold in quarters, set point in center of pie plate, unfold.
2. Roll crust loosely onto rolling pin. Move pin over pie plate and unroll.
3. Set pie plate under edge of board. Slide crust off board and into plate.

For all methods, do not push crust into plate. Let gravity do most of the work and just press lightly to line things up. Bottom crusts are more forgiving. You can use extra dough to patch holes, or pinch things back together. Save the stress for the top crust, which is the one people can see.

Difficulty rating :-0

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