I once read a blog where the author asked what culinary practices or ingredient requests invoked the greatest fears in readers. Someone remarked that they turned the page whenever a recipe included a whole vanilla bean in its ingredient list, finding the practice of scraping out the tiny flecks much too time consuming. For me, it’s baker’s yeast. Whenever I see it called for in a recipe, I feel a tiny knot in the pit of my stomach. We’ve been slowly, steadily making our peace with each other, me and yeast, but we’re still a long way from being tight buds.
By far, though, what I’ve read and personally experienced is a profound fear of being able to create a delicious pie crust. Buttery, flaky, much-more-than-a-basin-for-the-filling pie crust seems to spook even the most seasoned of home cooks. For today’s Small Measures, I’m here to help you put that fear to rest once and for all. My recipe for Basic Pie Crust (an all-butter version) will make a confident pie baker out of you, guaranteed. No longer will you feel the need to pick up a package of pre-made dough in order to pull off a perfect pumpkin or sensational apple pie. With the holiday season upon us and Halloween behind us, let’s bid this particular fear adieu and get down to the business of scrumptious pie-baking. — Ashley English
Read the full recipe after the jump . . .
When I was working on my pie book, I made pie dough every which way under the sun. I tried making it in a food processor. I tried making it with vinegar and vodka and shortening. If there was a way to make pie dough, I likely did it. In my numerous pie dough attempts, I noted what worked and what didn’t, until I found what I felt to be the best means of making it. That said, bear in mind that pie dough is highly personal. What follows are the tips and recipe that I really dig. If you prefer working with a food processor, with shortening or lard, or with vinegar, bravo! Kudos to you for finding what works for you. Here’s what works for me, time after time, pie after pie.
My top 3 time-honored, floured-hand-seasoned tips for pie crust success:
1. Keep all of your ingredients cold, even the flour (I keep my flour in the freezer). This simple step helps make the crust flaky after baking.
2. Make it cold, bake it hot. I learned this one from none other than Martha Stewart, who knows a thing or two about making good-looking, delicious-tasting pie crust. Keep your crust cold right up until you’re ready to bake it, then fill it and put it in a hot, preheated oven.
3. Let your pie cool fully before cutting into it. Some pies need more time than others for the filling to set and firm up, so stick with whatever cooling time the recipe indicates.
Basic Pie Dough (printed with permission from A Year of Pies, Lark 2012, an imprint of Sterling Publishing)
This all-butter crust is unrivaled in terms of flavor. It’s also quite flaky, despite having no shortening. The secret is to work with very cold butter. I keep all of my butter in the freezer, transferring it to the refrigerator overnight or several hours before I intend to make pie dough. Work quickly with cold hands on a cool work surface, and you’ll end up with a crust that’s as flaky as it is scrumptious. Makes enough dough for one double-crust pie.
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/4 teaspoons sea salt
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
- 3/4 cup ice water
1. Using either a whisk or a fork, mix the flour and salt together in a medium-size bowl.
2. Cut the butter into medium-small cubes. I typically cut a stick of butter lengthwise down the middle, then turn each cut stick on its side and slice it lengthwise down the middle. After that, I line up the sticks and cut about 10 slices through them, creating a number of cubes.
3. Add the cubed butter to the bowl. Using a pastry blender or two knives, work the butter into the dough until pea-size lumps form. It’s good to have a couple “lima bean-size” larger lumps in there, too.
4. Add 1/2 cup cold water to the center of the mixture. Using a metal spoon, stir until the water has fully moistened the dough and becomes completely incorporated. Add the remaining water in 1 tablespoon increments, just until the dough begins to form a ball.
5. Gather the dough with your hands. Using patting movements, incorporate any remaining flour into the moistened dough. I like to avoid the use of plastic wrap, so an alternative I’ve devised is putting the dough disks in a lidded container, separated by a piece of parchment paper or a reusable plastic bag (I simply wash the bag, dry it and reuse it after I use the pie dough). You could even use the wrappers the sticks of butter came in.
6. Chill the dough in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour before use. It can be kept for up to 3 days in a sealed container in the refrigerator or frozen for up to 3 months. Place the frozen dough in the refrigerator overnight to thaw.
What about you? Planning any pie-baking this holiday season? Got any go-to tips? I’d love to hear them! Also, you might want to check out this giveaway over at Mighty Nest for a copy of A Year of Pies and this one for a pie set that features a glass pie plate from Anchor Hocking, a gorgeous wooden pie server made by Jonathan’s Spoons from sustainably harvested wood and the lovely heirloom-worthy Pie Box, handmade in Chicago from chemical-free raw pine. (It’s seriously awesome. I used it to transport the pie used in the photo, with it’s lovely cavernous middle, to Jen’s house for the photo shoot, and it works like a dream!)
Here’s hoping you’re finally able to conquer your pie-making demons and make 2012 your own year of pies!
Photos and styling by Jen Altman