There’s nothing better than slicing into a gorgeous pie after a comforting meal. For some reason pie baking has taken a back seat when it comes to kitchen know-how in more recent generations. Artisan foods have experienced a revival and the foods we remember from grandma’s kitchen are now more likely than ever to make a presence on our family dinner tables. We enjoy these foods not only for the simple comforts they bring in flavor and texture, but for the love we can share through the stories we tell as we enjoy them.
Pie crust is viewed as kitchen alchemy by some, but if you learn a little bit about how the ingredients interact and how to treat them in mixing, you’ll be baking fine pies in no time! It should be well known that creating the perfect pie crust does not entail a one-size-fits-all approach. Some of your grandmothers likely used different fats as a base for their recipes, some used sugar, some did not and some used different liquids to pull the pastry dough together. I have found that I like just about any pie crust I can taste, not because of the difference in flavor, but rather the kind intention behind the baker that made it. All pie is good pie.
Here are some tips I have learned over the years from some talented pie bakers I aspire to be like some day!
Dry ingredients are key in pie crust and can vary quite a bit! All purpose flour is just fine to use in pie pastry, but my go-to flour is pastry flour. It has less protein and makes a nice and tender pie crust. Sugar is an optional ingredient in pie crust that not only lends a touch of sweetness but a bit of golden color to the crust as well. Some people choose to add baking powder to their pie crust but I don’t do this because I can taste it in the crust. Don’t forget the salt to add flavor and balance to your crust!
The fat component of the crust is so important and there are many options! I’ve judged many pie baking contests and I can tell you this: I love all pie crusts that are not overworked, regardless of what fat is used! A butter/lard combination is my favorite at home, but I can tell you that I’ve given top honors to pies that had shortening-based crusts and pies that had oil-based push crusts. Whatever fat that is to be used must be well chilled. I like to cube my fats so they blend nicely into large chunks that will puff the crust up to make flaky layers. The flour to fat ratio that I use is 2 flour : 1 fat. Butter makes a golden crust that can be a little tougher. Lard makes a soft crust that is more blond, as does shortening. Oil-based push crusts are simple and fun for kids to make!
When adding the wet ingredients to the pie, using less water and adding a touch of vinegar will assist in making the crust tender.
Here’s my favorite pie crust recipe! Happy baking!
Lard and Butter Two-Crust Pie Pastry
Makes: a double pie crust for a 9-inch pie plate
2 1/2 cup pastry blend flour (I use King Arthur)
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/2 cup butter well chilled, cut into half-inch cubes
1/2 cup lard (or shortening if you don’t have access to lard) well chilled, cut into half-inch cubes
1 tablespoon vinegar (apple cider or white)
1/2 + cup ice water
Combine dry ingredients, whisk well. Cut butter into flour until coarse crumbs form. Combine wet ingredients; add them to the dry ingredients slowly and fluff to combine. This mixture is ready when you can grab a portion of it in your palm, squeeze it, and it sticks together. Turn 1/2 mixture out onto plastic wrap, shape into a disk. Repeat with other half. Cover both with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or for a couple hours for best results.
Preheat oven to 400 F. When ready to roll crusts: Remove from refrigerator, remove plastic. Generously flour workspace, roll crust out to 13- to 14-inch disks. Place one in pie pan. Do not stretch. Patch any imperfections (holes, etc.). Fill pie carefully with filling of choice (not HOT filling, only lukewarm or cooler so you don’t melt the fat in the crust). Basket weave lattice crust on top of filling. Fold crust under, crimp decoratively. Return to refrigerator or bake pie immediately.
Cristen Clark lives on an Iowa farm where her family raises corn, soybeans, pigs and cattle. She loves cooking and writing, and sharing contest-winning recipes with people she knows. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at foodandswine.com.