Pie Nostalgia… Recognizing Crust for Its True Worth

November 2, 2010

Get ready for a Soy-Sauce Flashback… “I remember my eighth birthday like it was yesterday. I was sitting up in my Great Aunt Carol’s kitchen, blushing after my entire extended family sang happy birthday to me. But my cheeks were also red from excitement… My Great Aunt Janet brought in home-made cherry, blueberry, strawberry, you-name-it-she’s-got-it berry pies, and she said I could eat as many as I wanted. Needless to say I had the bellyache of the century, but it was so worth it” …

Our Beloved Crust...

I honestly think that in assessing a pie, crust gets the short end of the stick. I know I’ve never considered crust to be all that important until after learning more about it in my baking elective. Here’s a step-by-step recipe for a tasty, home-made crust.

As always, preheat that oven before starting. Do not be fooled though! This time, the oven must be set to 450 degrees F. This ensures that the butter in the crust instantaneously melts, giving the crust its unique, flaky texture.

Baconater Pulsing Under My Supervision

Now let’s begin! Go ahead and pulse the flour and salt together in a food processor. (The salt is to enhance the flavor) A pulse is simply a solid push of the button, no more no less.

The Blender Preparing the Butter and Lard for... the Blender (Ironic?)

In this recipe, we chose to use both butter and lard chunks. However, depending on the baker’s preference, butter, fat, or lard can be used alternatively. Butter has a better overall taste, but shortening (or lard) does a better job of achieving the flaky texture and waxy feel. Considering our goal is to make the best possible crust, we compromised by using both butter and shortening to incorporate taste and texture. So now add in the butter and lard chunks (or whatever you choose to do) and pulse for ten seconds. The resulting mixture should have the texture of coarse sand, and the pea-sized chunks should be coated in the flour/salt.

Sophia Pizzeria and Lady Lettuce Achieve Perfection!

The time has come for the crucial moment of adding water. Although this step is seemingly insignificant, it proves to be more than crucial to the end result. Adding too much water will make the dough too tough, whereas adding too little will result in a dry, crumbly dough. Seeing as neither of these results are desired, I would again advise trying to find a balance. Add the water one tablespoon at a time, and pulse until the dough naturally forms into a ball.

Note! Make sure that the butter, lard, and water are ice cold! This makes sure that everything doesn’t entirely integrate, which provides the flaky texture.

Forrest the Blender Gingerly Places the Dough in the Plastic Wrap

With the dough ready to roll, take it out and place it in some plastic wrap. (Try to touch the dough as little as possible because we don’t want to melt the butter!) Mold the dough into a disk, then go refrigerate it for twenty to thirty minutes.

Chef Ruble Demonstrates the Parchment Method

After the chilling period comes the physical workout! (I don’t lift much, so it proved to be a bit of strain…) Take two sheets of parchment paper and sprinkle flour on them. Be wary of how much flour you use; too much will dry out the dough, but too little will make it stick to the paper. Now put the dough in between the two sheets. This is one way of preventing the dough from sticking to the counter. You could also flour the entire counter, but the risk of tearing the dough is minimized with the parchment method. You can also hold the parchment paper in place with your waist against the counter. Flipping the paper could be a little difficult though. Don’t be afraid of getting a little flour on yourself… I practically looked like a ghost when I was through! As FDR once said, “the only thing to fear is fear itself!”

My Shirt Predicts the Outcome of the Crust...

With our fears behind us, arm yourself with a floured rolling pin. Gradually make diagonal and horizontal dents in the dough disk. These will help you spread the dough out later. Now use your rolling pin and spread the dough outwards and to the sides. Every now and then flip the paper to even the dough out. You’re aiming to have a level circle of dough that extends about two inches past the pie plate. Have fun with your rolling, but don’t get too crazy! I like to think of the process as somewhat therapeutic… kind of like knitting. (You wouldn’t believe my knitting skills!)

Intense Concentration

After calming yourself down with the rolling, it’s time for some stress to build back up! Trying to put the dough on the pie plate is among the most stressful moments of making the crust. It only determines how good your pie is going to look. With that in mind, steady your shaking hands and roll the circle of dough around your roller. Then, in a fluid motion, drag and drop the circle over the pie plate. I like to think of this as a copy and paste command in a word document… (Geek integration for the win!)

Seltzer Sayre Poses With Our Masterpiece!

This part of the process is for all you artists and perfectionists out there. To make your pie crust look beautiful, you can crimp the edges. I used the two-finger-one-finger-pushing-from-opposite-directions method, but there are many other ways to do this. Another wise person once said, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” … So be creative and take a risk! (Even if your pie is “ugly”, at least it will taste good!)

Finally, to prevent ruining all of your hard work, please use a pie shield. This will protect your beautifully crimped crust from burning!

Crust Ingredients:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup shortening
  • 1/2 cup cold butter, chopped
  • 3-4 tablespoons ice cold water
  • 1 egg and 1 teaspoon heavy cream for egg wash
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