You’ve probably heard how impossible pie crusts can be, or at least how easy it is to mess them up. I want to dispel these myths (or at least half-truths). You CAN make pie crust as long as you have a small amount of patience and a little bit of extra time. I think the results are worth it, and much better than pre-made pie crusts.
This is the first pie crust recipe I tried, and it worked so I’m sticking with it. A lot of people shun shortening, preferring the more classic butter pâte brisée. I started out with this recipe because I wanted something dairy-free. I also think the shortening is more forgiving than the butter, which is important if this is your first pie crust.
I’ve tried this recipe with regular and with golden shortening, and find that the golden shortening gives the crust a nicer flavour and colour. Keep your shortening in the fridge for best results. If you’re making a pie like apple or pumpkin you could also add some cinnamon and sugar to the flour mix for extra flavour.
For a single pie crust, you need:
1 1/3 cups of all-purpose flour
1/2 cup of cold shortening
1/2 teaspoon of salt
4 tablespoons of ice cold water (and possibly a bit extra)
Put the flour in a medium bowl along with the salt and stir. Cut off what you need from the brick of shortening and cut that into a couple of thick slices. Drop the shortening into the bowl with the flour.
I did some serious research before I tried to make my first pie, and learned that a pie crust is very different from other baked goods (cakes, muffins, cookies, etc.). When you make a pie crust, your goal is not to mix all of the ingredients thoroughly. Think of it more as coating all of the fat in flour. This also explains why it’s important to keep your shortening and water cold: If the shortening warms up too much it will become soft and liquidy and will mix too much with the flour (don’t panic, this has never actually happened to me, just explaining the “science” behind all this madness).
I like to keep things low-tech in the kitchen. Sure you can make this with a stand mixer or whatever, but who’s got one of those? Not me. If you don’t either, take one knife in each hand (just the normal ones you would use for dinner) and cut across the mixture in opposite directions at the same time, rotating the bowl and stirring so you cut up all the big lumps of shortening with your knife (cutting in the shortening). Keep going until the shortening chunks are about the size of a pea. When you bake the dough, these little pea-sized bits of shortening will melt, creating the flaky texture you’re aiming for.
The next step is to add the water. I always find I need more water than the recipe calls for, so use your judgment. Add the water one tablespoon at a time, stirring with the knives and trying to limit touching the dough with your hands (because of the whole warming up the shortening thing). When you have added 3 tablespoons of water, see if the dough is moist enough by squeezing it with your hand. If it holds together decently it’s probably ready. If not, add more water half a tablespoon at a time. It doesn’t have to be doughy, but just has to hold its shape a bit.
When you can form it into some sort of ball, do so. Don’t worry if there are a few little dry crumbly bits as long as most of it will hold its shape. Place a piece of plastic wrap on your counter and put the dough ball on it. Flatten the dough ball into a disc, wrap it up and place it in the fridge. It needs to sit for at least an hour to relax, which helps to make the crust more tender and flaky.
After the dough has rested for a while, unwrap it and place it on a well-floured surface. Roll out the dough with a well-floured rolling pin until it is about 1/4″ thick and about 2″ wider all around than your pie pan.
Here are two good ways to get your dough into the pie pan once it is rolled out:
1) (My favourite) Put one of those really thin and cheap bendy plastic cutting boards on your counter, sprinkle it generously (this is super important!) with flour and put a little extra on the counter in case the dough extends beyond the plastic sheet. Roll out the dough on top of the plastic sheet.
Lift up the plastic sheet and quickly flip it over onto the pie pan, then peel off the plastic sheet. Press the dough down into the pan. Easy, n’est-ce pas?
2) If you don’t have a cheap plastic cutting board but you do have a rolling pin, try this: Starting at one end of the dough circle, roll the dough around the pin, lift, place over pan and unroll. Also fairly easy.
After you’ve pressed the dough down into the pan, tear off the extra dough so there is about an inch of dough to roll into a lip. Roll it up and press little divots into it with your finger. Don’t worry about making it perfect, it will look rustic and charming. If you have extra dough left over you can lay it on a cookie sheet and sprinkle it with cinnamon and sugar then bake for 10-12 minutes on 350F.
Some final notes: If the crust gets torn in the whole transferring to the pan process, just patch it up with some of the extra stuff torn off of the edges. The dough shouldn’t be sticky at all. If it is, sprinkle flour over it as you roll it out. Even if you think you’ve completely ruined it and are about to despair, don’t. Just add more water if it’s too dry or add more flour if it’s sticky and you’ll be fine. Hopefully everything worked out and your crust is flaky and delicious. As a friend of mine once said, “Now you can be known as a pie person!”