The phrase ‘as easy as pie’ is misleading. While the ingredients are simple (fat, flour and liquid) it can be very tricky to create a flaky and flavorful crust. In fact, most of us will mess it up the first two or three times we do it—or spend years baking an ‘okay’ pie and wonder why it never tastes the way Grandma used to make it. This article reveals some secrets to a delicious pie crust.
First, keep your ingredients cold. Your fat (whether it’s butter, lard or vegetable shortening) should come straight from the refrigerator. Some people will cut it into cubes and then put it back into the freezer before making the crust. Others will grate the butter into the flour.
Even the temperature of the flour matters, which is why a few pie experts will put it in the refrigerator prior to preparing the crust. The reason? Warm flour will absorb too much fat and this tends to create a tougher crust.
Second, get the best quality ‘fat’ you can afford. Experiment with different brands or compare the results of recipes that use butter, lard or vegetable oil. This one ingredient changes how flaky your piecrust will be. (The really flaky crusts have unmelted fat caught between the layers of flour. This melts while the pie bakes, which affects the texture of the finished crust.)
Third, the liquids (again, make sure they are ice-cold) should be added gradually so you add only as much as you need. Too much water creates a sticky dough that requires more kneading—and overworked dough will be tough. Too little water makes the pie crust dry and crumbly. You know you’ve got enough liquid if the dough sticks together and forms tiny cracks. (Pinch a little amount between your fingers to check.)
Fourth, know your flours. Some recipes use wheat flour, cake flour or pastry flour. You can use all purpose but the crust won’t be as tender. You can try substituting pastry flour with all purpose flour, but add 1 tablespoon of cornstarch for every cup. If you use whole grain flour refrigerate the dough the night before. This gives time for the bran to rehydrate.
Fifth, when you roll, start from the center and then move outwards (like the rays from the sun).
Sixth, use a glass pie plate so that heat is conducted evenly. However, since glass absorbs heat, lower the temperature of the oven by about 25 degrees. Never use aluminum pie pans, which are notorious for poor heat distribution. If that’s all you have, double them up.
Seventh, if you are making fruit filling, brush the pie crust with egg white first. This will act as a protective layer so it doesn’t get too soggy.
Read our tips on baking cookies
Photo from theossingtonkitchen.blogspot.com