Q. My mom tells me how to make a pie crust one way, my sister another, my friend another. None of them are very good at all! HELP!
A. There is an old saying, a man with one watch always knows what time it is, but a man with many watches is never quite sure. How is this applicable to pie crusts? Ask several people how to make a perfect crust and you will get different “concrete” answers: lard, butter, Crisco, a splash of vinegar, buy a premade crust, and on and on. I will tell you my way, and I have made them many ways but all versions of the same recipe. I can turn out a perfect crust in any weather, with a fancy machine or with my bare hands, and now you can too!
1. Use great ingredients. Make sure your butter is fresh and of good quality and unsalted. You will add the salt. Smell your butter if it has been in your refrigerator for a while. If it smells at all rancid, do not use it. It will not poison you, but will impart a bad taste to your crust. In fact, if it smells, throw it away. You don't want to use it in anything. Butter will pick up odors from foods. That is why it has its own little area in refrigerators with a little door to shut it off from leftover chili and hot peppers. 2. Keep your butter cold. Do not warm it. Keep your water very cold. I measure mine out and stick it in the freezer until I am ready to use it or stick an ice cube in it.
3. Mix your dry ingredients together well. Then cut in your very cold butter. If you are using a food processor, you are looking for it to look like little flour-covered peas ideally. Next, pour your water in, little by little, while the processor is running until the crust turns into a ball. Then STOP. Even if you have water left over. Some days you will use it all. Some days you will not. I don't know why.
4. Now here is where all your tricks make the difference. Take the dough out of the food processor. It may be very sticky, but do not worry. You can add more flour when rolling it out. The worst thing is to have it too dry. Shape and pat it into a disc. Put your crust between sheets of parchment paper and place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes at least.
5. After a half-hour, take it out, divide it in half, and roll out one of the halves. (Keep the other half covered. You do not want it to dry out. Or put it back into the refrigerator if you are blind baking the first one. Don't know what blind baking is? Keep reading.) To do this, sprinkle a small amount of flour on your counter. Don't make it look like the North Pole. You can add, but you cannot take away. Roll it out. Use a light but firm hand. Is that an oxymoron? No. Light meaning don't push too hard and smash it into the counter, firm meaning firm enough to get it rolled out without tearing it. After a few pie crusts it will come naturally. It is like parenting: You are in command of the pie crust. Do not be afraid of it. You move the crust, you turn it over, do not move around it. If you cannot move it around your counter and it is sticking, you need more flour. But remember, just be careful adding this flour! A little at a time is your motto.
6. After you have rolled out a nice round shape, there are many ways to get that crust into your pan. You can roll it around your rolling pin, you can flip it over on itself, you can gently pick it up, but this is not the best option as it might break. I roll mine onto the rolling pin, and then gently lay it on the pie pan. Then I gently press it into the pan.
7. Now you are ready to add your filling, blind bake your crust, or photograph it to send to your mom. Aren't you proud of yourself?
Q. What is blind baking?
A. Blind baking the is term used for baking a bottom pie crust so you can put a filling in it that does not need to be baked, for example a lemon curd. The crust needs to be baked, but the curd does not. To do this, there are many ways — a simple way I learned as I grew up, and a then very complicated way to give the crust a smart snap that we learned at Le Cordon Bleu that requires three quick bakes. But the easy way most people do is to place the crust into the pie pan, then line it with aluminum foil. Into this you put pie weights, a pie chain, or you can put much cheaper beans. Both are useable over and over. Why are you doing this? To keep the crust from shrinking while baking; if you do not do this, the pie crust WILL shrink! Fill it all the way to the top of the pie crust and gently lean the beans against the sides.
After about 20 minutes at 350 degrees, take the foil with the weights or beans out, and put the crust back in. You will see an unbaked place in the bottom of the pie crust probably. You are trying to bake this little spot. Bake for 5 minutes more. Here is where you must use your judgment. If your crust is getting too dark on the edges, turn off your oven, and put it in for the last five minutes. Don't let the edges burn.! No one wants a burned crust.
Take the pie crust out, let cool completely and fill with whatever wonderful thing you are making! Invite your friends over!
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted cold butter
1/4 -1/3 cup ice cold water
Add the salt to the flour and mix well. Cut the butter into pieces, and then cut it into the flour mixture with a food processor or with your fingers as if you are counting coins. When it looks like little peas, add the water until you have a sticky ball. It is better to be too wet than dry. Roll or shape into a disc and cover with plastic. Place into your refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. This is the time to freeze the dough for the future if you need to use it later.
To make a sweet dough (pate sucre), add 1 tablespoon of sugar to the dry ingredients.