Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Pie Crust

Skill Level: Intermediate
Skills Attained: Pastry-Making
  • Medium mixing bowl
  • Fork/Pastry Blender/Food Processor
  • Rolling pin
  • Butter knife
  • Plastic wrap
  • 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour (plus extra for rolling dough)
  • 1 tablespoon powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ pound (2 sticks) cold, unsalted butter
  • ¼ cups vegetable shortening
  • 1/3 cup ice water
If I had to choose a “signature piece” as a homemaker, I would hands-down choose the apple pie. My mother taught me how to make an apple pie when I was a young girl (around 9 years old). She used a basic recipe from her Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook. Nothing fancy, but it always turned out so delicious! Mom's pies were quite the crowd pleaser at the Thanksgiving table. I even won a blue ribbon at the local fair for this confectioner’s delight. (This proved to pay off with dividends later in life as the pie’s blue ribbon status peaked the interest of my now husband when we first started dating.) My recipe evolved slightly from the recipe my mom used. I have made enough pies to tweak it to my liking. 

I hear concern about how difficult it is to make pie crust. I admit that making pastry is more labor intensive than opening the package of a pre-made crust from the store. However, I believe more people could do it than give themselves credit, and the buttery, flakey pay-off is oh-so incredibly worth it! My hope is that this post will not only inspire you but also give you the confidence to attempt the apple pie. 

I'm going to split this dish into two posts: Pie Crust and Apple Pie. This week, I will explain how to make a pie crust. Next week, I will provide instructions on how to make the filling and assemble the pie. This post is a bit longer than usual, but I want to equip you with all the information you need to attempt pastry dough. I have provided written step-by-step instructions with pictures below, but if you prefer learning by video, there is a video you can watch as well. This is a longer video, but it's very thorough. I'm just learning how to use movie editing software, so I tried to spruce it up as much as possible for your viewing pleasure.

If you read any pastry recipe there are three main ingredients: flour, water, and some type of fat (i.e., butter, margarine, vegetable shortening, lard).


Due to the heightened skepticism of trans fat, you may be uncomfortable with the idea of using vegetable shortening. That is absolutely okay. Exclusively using vegetable shortening can be a little easier to work with, but the crust will lack flavor. You may see recipes that call for a combination of shortening and butter, which enhances the flavor. Using all butter in the crust makes an extremely rich, flavorful crust, but it can be more difficult to work with. In my experience, you can substitute equal parts shortening and butter if you want to experiment with what works best for you. Now, I have never personally made a pie with lard…for a number of reasons. First, it is not a common item found in the store, but also, it just sounds gross to me. However, I do know people that swear lard provides a taste that you can’t beat.


You can also modify the recipes by adding sweeteners, ground nuts, whole-wheat flour, or cornmeal. For the apple pie, we will stick with basic all-purpose flour. I like to substitute cornmeal when making blueberry pies. 


I am sure you can get extremely fancy with using bottled water, distilled water, or purified water, but I use plain tap water. 

The recipe I use most often is taken from The Joy of Cooking ("Deluxe Butter Flaky Pastry Dough". The Joy of Cooking. Rombauer, Irma S., Marion Rombauer Becker and Ethan Becker. Page 862 -864. 1997.). Below are the ingredients for my pie pastry. This yields two 9” pie crusts (one for the top and one for the bottom).

  • 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour (plus extra for rolling dough)
  • 1 tablespoon powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ pound (2 sticks) cold, unsalted butter
  • ¼ cups vegetable shortening
  • 1/3 cup ice water

Mix dry ingredients with
pastry blender
To mix the ingredients, you can combine the ingredients by hand in a bowl (with a fork or a pastry blender), or you can use a food processor. Although the food processor makes this process incredibly quick, my piecrusts have not turned out as flakey when I use this machine. I prefer using a fork or pastry blender to mix the ingredients.

In a large bowl, mix together all of the flour, sugar, and salt. Using the tines of a fork or a pastry blender, cut the butter into the mixed dry ingredients. 

Cut cold butter into small cubes
Cut butter and shortening into mixed
dry ingredients with pastry blender
 until butter is pea-sized pieces form
To expedite this process, cut the sticks of butter into cubes before adding them to the mixing bowl. Continue cutting the butter into the flour mixture until pea-size pieces form. Add the vegetable shortening, and continue cutting with the fork until the shortening is distributed evenly throughout the mixture.

Water will now be added to the flour and butter mixture. Pour 1/3 cup ice water over the mixture. Continue cutting the mixture with the fork until the mixture is evenly moist and the dough starts to stick together. Stop mixing once the majority of the flour is no longer dry. If the pieces do not stick together, add one additional tablespoon of water (up to 3 tablespoons) and combine until the pieces stick together.

Pick up the mixture with your hands and form one large ball. The ball should not be smooth but rather look a little rough. 

Divide the dough in half (one section will be used for the bottom crust and the other for the top crust). Form the dough into a disc-shape and wrap with plastic wrap. Place the dough discs into the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before rolling out the crust. 

Remove the discs of dough from the refrigerator. If the dough was in the refrigerator for more than 30 minutes, let the dough sit on the counter until it is pliable. For less experienced pastry-makers, liberally flour your rolling surface. (This can be on a clean counter-top.) As you gain more experience, you will require less flour. You want to ensure that your pastry does not stick to the surface, but the more flour you use, the less flakey your crust will be. Place the disc of dough on the floured surface. With a rolling pin, begin rolling the crust. Take one stroke in one direction, and then turn the pin 90 degrees and roll the dough again. Continue this process until your dough is approximately ¼ inch thick. Your dough will not be a perfect circle, and that is okay! Simply ensure the finished shape is about 3 inches larger on all sides than your pie plate. So, if you are using a 9” pie plate, then make sure your dough is roughly a 12” diameter circle.

Lightly grease your pie plate. (I use any type of cooking spray, but you could use butter or shortening.) Using the rolling pin, roll half of the pie crust onto the pin. Slip the pie tin under the crust, and slide the dough into the pan. Gently press the pie crust into the corners and up the sides of the pan. Do not cut the excess crust from the pan at this time.

If you are making an "open face" pie without a top crust, place your filling into the pie and flute the edges (see instructions below).

If you are making a pie with the top crust, place your filling into the pie, and roll out the second half of your pie dough per the instructions above and slide the rolled out dough on top of the pie. Crimp the edges to ensure the top and bottom crusts are sealed.

There are a number of ways you can flute the edges of your pie crust, but I generally just use my fingers as you can see in the picture below:

Crimp the edges of your pie crust
with your fingers
Finally, using a knife, trim the excess crust away from the pie.

Trim away the excess crust from the pie
You can use this crust for any type of pie you would like to make. One of my favorite pies is apple pie, so next week, I'll share my apple pie recipe. Hopefully, you feel prepared to add this pastry crust to your arsenal of Thanksgiving recipes!

My next post will include instructions on how to make an apple pie. Until next time...


Deluxe Butter Flaky Pastry Dough (The Joy of Cooking)

  • 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour (plus extra for rolling dough)
  • 1 tablespoon powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ pound (2 sticks) cold, unsalted butter
  • ¼ cups vegetable shortening
  • 1/3 cup ice water
  1. Using a fork or pastry blender, mix flour, sugar, and salt. 
  2. Cut butter into cubes with a knife and add to flour mixture. Using a fork or pastry blender, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until the pieces of butter are pea-sized. Add the shortening to this mixture and continue cutting ingredients using the fork or pastry blender. 
  3. Add ice water to mixture and combine until the ingredients are evenly moist; the mixture should not be too wet, but there should not be a lot of dry flour in the bowl either. Be careful not to over-mix the ingredients. If there is a lot of dry flour that remains, add more water 1 tablespoon at a time. 
  4. Dump the dough onto a floured surface and form a ball with your hands. 
  5. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 30 minutes. 
  6. When you are ready to make your pie, unwrap the dough from the plastic wrap and use a rolling pin to roll out your dough.