Introduction: How to Make Pie Crust
A good, tender, flaky pie crust is a wonderful thing. Thankfully it's easy, even for a double crust pie.
Perfect for Poached Pear Pie.
Step 1: Gather Tools and Ingredients
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks cold butter, cut into small chunks
or replace 2-4 tablespoons butter with lard or shortening
1/4 cup cold vodka1 (or other alcohol 80-proof or higher - it will all cook off)
food processor with chopping blade
And, of course, the pie filling of your choice.
1The vodka allows you to work the dough just like you'd used ice water, but all the alcohol evaporates in the oven leaving a better-textured crust. There's less gluten aggregation, so your pie crust will be more tender.
Step 2: Combine Dry Ingredients
Dump the 2 1/2 cups flour and the teaspoon of salt into the food processor, and pulse until blended.
You may need to press down on the lid to prevent fine dust from escaping the edges.
Step 3: Add Butter
Keep the butter in the refrigerator or freezer until you're ready to go, and pull each stick out individually for use.
Unwrap the butter, and cut it into lots of little cubes. I generally make three cuts lengthwise, flip the slabs, give them another three lengthwise cuts, then whack the sticks into cubes.
Drop the cubes into the flour, making sure they don't stick together. Once you've covered the exposed flour surface cover the bowl and pulse once, then add another layer of butter cubes. The fine layer of flour they pick up will prevent sticking when you add more butter.
Continue until all the butter cubes are in the food processor bowl, then pulse until the butter has turned into small sandy chunks, about 30 seconds. A few bigger chunks are fine.
Step 4: Add Ice Water
The vodka (in place of ice water, remember!) is the tough part. The exact amount you'll need to add varies depending on the peculiarities of your flour and the ambient humidity.
Scoop up 1/4c of the vodka, and slowly drizzle it in through the feed tube as the food processor runs steadily.
Minimal processing is best, so stop immediately after the vodka is incorporated and check. The dough should still feel dry and crumbly, but should stick together when pressed- just like good snowball-making snow.
If it's not sticking, add just a bit more voka in the same fashion, and check again.
You don't want a wet or sticky dough, as it won't roll out properly.
Step 5: Chill
Turn the dough out of the food processor, and squash into a coherent ball. Don't work it or knead the dough- just press enough that it sticks together.
Divide the dough in half, and squish again to form two thin patties, ~3/4" thick. Cover the patties in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least an hour.
At this point you can leave them in the refrigerator for several days, or in the freezer for several weeks. Just take care to wrap the dough well, and possibly double-bag it to keep it from drying out.
Step 6: Roll Out
When your dough is properly chilled, pull it back out of the refrigerator and grab your rolling pin.
You want to work quickly so the dough stays cool- if the butter melts it will change the consistency and the dough will be much more difficult to handle.
Roll from the center outward, keeping the dough circular to fit your pie plate. The dough will be stiff, so apply lots of downward pressure. If you're short, stand on a stool or work on a lower table for better leverage. Spin the dough (or yourself) and continue rolling in order to keep the dough spreading in a nice circle.
Hold the pie plate over the dough to make sure you've rolled it out enough- you'll need to add extra distance for the sides, and a bit more for the edge. Thinner is better for pie crusts, so long as you don't get holes.
I just roll my pie crusts out on the plastic wrap- it's easier than grabbing another tool or a mat that would require cleaning.
Step 7: Insert Lower Crust
Set the pie plate upside-down on top of your rolled-out dough.
Wriggle one hand underneath the plastic wrap-covered side of the dough, and place your other hand on the back of the pie plate.
Peel off the plastic wrap, and gently press the dough into the pie plate. Leave the excess dough hanging over the edges of the pie plate for now- we'll deal with it when putting on the top crust.
Step 8: Fill
Fill the pie with the fruit or filling of your choice.
Step 9: Install Upper Crust
Roll the other dough disk out as described in step 6. It just needs to be slightly larger than the rim of the pie plate.
Wiggle one hand under the plastic-wrap side of the dough. If you have small hands, grab someone else to help- it never hurts to have more fingers to distribute the weight evenly to prevent rips and holes.
Flip the crust over, and settle gently on top of the pie.
Center the upper crust, and peel the plastic wrap off.
Step 10: Crimp Edge, Vent, and Bake
Crimping the edge serves to meld the upper and lower crust together.
First, smooth the crust from the middle of the pie outward, getting rid of bubbles and folds. Fix any rips with a bit of water on your fingertip and some judicious crust-squishing.
Next, scoot around the edge of the pie, pinching the edges together gently. Pinch horizontally, not vertically- you want the crust to have a nice thick scalloped edge. Check the pictures below for more details.
Offsetting your inside and outside fingers while pinching creates that nice scalloped edge look. It shouldn't be perfect- this pie is hand-made, and should show it. Vagaries in crust give it character.
Trim any extra bits of crust, and give the edge a final squeeze to incorporate any stragglers.
Patch any new holes with the wet fingertip trick.
Cut vents in the top with a sharp knife. One near the center is all that's absolutely necessary, but feel free to get as fancy as you like with your designs. For bonus points, you can use a cookie cutter to remove shaped pieces from the top crust- of course, this is best done before laying it over the pie.
If there's extra pie crust from the edge trimming, you can cut out cool shapes and "glue" them on top of your piecrust with a bit more water.
Bake according to pie directions- it will likely be around 350F for 45-60 minutes.
Step 11: Slice, Serve, and Save for Breakfast
Remove your pie when it's bubbling, and just starting to turn golden about the top and edges. The filling will likely creep out through any cracks it can find- this, too, is a feature, as it indicates lovingly-made, super-tasty homemadeness.
If you want more color, brush the top crust with butter, milk, or egg white for the last 15 minutes of cook time.
Let the pie cool for at least 15 minutes, longer if possible. Some types of pie are best after being fully cooled, or even chilled in the refrigerator overnight. It certainly makes them easier to cut.
Cut the pie with a sharp paring knife to avoid cracking the upper crust. Be warned that the first piece is virtually guaranteed to fall apart as you remove it. No worries- just claim it for yourself as visually imperfect, thus assuring you don't miss out on a piece of pie!
I generally cut the pie in quarters, then cut each quarter into three pieces, or 1/12 of a pie. These small slices help if you've got several different pies, and can't choose. A slice of each is always the way to go.
Serve with ice cream, whipped cream, sauce, or other appropriate topping.
Be sure to save some for later- pie breakfast is the best thing ever.