This holiday season, I have tried my hand at several pies, and every time someone comments on the pie crust. And I have to agree, a good homemade pie crust can elevate any pie to a new level of YUM! In each dessert pie recipe I have shared on this blog I have been repeating a variation of the same crust, and I have finally realized I am being silly… It is high time we just focused on the crust and get all our questions and fears out of the way! So, while there will be a pumpkin pie recipe coming your way soon, first let’s start with the base.
While store-bought, refrigerated crusts are good in a pinch, they simply can’t compete. Any processed crust will have been pushed and squeezed so much that it is impossible to be nearly as flaky and delicious as the one you can make in your own home. Plus, you have control over the ingredients such as the quality of the butter and the lack of oils and preservatives. My favorite pie crust recipe I found from a newspaper adaptation of an apple crumb pie which used a Cook’s Illustrated recipe for the crust which I then further adapted with my own methods. The brilliance in this recipe that is probably attributable to the genius recipe developers at Cook’s Illustrated is a combination of ALOT of butter for maximum taste and flakiness along with a little bit of shortening to help the dough hold together and roll out easily.
Beyond the ingredients themselves, there are a few tricks I’ve developed to make my pie crust creations as smooth and consistent as possible. First of all, I like to use my food processor, as I find I don’t have to work so hard cutting in the butter by hand or with a pastry cutter. Also, Rule #1 with pie crust is to make sure you don’t let the fats (the butter & shortening) get too warm. My two tips to aide in this endeavor is to shred (or cut into small cubes) the butter and shortening and stick it in the freezer along with the food processor blade while you measure out the rest of your ingredients, so that by the time you’ve finished mixing together your pie crust, the chill hasn’t been overcome by the warmth from the mixing. Finally, freezing pie crust is a great way to stay prepared so that you don’t find yourself having to run down the refrigerated aisles at the grocery store the day before Thanksgiving. Pie crust should be okay for up to three months in the freezer. Just pull it out the day before to let it defrost in the refrigerator so you’ll be ready to roll (pun intended 🙂 ) when the time comes.
3 tablespoons ice water (you may need more depending on the humidity of the day)
First, shred (or cut) the butter and shortening onto a plate and place in the freezer along with the blade of the food processor for at least 15 minutes, during which you can assemble the rest of your ingredients.
Place the flour, sugar and salt into the food processor (along with the chilled bad that has been replaced, of course), and pulse 7 or so times to just combine the ingredients.
Sprinkle the butter on top and pulse 3-5 times to just incorporate the butter.
Sprinkle the shortening on top and pulse until the butter and shortening are reduced to the size of lentils.
Finally, dribble in 1 tablespoon of ice water at a time until the dough begins to form. You may need a couple tablespoons more or less, depending on the humidity of the day. I find 3 is usually enough.
Lay a large sheet of plastic wrap on the counter and pour your crumbly pie dough out onto it.
Using your hands (but trying to touch it as little as possible), combine the dough into a ball, pressing together to almost knead it together. As soon as the dough is holding together in a ball, wrap it up in the plastic wrap and flatten into a disc (hey, why not save rolling time later?).
If you would like to freeze the dough as a ball, go ahead and add a second layer of plastic wrap, maybe even toss into a freezer ziplock bag, and put it straight into the freezer.
If you would like to use the dough right away or want to freeze it already rolled out and formed in the pie pan, place the dough in the fridge for at least 30 minutes (I prefer a good hour) before rolling the dough out or manipulating it.
Finally, roll out your dough into an 11 inch circle and place in a 9 inch pie pan (if freezing, use an aluminum disposable pan). My favorite method to roll out pie dough that minimizes clean up and maximizes sanity is to roll out the dough on top of wax paper, with a layer of plastic wrap in between the dough and the rolling pin.
Finally, trim and crimp the edges (my easy cop-out crimp is to use the tines of a fork).
From here you can either continue to par-bake or fill and bake, depending on your recipe OR freeze it by covering with plastic wrap and placing in the freezer. If you have several you are doing at one time, allow the crust to freeze solid before stacking pie tins on top of each other.
The dough should be good in the freezer for up to 3 months, but I doubt they'll last that long!
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