It's that time of year again, when our thoughts turn to holiday decorating and cooking. There are many recipes for the holidays, but one food item above all others seems to symbolize the fall, holiday season and that is pie. There are recipes for no crust pie, but for many people a pie without a crust is like a day without sunshine.
While pastry shells and packaged crust mixes are convenient, nothing beats a home made crust. On the other hand, for some people, making pie crust is an anxiety producing thought right up there with parallel parking and left hand turns. Never fear, there are a few basic suggestions and steps that will have you making your own great pie crust in no time.
There are four basic ingredients in any pie crust. They are, flour, that adds the bulk to the crust, shortening (fat), that makes the crust flaky and adds flavor, liquid that binds the dough and makes it workable, and salt for seasoning and to make it brown. That's it, just four simple ingredients. You can make some substitutions, in the interest of personal taste or health, as you'll see below.
The tricky thing about pie crust is that it is just so diabolically simple. Just a few ingredients and little preparation time make it seem so easy, but like many simple things, it still takes some attention to detail to get it right. Here are some instructions for two different pie crusts. The first one is really easy and doesn't even require rolling. It is ideal for a single crust pie, like pumpkin pie.
Easy One Crust Pie Dough
(makes two large pies)
- 4 cups all-purpose flour ( I prefer King Arthur unbleached flour and have been using it for years)
- 2 cups butter or shortening (you can also use butter flavored shortening, margarine, or lard*)
*Before we go any farther, let's talk about lard. I know it is not as popular or politically correct as it once was, but in my opinion it makes the best crust. On the other hand, you can still make a very good crust with any of the alternatives and perhaps you won't ruffle any feathers if you share your pie with other people who may have strong feelings about the source of lard or its health effects.
I also recommend chilling the shortening or whatever you use as a fat. Chilling the shortening and liquid is one of those suggestions I mentioned that make crust so much easier.
- 1 tablespoon white sugar (once again, you can substitute a more healthful sugar like raw cane sugar or organic sugar)
- 1 teaspoon salt (sea salt works well, too)
- 1/2 cup ice water
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar
- In a large bowl, mix flour, shortening, sugar and salt.
- Add ice water, vinegar and egg. Beat to combine but don't overdo it.
- There is no need to roll this dough out, it can easily be pushed into a pie plate and flattened to fit inside the pan and conform to the sides of the pan. That makes it ideal for a holiday favorite like one crust pumpkin pie.
Pie Crust for Top and Bottom Layers
Our second pie crust is a basic pie crust that can be rolled out to form flat pieces of dough that can then be placed in a pan and pushed into shape to make the bottom layer of a crust as well as being placed on top of the pie. If you use it as a top layer, be sure to vent with a few slits near the center of the pie.
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup shortening
- 1/2 cup water
Once again, I prefer unbleached flour like King Arthur and please be sure to chill the fat and liquid. Another good idea is to chill your rolling pin. I put mine right in the freezer for half an hour. You may also use a glass wine or soda bottle and chill it or even fill it with ice water. If you use a glass bottle, DO NOT PUT IT IN THE FREEZER because it may burst if the water freezes. Just refrigerate it or fill with chilled water.
A chilled rolling pin or bottle is much less likely to stick to the crust. Sifting a light layer of flour onto the crust as you roll it out will also help to keep it from sticking.
- In a large bowl, combine flour and salt. Cut in shortening until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. (You can cut it in with a knife or spatula. Some people like to work it with two butter knives.)
- Stir in water until mixture forms a ball. (A little flour on your hands will help to keep the dough from sticking to them.) Divide dough in half, and shape into balls. Wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight. If you don't have the time to wait for the dough to chill overnight, place it in the refrigerator as long as you can and use chilled utensils to roll it out.
- Next, roll out your dough on a floured counter or cutting board. Don't over work it. Place a thin layer of flour on the dough and work it from the center rolling in all directions to form a flat round layer of dough like a large pancake. You can then shape it into the bottom of the pan and repeat the process on the second ball of dough for the top crust. Put a little flour on your hands and lift the dough gently and place on top of the pie. Be sure to make a few slits for vents. You may also pinch the dough together all along the edge to seal the top and bottom crust together. You may use a fork or knife to give it a nice finished look.
- Some people place foil around the outside edge of the crusts to prevent burning of the edges.
That's it, two recipes for crust that take very little time to prepare and will have you creating homemade masterpieces in your kitchen. Stay tuned for more holiday dessert ideas including pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, pumpkin seeds and other recipes
Wil Langford, is a pie lover who enjoys holiday desserts and family time.