Today is Pi Day (3/14). Here at Acentech, we’ve been celebrating this for nearly a decade, because I love to bake, and I’m a nerd for baking on a theme.
Whether it’s from a tube, frozen, or made fresh, pie crust is a key part of the dessert. Not just a mere vehicle for the journey from dish to plate to fork, it can turn a lackluster filling into a dessert from on high. On the other hand, even the creamiest custard can be let down by a thin, bland crust. To help with this, I thought I’d share my not-so-secret recipe, and a few tips and tricks.
Pie crust intimidated me when I first started baking. With cookies, cakes, or brownies, if you use the exact same ingredients in precise quantities every time, they (should) come out exactly the same. Pie crust isn’t nearly as predictable. It’s a (very tasty) game of trial and error when it comes to the amount of water, or even the mixture of fats used. For example, an all butter crust will be flat, while an all shortening crust won’t have much flavor. Butter, obviously, imparts great flavor and coloring to a crust, and I love using it in my baking. But the shortening also plays a key role: it helps build the “flake” of the crust. Instead, I take the Goldilocks approach: just enough of each to make it taste just right!
Cold fat is key. Warm butter/shortening will blend into the dry ingredients, instead of breaking off. A rolled out pie crust should show you visible bits of butter and shortening marbled throughout – that’s one indicator that your crust will be delicious! I always start by portioning out the fat, cutting it into (approximate) cubes, and sticking it in the freezer while I gather and measure the rest of my ingredients. If I’m baking on a weeknight, I’ll even do it before I leave for work in the morning.
This recipe has been modified from Ina Garten’s Perfect Pie Crust recipe. Trust me, the name is appropriate!
12 tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) very cold butter
1/3 c very cold vegetable shortening
3 cups (360 g) all-purpose flour
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
8-12 tbsp (1/2-3/4 c) very cold water
Cut the butter and shortening into cubes, and put them in the freezer while you gather and prepare the dry ingredients.
Measure the flour, sugar, and salt, and place into a medium mixing bowl. Add the butter and shortening, and with either 2 knives or a pastry blender, cut into the flour until the mix is crumbly, with pieces about the size of a pea. (Note: you can also do this with a food processor, pulsing 6-10 times until you reach the right consistency.)
Add 8 tbsp (1/2 c) water to the bowl, and continue to blend until the dough begins to stick together. You may need to add more water, ½ a tablespoon at a time, until the dough is ready.
Dump the dough onto a floured surface and cut it into 2 evenly sized lumps. Form each of the lumps into a rough circle, and wrap them separately in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. (These can stay in the fridge like this for up to 3 days.)
On a well-floured surface, roll the dough out into a circle at least one inch larger than the pie plate. You should be able to see specks of butter/shortening throughout the dough. While rolling, be sure to lift the dough off the surface to prevent it from sticking. Add more flour as needed.
When the dough has reached the correct size, loosely roll it around the rolling pin, then unroll it over the pie plate. With a small sharp knife, trim the dough, leaving 1” overhang. Save the trimmings!
For a one crust pie: fold the edge under, and crimp with either your fingers or a fork.
For a two-crust pie: pour your filling into the pie plate, then gently place the top crust on top. Fold the overhang from the two crusts under the edge, and crimp.
To maximize the flakiness of your crust, place the completed pie back in the fridge for 20-30 minutes. Then, bake according to your recipe.
PIE CRUST COOKIES
Take the trimmings/leftover pie crust bits, and lay them out on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper. Brush them with egg wash/cream, then sprinkle cinnamon sugar. Bake at 400° for 12-16 minutes, until golden brown and delicious. Try not to eat them all at once. It’ll be a challenge.