Pie Crust to Beat the Band

victoria —  September 22, 2006 — 2 Comments

Over the last three weeks I have made approximately 7 batches of pie crust for various and sundry things. I have tweaked and prodded and cursed and bitched and celebrated. And, I have done the victory lap, because, Gentle Readers, I have struck culinary gold.

Pie crust is that culinary holy grail, the bane of the existences of many, the thing that sends more accomplished cooks running to the frozen food isle than any other kitchen task. It is a pain in the ass to deal with, most of the time. But good pie crust/pastry is sublime. It’s melt in the mouth tender and shatteringly flaky. It doesn’t sog under the stress of juicy late summer fruits or gravied pot pie filling. It makes tasty tarts as well as apple pie perfect tops.

After going through, I believe, three bags of King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose I have hit upon the following. This recipe makes a lot of dough, enough for three 9″ crusts or 4 stingy 8″ ones. It can be rolled immediately but turns into this sublimely easy to work with velvet after a day’s rest in the chiller. With that in mind, if you remember, it’s best to make it a day ahead. You can freeze the leftover in tightly wrapped disks, just thaw under refrigeration for a day before you need it.

Best of luck with your transformations of the autumn harvest into the truly divine.

Victoria’s No Fail Supreme Pie Dough of Insane Greatness (no need to be humble, right?)

This recipe has only been tested with the following ingredients and brand names. I am going to be specific because this is what has worked for me. Your mileage may vary depending on your available goods.

5 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose flour (measured by spooning in to the cup and leveling with a knife)
2 teaspoons fine grind sea salt
1 cup (1/2 pound) unsalted butter, cold (I’ve used several different butters from store brand to organic and European, it all seems to work)
1 cup (1/2 pound) Earth Balance non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening, cold (There are other brands out there, just get the hard, stick kind not the whipped stuff in a tub)
1 tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice (good results with both)
1 egg, lightly beaten

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. Cut the butter and shortening into pats and toss with the flour. Using a pastry blender (or two knives or ice cold fingers), cut the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles rolled oat meal with a few pea-sized lumps.

Crack the egg into a one-cup liquid measure and add the vinegar. Add enough water for the mixture to reach the one cup measure. Whisk together with a fork. Make a well in the flour/fat mixture and pour approximately 3/4 of the liquid in. With a fork, stir, but more accurately futz, the dry and liquid together just until it starts to clump. You are not going for smooth dough here, there should be some bits of flour in the bottom of the bowl that just don’t want to incorporate. Add enough of the remaining liquid and up to three tablespoons of additional water if necessary to get the clumping to happen.

Divide into three or four disks and refrigerate until ready to use. Again, try to make it a day ahead as the flour will have time to completely hydrate and make dealing with the dough so much easier. If it is too hard to roll let it sit on the counter for about 5 minutes to allow it to soften up enough to roll without cracking. Another rolling hint is to roll the rounds between two sheets of waxed paper or parchment paper, less cleanup and you don’t have to worry about it stubbornly sticking to the counter.



2 responses to Pie Crust to Beat the Band

  1. So, when you say Earth Balance shortening, you mean the actual shortening sticks and not the “buttery sticks”… And why do the butter/shortening combo? Will it just be a disaster with all shortening? I’m eager to try this! And for as often as I ever make pie, I’d be content to use [gasp] REAL butter!

  2. Elizabeth, the butter is for taste and because butter’s around 15% water, it contributes to flakiness by adding steam to the dough and pushing all those layers apart. I have made 100% shortening crusts when serving vegans (you have to omit the egg as well) or when I have been out of butter. The all shortening crust looks beautiful and is very tender, but isn’t nearly as flaky. Good luck with your pie.

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