I struggled a long time to learn how to make a pie crust, but I finally came up with a recipe and method that works for me. My bugaboo had always been the admonishment in every recipe “don’t overwork the dough”. How can you know?? This method I’m going to tell you about doesn’t work it AT ALL really.
The Partisans of Crisco vs Lard vs Butter
Some people swear by Crisco. Whole swaths of the southern United States in fact. I had a lesson from my mother-in-law once, and she is famous in the family for her pies. She has a skilled hand at pastry. She, too, uses Crisco, though she is not from the south at all. But when I went to wash the stuff off of my hands, it wouldn’t come off. It wouldn’t melt or easily be dissolved by soap. I thought, “I don’t want this stuff in my body!”
Now, my grandmother (born 1899) used lard. Said it made the flakiest pastry. She made great pies. But nowadays, what with industrial meat production, you can’t really get good lard, unless you raise your own hogs. Which I have done, but no pigs are on the horizon for the foreseeable at our place right now. So I use butter. Frozen butter.
Delicious Can Be Useful, Too
And I like some wholewheat in my crust, especially for savory purposes, but even for a fruit pie, you just feel like you’re eating something nutritious when it’s got some wholewheat in it.
You can play around with the proportions of white and wheat flours, as long as you keep the ratio of flour to fat about the same. The method is the thing.
First, mix up your dry ingredients:
- 1 1/2c unbleached white flour (Bob’s Red Mill organic, to be exact)
- 1/2c wheat flour (Bob’s organic again)
- 1/2t salt
- 2t sugar
Then mix up the wet ingredients:
- 1/2c Greek yogurt
- 3/4c cold water
Put the yogurt water in the freezer to get extra cold while you continue.
Then grate 1 stick (1/2c) frozen salted butter into the bowl of flour. No doubt you could use unsalted or lard (or Crisco, if it freezes), but it needs to be frozen. That makes for a ratio of 4 parts flour to 1 part fat, not as rich as the classic 3 parts flour to 2 parts fat. Grate some in, stir to coat the butter bits with flour, grate some in, stir:
Next, dump the yogurt water into the bowl of flour all in one go and stir it with a fork. The yogurt provides a little bit of acidulation which no doubt Alton Brown could explain scientifically what it adds to pastry chemistry and mechanics. It will look like this:
It doesn’t make a ball. It’s just a mess. Don’t worry. Now dump some of the mess onto your floured pastry cloth:
Pretty sad-looking, but don’t freak. (If you don’t have a pastry cloth, you can just flour up your clean counter. A pastry cloth is a handy tool because you can lift it up and fold over the pie crust as you go.)
Generously sprinkle some flour over that and put a piece of waxed paper on top and roll out the dough. The waxed paper is an important part of the method. One of my longtime pie crust problems was the dough sticking to the rolling pin. And if you don’t have a rolling pin, a straight-sided wine bottle with cold water in it works fine, too.
You may need to uncover it and fold the dough over on itself a few times. Don’t be afraid to sprinkle more flour on it — wherever it sticks to the waxed paper is exposed butter. Each shaving of butter should become a flake of pastry, theoretically. Thus sprinkling more flour on it (or under it) if it sticks to the waxed paper, is just creating another flake. And pretty fast, it will look like PIE DOUGH!
I’m not saying it is as light and crumbly (“short”) as some pastry, but then with the wholewheat in there, it’s more of a hearty crust anyway. But it is quite serviceable!
Put it back in the fridge while you roll out the top crust. Then put in your raw filling:
(This is cut up apples with raisins, cinnamon, sugar and a little flour to thicken. You’re on your own there — this is just about making the pie crust.) After you top it and trim it, pop it in the oven.
I usually have the oven preheated to 400F, and bake for 10 minutes, then lower the heat to 350F. Bake until bubbling, about 40 minutes. If it’s bubbling, it’s done.
Looks great, doesn’t it? (It was!) Useful and delicious!
The main points of the method are:
- Use frozen butter. Grate it.
- Use some yogurt in your liquid.
- Flour generously as you go.
- Use waxed paper as a top sheet so the dough doesn’t stick to the rolling pin.
- If I can do it, you can do it.
Now go forth and bake pie!