As mentioned in the first of the Pie Baking series, late fall seems to bring out the pie baking instinct in many. In the first blog of the series, I shared the “basic three” ingredients and equipment needed to form the foundation of the pie, the pie crust. In this blog, the second of the series, I’ll continue with tips from my mother-in-law on making the crust. Aprons on, let’s get to mixing, rolling, and forming!
On to Pie Crust Perfection!
Temperature – Keep It Cold. It is most important that the fat and water be cold. Butter and shortening can be used right out of the refrigerator. Other fats should be chilled for at least 15 minutes before using. Add ice cubes to water to get it as cold as possible but do not mix ice cubes into your dough. (Some like to put the flour, bowl, and rolling pin in the fridge or freezer to get them cold, too.)
Mixing the Dough – Less is More – It’s All in the Feel. Put the solid fat into the dry ingredients in chunks. Use your fingers (not hands) to press the fat into the dry ingredients so that the small fat pieces are flattened and well incorporated into the flour. Once the fat and dry ingredients are combined, gradually add ice water in small amounts to just moisten the flour with your fingers. Once the dough appears “shaggy” (holds together when squeezed but not sticky or crumbly), form into a disc (a slightly flattened ball) or divide the dough if the recipe is for more than one crust and form discs. A disc may be used right away or wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for 30 minutes. Letting the dough rest allows the gluten to relax and gives the flour time to absorb the water evenly usually making it easier to handle. (If refrigerated for longer than 30 minutes, a brief warm up period may be needed before rolling out the dough.) When making a double crust pie, chilling one round while rolling out the other is always a good option. (A pastry blend, mixer, or food processor can be used to mix the dough, too.)
Rolling Out the Dough – Work Quickly to Keep Dough from Getting Warm. Always roll out dough on a lightly floured, clean surface. Wax paper or parchment paper are options but tend to slide around. A chilled surface is ideal for those that have them. Starting with a disc, use steady pressure on the rolling pin, rolling from the center outward. To maintain a circular shape, rotate the dough a quarter turn and repeat or rotate the rolling direction. If the dough sticks to the surface, throw a little flour under the dough and keep going until the desired shape, size (1-2 inches larger than the pie plate) and thickness (1/8th-1/16th-inch) are reached. Cooks Illustrated has a three-step method for rolling pie dough into a perfect circle.
Moving the Dough to the Pie Plate – Easy Does It. Getting the rolled dough into the pie plate can be done by any method that works for you. Some options: 1) Carefully fold the dough in half (or fourths), pick up and lay into the pie pan and unfold. 2) If rolled on waxed or parchment paper, place the pie plate upside down centered on the dough circle; place hand carefully under the paper, turn dough and pie pan right side up letting the dough sag into the pie plate as the paper is gently removed. 3) Roll dough around a floured rolling pin and unroll over the pie plate. Being careful not to stretch the dough, allow the dough to settle into the pie plate by gently pressing into place. If it cracks or tears, gently pat back together. (A fingertip of water also acts as glue to mending cracks and tears.)
Finishing the Crust – Making It Pretty. For a single crust pie, trim the overhanging dough to about one inch from the edge all the way. Turn the cut edge under to form a thick lip resting on the pie plate rim. For a double crust pie, fit the bottom crust into the pie pan leaving the overhanging dough in place. Add the filling. Lay the top crust over the filling. Trim both top and bottom overhang together to about one inch, then tuck the overhang underneath itself so the folded edge lays on the edge of the pan. Add a decorative edge of choice. For ideas check out the YouTube video, 20 Creative Pie Crimping Techniques in 120 Seconds.
A lattice top is a third option but takes a little more time and patience. Lattice top pies are created by cutting the top crust into strips before moving it to the pie, then weaving the pieces under and over across the top of the pie. Finish the edges like a double crust pie. Another option is to shingle the top of the pie by cutting shapes (hearts, rounds, diamonds, etc) from the top crust dough with a cookie cutter and placing the shapes on top of the pie filling so they overlap slightly like shingles.
Finally to give any double, lattice, or shingled crust a glossy, golden, sparkling finish, brush the top with an egg-, milk-, or cream-wash and sprinkle with granulated, decorator, or flavored sugar.
Vent – Let the Steam Out. Double crust pies need vents or small slices through the top crust to allow water vapor to escape. These can be cut before placing the top crust on the pie or after. A small cookie cutter can be used to create decorative vents before topping the pie. Lattice pies have built in vents.
If visuals are helpful in making a crust, check out Episode 1 of Iowa’s well known pie author and Pie Lady, Beth M Howard. Ms Howard offers a free YouTube series of pie lessons, Stay Calm and Bake Pie. In the episode, Ms Howard demonstrates how to make a crust for a double crust pie in nearly the same relaxed, casual fashion I remember my mother-in-law making her crusts.
The Pie Baking series will continue with filling the pie in a third blog.
2 thoughts on “Pie Baking – Crust Perfection”
One of the techniques my wife used was to cut the cold water with vodka (Grey Goose) so that it was half and half. It was information provided by Cook’s Illustrated. The alcohol apparently reacts with the flour and the result is a crust that is very flaky even after being baked with a filling in it.
For what it’s worth.
Warren, thank you for your response. As the blog says, there are many other ingredients that can be added to the basic four to enhance pie dough. According to Cooks Illustrated, the alcohol adds moistness to the dough without aiding in gluten formation, since gluten doesn’t form in alcohol. And you are correct it is a 1:1 ratio of cold vodka to cold water.