‘Tis the season for pies, and therefore, making pie crust. Handmade pie crust can seem daunting, but with a few simple steps and techniques, baking a successful crust is no trouble at all.
Granted, there are good quality store-bought opinions these days when we are in a pinch for time. But when you have a little time, try making up a couple of batches of pie dough to freeze.
Remember is to start with chilled ingredients. Cold butter and shortening will help create little pockets when the dough bakes, creating a flaky crust. Roll it out onto a cool, well-floured surface. Be sure to flour the rolling pin, as well. Once you have rolled the dough to the desired diameter, to easily transport it to the pie pan, roll it onto the rolling pin. Then simply roll it back off of the rolling pin over the pie pan.
Other than finding time, my biggest hurdle when preparing pie crusts is how to make the edges look uniform and neat. Here are a few options:
• Using a sharp knife or kitchen shears, cut a clean, or zigzag, edge and bake as is.
• To create a fluted edge, pinch together the edges of the dough between your thumb and forefinger horizontally, making V-shaped crimps. You can place a thumb or knuckle from your opposite hand on the inside edge of the dough to help form the shape.
• After trimming the edges of the dough to match the outer edge of the pie plate, press the outer edge of the dough in a downward motion with the tines of a fork for a pretty design.
• Press the edges of the dough with either side a small spoon to create dips, or a scalloped design.
All but the first method will work for double crusts, as well, when you are baking a pie that has a top crust. After placing the bottom crust into the pie pan and filling it, place the top piece of dough over it and fold the edges up under the bottom crust edge and press together to form a seam and crimp, as desired. You can also get fancy with the top crust and cut it into 1-inch strips to weave a lattice on top of the pie before sealing the edges. Solid tops should have a few slits cut to let the steam escape while the pie bakes.
Par-cooking a pie crust is a good idea for pies that don’t require a lot of time in the oven. You will want to put weights in the empty crust — “pie” weights are sold in kitchen stores or use dried beans that you set aside to use only for that purpose, as they will not cook well for eating. This will prevent bubbles from forming making the surface of the crust uneven. Par-cook for 10 minutes in a preheated 425-degree oven, which will allow your crust to get a head start and prevent a soggy bottom crust. Remove the weights, fill the crust and continue baking your pie at the appropriate temperature for your recipe.
Precooking a crust for a no-cook pie filling can be handled the same way as par-cooking, but you will continue to bake at 425 degrees until the crust is golden brown, approximately 25 minutes.
Other than using pie weights, another way to prevent the steam from forming bubbles in your crust is to prick the bottom surface several times with a fork. However, if you are concerned about a liquid filling that could seep through, opt for the pie weight method instead.
Keep some thin strips of foil on hand to cover the outer edges of the pie if it begins to brown more quickly than the rest of the crust so it will not over-brown.
To give your top crusts a golden, glistening look, make an egg wash by whisking together 1 egg yolk and 1 tablespoon of water or milk. Brush the crust with the mixture before baking, and bake as usual.
What to do with the leftover dough scraps? Cut them into shapes and bake on a separate pan until they turn golden brown. If you are baking a pie this fall, “leaf” shaped cookie cutters make it easy to create a pretty design to place atop your pie. Or free-handing a leaf design with a knife will also work. Apple shapes atop apple pies are super cute, as well.
However, my favorite way to use the scraps is to make them the way my grandma did for us kids. She would cut the scraps into strips and sprinkle some with salt for a savory version, and some with sugar and cinnamon and bake them for our snack. Enjoy food made fresh!
Basic Pie Crust Dough
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup cold shortening
1/3 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
7 to 8 tablespoons ice cold water
In a large bowl, mix flour and salt. Add cold chunks of shortening and the butter cubes. Combine using a pastry cutter or 2 butter knives, cutting the shortening and butter into the flour. Finish incorporating the shortening and butter into the flour with your fingertips until mixture is crumbly.
Drizzle a couple of tablespoons of the water over the flour and begin mixing the dough with a fork. Add more water a tablespoon at a time and keep mixing with the fork until the dough starts to come together. Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead for a few seconds.
Using your hands, shape the dough into a large disk. Cut the dough into 2 pieces.
If you are not using the dough right away, wrap each disk in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator. When ready to use, remove from fridge and let rest for about 30 minutes before rolling out.
The dough disk will keep in the freezer, tightly sealed in plastic wrap, for up to 3 months. Thaw at room temperature for up to a couple of hours but keep the dough cool enough to work with.
Makes crust for 2 pies or 1 double crust pie.
ANGELINA LARUE is a food writer, recipe developer and author of “The Whole Enchilada Fresh and Nutritious Southwestern Cuisine.”