Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Elusive Perfect Pie Crust

Thanksgiving is coming fast and I'm sure that like me most of you are probably planning on making a few pies.  I would like to take this opportunity to encourage you to RESIST the urge to use store-bought pie crust and try your hand at making your own.  I know what you're thinking.  "It's too hard...it's too time consuming."  Well I'm here to tell you that with a little patience and planning, its not.  And the results are well worth it!  Just one taste of a flaky, buttery homemade crust and you will be sold.  You will never again go back to store bought crust. 

Picture perfect pies with decorative crusts can be challenging.  I'm still perfecting my technique.  But please give homemade pie crust a try.  I promise you won't be sorry.

A few tips I've picked up about making pie crust:
1.  Keep things cold.  The colder the ingredients, the better.  Keep the butter in the refrigerator until the last possible second.  Some cooks also suggest cooling the flour in the refrigerator beforehand as well.  Some even go so far as to say you should refrigerate the kitchen utensils you are going to make it with beforehand. 
2.  Try not to touch it very much.  The littlest contact you have with the dough itself the better.  The warmth and oils of your hands can alter the very delicate balance of your pie crust

The Recipe

The recipe I use for pie crust is Martha Stewart's Pate Brisee found here.

Step 1: After chilling and assembling all of the ingredients, add the flour, sugar, and salt to the food processor and pulse to combine


Step 2: Cut the butter sticks into smaller (approximately 1 Tbsp) pieces and add to the food processor.  Pulse to combine so that the dough becomes coarse and crumbly.  Make sure there are no remaining large clumps of butter

Step 3: Slowly add the water, tablespoon by tablespoon through the feed tube of the food processor as you pulse the mixture.  Stop adding the water when the dough just comes together.  In other words, you don't want it very sticky or wet.  Just enough that it will hold together


Step 4: Once you have your dough formed, remove it from the food processor and divide in half.  This is a lot easier if you have a kitchen scale and can get it exactly in half.


Step 5: Form each half of the dough into a small disc and cover with plastic wrap.  Then chill the dough in the refrigerator for a few hours before using

This recipe makes enough for one double crusted pie or two open crust pies.  The dough discs will keep up to a few days in the refrigerator or a few months in the freezer.  This way you can make your pie crusts up ahead of time.  Usually when the holidays start getting close, I have a 'pie crust day' where I make up a bunch of pie crusts and then freeze them so that any time I want to make a pie I just pull the crust out and thaw.

The hardest part about homemade pie crust is rolling it out.  After you pull your dough disc out of the refrigerator, you'll need to unwrap it and let it sit out a few minutes so that it warms up just enough to roll.  If you try to roll it when its too cold, it will crack.  Next, you will have to actually roll the dough out into a circle.  The easiest way I have found to do this is to roll it out on a sheet of floured parchment paper.  Putting it on the parchment paper allows you to easily turn the dough (by turning the parchment paper) as you roll so that you can get it in a nice even circle. 


To get a nice even circle, roll, then turn the paper slightly, roll, then turn the paper slightly and repeat until your crust is about 1/8 inch thickness.  This should be enough to form a crust for a standard 9 inch pie pan. 



If you are making an opened face pie, like your standard pumpkin pie, then horaay you are done!  If you are making a double crusted pie, then you have to repeat the process with the other disc.  You can then just place the rolled out dough on top, cut a few vent holes and be done.  OR...you can get a little more fancy.  You can use cookie cutters to cut out cute shapes to top the pie with.  Below are some fall leaves I cut out to place on top of a Thanksgiving pie.  (this can be done in advance too)!


Below is a picture of a double crusted blackberry-apple pie I made.  I used a pumpkin cookie cutter to cut out pumpkins and arranged them over the top.  Note also the adorable pie bird in the middle...



So when it comes to pie crust...you can't go wrong with homemade.  Your guests will be ranting and raving about the flakiness.  Try it!  So easy...even a domestically inept person can do it!

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