What do a spoonula, a large plastic bag, a spray bottle of water and parchment paper have in common? They’re all part of the arsenal when I start to make pie crust. Of course, there’s a rolling pin and pastry cutter involved, too. This messy business is one of the key steps to good pie crust. Really.
I’ve been baking a lot of pies lately. Crumb crusts, chocolate roll-out crusts (more on that one later), blind-baked crusts, double crusts. I can go from the thought of pie to a disk of dough resting in the refrigerator in under 10 minutes by now. This is the two-crust recipe I’m happiest with at the moment:
2 1/2 cups (10 5/8 ounces) Round Table Pastry Flour or King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup (2 ounces) vegetable shortening
1/2 cup (1 stick, 4 ounces) cold unsalted butter
1/2 cup plus 1 to 2 tablespoons (4 1/2 to 5 ounces) ice water
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, and salt.
Now comes the spoonula. It’s my favorite tool for getting underneath the rim of the shortening can. It’s also very good at getting the last bits of the stuff off the bottom. Normally I’m not much of a spoonula person, but there are a few things it does that no other utensil in the kitchen is quite as good at.
Cut in the shortening until it’s in lumps the size of small peas.
Here my other favorite tool goes to work: our Pastry Pro pastry cutter. Every single half-moon shaped pastry cutter I’ve ever used has been a big disappointment. I bend them all. The wire ones are the worst. This Pastry Pro thing has a flat bottom, which is blissfully ergonomic and works like a charm, even on hard, cold butter. Watch.
Dice the butter into 1/2-inch pieces, and cut into the mixture until you have flakes of butter the size of your fingernail.
When we teach people to make pie at the Baking Education Center, this is the step people have the most trouble with. Anything that you’re nervous about when it comes to food tends to be overstirred, overmanipulated, or overhandled. Trust us. More is NOT better here.
Keep things on the dry side. The reason? Too much water means too much gluten and a tough crust. Think of all the rolling and squeezing this dough is about to endure. The more you work it, the more you develop the protein in the dough. Is there anything worse than hard pie crust?
I usually make a band of nascent dough the length of the parchment and about three inches wide. It’s ok if there are dry spots in the pile. Use a spray bottle of water to lightly spritz these places; that way you’ll add just enough water to bring the dough together without adding too much or creating a wet spot.
You want layers? This is how you get’em.
Divide it in half (or 55-45; I usually make the bottom crust a little bigger).You can see the layers you've built in the cut side of the dough.
Roll the disk on its edge, like a wheel, to smooth out the edges.
This step is another small thing that makes a big difference. When you start with even edges, your dough will roll out evenly, without a lot of cracks and splits. How many repairs have you had to make before having a big enough circle to line your pie pan in the past?
Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes before rolling.
Another little step that makes a big difference. This rest does a lot of good things for your dough. The water in it gets more evenly distributed. The gluten gets to relax. And the fats in the dough firm up, which makes things flakier.
Time to roll.
This is where the plastic bag comes in. Mom taught me to roll pie crust between two layers of waxed paper, which I did for years, despite the wrinkles that inevitably occurred. When I moved into the professional food world, I discovered parchment paper, which had a little more body and didn’t give the dough a wedgie as I rolled it. One day, in the old test kitchen 5 years ago, the temperature was over 85°, and I had to roll some very soft dough. The only way I had a prayer of getting it to work was to slit one of our all-purpose bread bags up the side and across the top, and put that over the dough.
Magic. I could see where I was going, I could reposition the plastic without tearing the dough, and best of all, the rolling pin stayed clean as a whistle. I’ve been rolling dough this way ever since.
How big? A 9-inch pie pan needs a 13-inch circle of dough. Of course, you can just put your pan upside down over the dough as you roll it. If you have an even inch of dough showing around the top, you’re there.
Spray your pie pan, lightly. This will make getting the slices of pie out a little easier later.
Make sure the dough is fitted down into the pan, not stretched or hanging in midair before you add the filling.
Now for the tragic conclusion of the story. The pie was in the oven, baking nicely, and had another 15 minutes to go, when I foolishly forgot to bring a timer with me to a meeting. This is what happens when you bake a strawberry pie for 2 hours and 15 minutes.
Strangely enough, the filling still got rave reviews!