Monday, November 15, 2010

Pie Crust: It Is Easy to Fear That Which We Do Not Understand

I am a big fan of Crisco when it comes to pie crust. My best pie crusts always have Crisco in them. I rarely measure anything ever (I don't even own measuring spoons. True story. Come to my house and try to find some. You won't.), so to listen to me describe how I make perfect-every-time pie crust is pretty aggravating to the first-timer, I know. But it is not hard. My young daughters can make excellent pie crust, and so can you. My recipe makes two crusts actually. One for top and one for bottom. If you are making an open-faced pie, like pumpkin or pecan, just make two pies at once. Why not? You already have the oven heated and you are already flouring your entire kitchen. Go for the bonus round, I always say. Besides, I am not sure if I know how to tell you to make only one crust at a time.

I put a pinch of sea salt in the bottom of a big bowl, then I dump on what is probably about 2 cups or so of flour. I stir it all up with my fingers, then I start scooping in towering spoonfuls of Crisco. My guess is that I use about a third of a cup, but remember that a lot of environmental factors go into pastry -- humidity, heat, needy children, barking dogs, ringing doorbells, singing kettle, whatever -- and you need to be flexible. If you put too much fat in, add a small amount of flour to make it up, or vice versa. Trust me. Cooking should be intuitive.

The recipe books will tell you that you use a pastry cutter to incorporate the Crisco into the flour, or in the absence of a pastry cutter, two forks will do. Well, I don't own a pastry cutter, and while I do have forks, I just use my fingers to mix it up, which works best for me anyway because the heat softens the Crisco a little, making it easier to work with. You want a bowlful of clumpy flour, with the clumps about the size of green peas. Once you are there, drizzle in about 7 tablespoons of very cold water. Do you know how I measure the 7 tbs. of cold water? I go to my refrigerator, which is fancy enough to dispense cold water, and press on the button as I say, slowly and out loud, "One, two, three, four, five, six, seven." Works every time, I swear. Stir the entire mess together gently, making a nice, round ball of dough. The dough should stick together enough to form into a circle shape, but it will still be pretty floury, so stop worrying. Let the dough rest in the fridge, covered in some plastic wrap or a damp baker's cloth, for about a half hour. This allows those fats that melted a little under your hot little hands to set back up again, making it easier to roll out. Easier is better.

Sprinkle a healthy amount of flour on a large cutting board, or directly onto your counter top so long as you have a smooth, clean surface to work with. Get out your rolling pin. I have a heavy, marble rolling pin that my husband bought for me our second Christmas together. It's wonderful and I love it, but I have to keep a careful eye out to make sure it doesn't roll off my counter ever, because it weighs a ton and will crack the tile from that height, I'm sure. It's marble because marble stays cold and the fat solids in most any pastry dough like to stay cold, but honestly, it should not take you so long to roll out a couple of pie crusts that you need to worry about whether or not your rolling pin is cold.

Anyhoo, split your cold ball of dough into two cold balls of dough and set one aside. I like to form a circle on my cutting board, flattening it with my hands and shaping as I go. Then I start rolling from the center out, and turn my rolling pin several degrees at every pass, making a radius circle as I go. This helps keep your circle more even, but stop sweating because it doesn't need to be perfect. Once it is about three inches larger than your pie pan (and yes, I actually hold my pie pan over the disc of dough to eyeball it, and so can you.), carefully lift up your dough and fold it into a half circle (just makes it easier to pick, is all) and place it in your pan. Tuck it gently into the sides and there you have it -- pie crust! Repeat with your second ball of dough and presto whammo! Two pie crusts! Fill with something marvelous and bake.


  1. Did you watch Julia and Julia ? You look like them : an artist in her workshop !

  2. I do practically the same thing, but now roll it out between saran wrap..easy to transport and I put the other wrapped ball in the fridge while I roll the first.I learned from an ex mother in law and still use many of the things she taught me.