Sunday, July 8, 2012

I Make The Best Pie Crust...There, I Said It!




Originally Posted January 17, 2009

Pie Crust is as American as Pie Crust.  Sure, we have all had those fancy, smancy French tarts that require you to contort your face and clear your throats to properly pronounce.  We have all enjoyed all the bizarre variations that have appeared over the years.  Whole wheat, freeform, schmeeform...it is all a load of mullarky ! Thats right !  I SAID MULLARKY !!!  DO SOMETHING !!!

Phew...I have got to go back to half-caf coffee !!!  Now where was I ?  Pie Crust, yes, PIE CRUST !!! Happy thoughts, yes, happy thoughts.

I make the best pie crust, and so shall you.  Yes you shall !

Okay, so what do I know about Pie Crust ?  I know that some of it is really bad, and perhaps you have had some bad pie crust.  You know the kind I mean.  Soggy on the bottom.  Hard, tough, chewy.  Name your poison here.  I also know that some of it is great.  That is the kind usually made by a toothless grandma in a log cabin smoking a corncob pipe.  Yup !  Granny could whip up a pie crust and castrate a wild boar without breaking a sweat.

Not my Granny, however.  Not my Mother, Cousins, Brothers, Uncles, Aunts, or any of their cooking friends.  Not most of the people I had ever met.  Where did they fail ?  Why no Pie Crust joy for me and my brood ?

I will tell you why...shortening and margarine is why.

Back in the day, when most of America was farmland, the reigning kings of the fat kingdom were lard and butter.  Good old pig fat and cow fat.  They still rule, but it took years of clogged arteries to bring them back.  Clogged arteries and deplorable pie crust, that is.

You see, dear reader, the general consensus when I was growing up was that margarine and hydrogenated vegetable shortening were healthy.  Yes, we all knew that the lard and butter tasted better, but it was surely going to kill us if we even thought of eating it.  Butter was eaten only on special occasions, and lard was treated with the same disdain as Agent Orange.

Then we all discovered that margarine and vegetable shortening were bad for us.  Go figure !  Something made by scientists and marketed by large corporations is bad for us.

We are a lot better about all this today.  Butter is back on top.  I am sure Dr. Atkins was at least partially responsible for this.  I owe him a debt of gratitude, even if he died with clogged arteries.  I just wanted more butter.

Lard, on the other hand, is still the proverbial weird uncle you do not want to be alone with.  It is still seen as the root of all animal fat evil.  Sure, we will eat it in the guise of smoked pork belly (aka bacon), but never as LARD.  What would the neighbors think ?

Truly, this is a shame, since you CANNOT make a perfect pie crust without butter and lard.  So go get some right now.

Butter is great because it is butter.  No need to explain.  Lard, on the other hand, is nothing short of miraculous in pie crust.  Lard is the secret.

One reason lard is so great is because it tastes better than shortening, which tastes like a cross between Vaseline and plastic.  Lard tastes good.  It also melts at a lower temperature than shortening does.  In fact, like butter, the other great animal fat, it melts on the tongue, at body temperature.  Shortening does not.  This means that shortening users never get to experience that crumble then melt in the mouth texture we get from using lard.  It may be light, and it may be flaky, but it will not melt in your mouth.

Some recipes call for oil.  This does melt in the mouth, but cannot make a flaky crust.  Flaky means crumbly and tender, and that is a good thing in a pie crust.  But how do we get these flakes ?  What is the secret to flaky pie crust ?  The answer lies in the mixing technique.

Mixing pie crust is actually very easy.  It is, in fact, easy as pie.  Thus the phrase.

Having the right ingredients is part of the equation.  The other part is how you put this all together, and this is where many fail.  Before we move onward, lets gather some ingredients.  For 2 crusts you will need the following:

Butter And Lard Pie Crust

3 cups  All-Purpose Flour
1½ teaspoon  Salt
3 Tablespoons  Granulated Sugar
------------
¾ cup (6 ozs. or 1½ stick)  Unsalted Butter , chilled and cubed
¾ cup (6 ozs.)  Lard, chilled and cubed
------------
4-5 Tbs. (~1/3 c.)  Iced Water

This crust is based on one I found elsewhere, except the original did not use lard.  Try making 2 pies, one with lard and the other with shortening.  You’ll notice the difference then, and will henceforth be a lover of lard.

The best way I have found to make a perfect pie crust is with a food processor.  Put the dry ingredients in the bowl and mix well.  Add the chunks of chilled butter and lard on top and pulse the food processor until it looks like coarse meal.  Do not overmix this, and make sure the fats are cold !  Dump this into another bowl.  It should still have large chunks of fat in it, ranging in size from the size of a pea to the size of shelled walnuts.  Add the water and mix it with a fork until it comes together.

 
Stir with a fork until it gathers together.  It should still be crumbly.










Divide this in two and dump it onto a piece of waxed or parchment paper (or plastic wrap) and flatten it to a disk, about 4-6 inches in diameter.


Divide into two piles, and dump each onto some parchment or waxed paper (or plastic wrap)










Gather the pile together gently with your hands.  DO NOT KNEAD THE DOUGH !











Wrap the dough in the parchment, waxed paper, or plastic wrap and flatten it.  Chill in the refrigerator, or freeze for later use.











Cover the disks well and let them chill until very cold.  The dough should not be wet at all.  In fact, it should be somewhat dry and crumbly and difficult to work with at this point.  As it cools in the refrigerator, the flour will absorb the water, and solidify.  You do not want to knead this at all.  Kneading this will form gluten, which is the enemy of pie crust.  Gluten makes a pie crust very tough.

You can also freeze these disks of pie crust for a very long time.  I am not really sure how long, but I know I have gone a year (hey, it got buried in the freezer) and the crust was perfectly fine.  Just make sure it is tightly wrapped.

Once your crust is very cold, it is time to roll.  Flour your work surface and take out the crust.  Place it on the flour and roll it gently from the center outward.  Roll it a bit larger than the pie tin you will be using.  If you made this correctly, you will see the chunks of fat in the dough, and as you roll the dough these will flatten, and THAT IS WHAT MAKES THE FLAKES.  You cannot do this with oil.  Nope !

Gently press this into your pie tin, and proceed with your pie of choice.  If you want to bake this “blind” (empty),  chill the finished crust in the pie tin and then poke holes in the bottom with a fork.  Place some baking parchment paper or foil inside the crust and add some beens or rice to weigh down the crust. Bake this at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for approximately 15 minutes.  Let the crust cool and remove the beans or rice.  Bake the crust again for another 10 minutes, or until a nice golden brown.  If you bake the crust without the beans or rice in it, the crust may shrink while it bakes.  If you bake the crust completely with the beans or rice in it, then the inside of the crust will not bake.

Remember, when baking a pie where the filling is cooked in the crust, set the oven rack low and start with a high temperature (around 400 Fahrenheit) and then turn the temperature down after about 10-15 minutes.  This will assure the bottom crust does not end up raw and soggy.  A metal pie pan is better than glass for insuring a properly cooked crust.  Glass pie pans take too long to transfer heat to the crust, and the pie top sometimes gets overdone while the bottom crust stays raw.  Glass pie pans are okay for baking blind crusts, because you can just bake it longer to get it done.  Foil pie pans are great, but do not look as nice.  I like to flip my pies out of the foil for serving, and the foil pans can be washed and reused.  Hey !  Every penny counts these days.

A blind baked crust can be filled with pastry cream and bananas for a delicious banana cream pie...one of my personal favorites.



This, my dear friends, is what a good pie crust is all about.

Enjoy in good health !

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