What is the secret to a good pie crust? Most cooks who make pie crusts on a regular basis all have their answers to this question. Some swear by shortening in the mix, others by lard. Some say to sift the flour first, while others don’t. Is there one best way to make a pie crust? Aside from the method, not really.
To make a good pie crust, the cook should always make sure that every ingredient and utensil is cold. Sound odd? Not really. Warmth makes the fat in the pastry bind with the gluten in the flour too quickly, so the pie crust ends up tough, not tender and flaky. So, put the bowl, fork and pastry blender into the freezer for about 20 minutes or so before making the crust. Use ice water as well. Some people keep their flour in the fridge, but the cook can always measure it out and put it in the bowl in the freezer.
A basic pie crust recipe starts with one cup of all-purpose flour, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1/3 cup of shortening, butter or lard and three tablespoons of ice water. Butter-flavored shortening is always a good choice for a pie crust. Stir the flour and salt together in a medium-sized bowl. Then, use a pastry blender to cut in the shortening until the mixture forms pea-sized pieces.
Add about one tablespoon of water to the mixture and start gently working it together into a dough. Add the water a tablespoon at a time, until the mixture nearly cleans the sides of the bowl. If more water than the original three tablespoons is necessary, add it one teaspoon at a time. Gather the dough into a ball.
If time permits, let the dough rest in the refrigerator at least one hour. Making the pie crust dough early in the day and chilling it for several hours or overnight is even better. This allows the fat to re-solidify, so the gluten will not develop as much when the pie crust is rolled out.
On a floured board, marble slab or floured wax paper, turn the dough out and flatten it with the hands into a round. Flour the rolling pin and begin rolling the pie crust into a roughly round shape, until it is about two inches (5 centimeters) larger than the pie pan. Carefully fold the dough into quarters and place it in the pie pan, with the point of the pie crust in the middle of the pan. Unfold the pie crust and gently pat it into place into the bottom and sides of the pan. Trim the crust and flute it with fingers or a fork, as desired.
Now comes another controversial question: to pre-bake or not? Again, this is often a question of personal preference. In longer baking pies, the crust will probably bake through. With shorter baking times, though, pre-baking the crust may be a good idea.
When pre-baking a pie crust, the cook should cover the edges with aluminum foil, since pre-baking, along with the main baking, may scorch the crust. The crust can be baked in a hot oven — about 425°F (218°C) for about 12 minutes or until brown. Some cooks also swear by using some kind of pie crust weights, such as beads or beans, during the pre-baking. They say this prevents the pie crust from shrinking away from the sides of the pan.
In any case, when the crust is done, the cook can fill it with chocolate cream, coconut or lemon filling, apples, berries or peaches for a delicious dessert. The filling can be made while the dough is resting, incidentally. The resulting delicious pie with a flaky crust is always worth the effort.