more articles like this
In the Kitchen with ... Perfect Pie Crust
updated: Nov 28, 2009, 8:50 AM
By Leah Etling
This year, I was assigned to make the pumpkin pies for my family's Thanksgiving celebration.
This was a responsibility to be handled with care, for my mother and grandmother are both expert pie bakers and while I have always endeavored to follow in their footsteps. The one thing that always trips me up is the perfect crust.
I use the same recipe we always have: 2 cups flour, ¾ cup shortening, 1 teaspoon salt, 4 tablespoons water. Though I own a pastry cutter, I usually use a regular fork to disseminate the shortening into the flour and crust. Once I add the water, it starts to clump nicely.
Then comes the hard part.
It's the rolling of the crust that trips me up. I diligently flour my cutting board surface, liberally douse the rolling pin with more, and get ready to make a mess. I've always said that if you're not willing to destroy your kitchen, then making homemade piecrust is not for you. How my mother does it without getting a speck of flour on the floor is a mystery. I wish she'd passed that trick along to me.
This year, I made the mistake of attempting to make the pumpkin piecrusts while wearing my bathrobe. The sleeves would not stay pushed up. Flour was all over them, on the floor, covering the counter. I was getting very anxious and frustrated, and the heavy bathrobe was retaining all my body heat. I thought about taking it off and throwing it onto the floor, but our neighbor's apartment looks right into our kitchen. Eventually, I washed my hands and changed my clothes.
The key to getting the crust thin, unbroken, and round, seems to be nothing other than practice, confidence, and just the right combination of flour, water, and shortening. I really can't tell whether it's more important for the shortening to be perfect or the water. It's probably a combination of all three.
My other primary mistake, beyond fashion malfunction, was to add additional shortening because I felt like the crust wasn't sticking together. If this happens, the mixture usually needs a little more water. If it starts to get soggy, you know you've gone too far. Sometimes a little more flour can keep it from being ruined, but not always.
If the rolling doesn't start out well, I'm not shy about throwing the whole thing back in the bowl and starting again. This usually doesn't create any consequences over the long term. The rolling pin must be utilized with just the right tough, not pushing too hard. And continual re-flouring usually helps things go better. Ultimately, I did end up with two near-perfect piecrusts for the pumpkin pies.
Here's a pumpkin pie-filling tip: Most recipes don't call for vanilla, but adding 1 teaspoon is a nice flavor touch.
The best pie I made this year was from wild blackberries that I picked in a campground in coastal Oregon on the way back from our Western states road trip. They had a heat spell this summer and the bushes were loaded with juicy berries, being eaten only by birds and a few campers who didn't mind getting their fingers pricked in the process. These berries had so much natural sugar that I had to add only a quarter cup to the pie filling. Their extra juiciness also required elevating the flour used for thickening the filling to almost a half-cup.
I'm also a big fan of rhubarb pie, which is rarely found on the West Coast. I've noticed that it's increasingly difficult to get frozen rhubarb in Santa Barbara supermarkets (the last time I looked for it, I went all over town and eventually ended up getting it at Nielsen's in Solvang). With added sugar, the rhubarb doesn't taste like a vegetable at all. It's a nice, unusual idea to add to your holiday baking routine.
I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving. I'd love to hear some of your piecrust tips and other suggestions in the comments section.
15 comments on this article. Read/Add
# # # #