It's a cinch to bake down-home pies just like Grandma's—once you know the fundamentals. And with the tips and recipes found here (like Blackberry Cheese Pie shown at right), you'll be blue-ribbon-bound in no time.
A golden crust made up of thin crisp layers is the hallmark of a perfect pie. Flaky crusts like that deliver so much appeal, it's hard to believe they come together with just three basic components—flour, fat and cold water.
Flour forms the bulk of a pastry crust, and all-purpose flour is the variety most often recommended. Most bakers add salt to the flour, and many personalize the dough by also mixing in cinnamon or nutmeg. For savory pies like quiches, some even add herbs or a dash of chili powder to the flour.
Fat, such as shortening or butter, is responsible for forming the crust's flaky layers. When the flour and fat are properly combined, small pieces of fat remain solid. During baking, these bits of fat eventually melt, leaving spaces within the dough. As the spaces fill with steam, they expand and separate the dough into melt-in-your-mouth layers.
Because shortening remains firm at warmer temperatures, it is a popular choice for pie pastry. Pastry made with butter or vegetable oil is tasty, but it is typically not as flaky as pastry made with shortening. Butter-flavored shortening is a good compromise because it produces a nicely flavored crust that is flaky, too.
Margarine, on the other hand, is not recommended when making pie crust. Because many brands have a high water content, they can make the crust tough.
Liquid is the third ingredient required for pie pastry. It makes the dough pliable. Ice water is commonly used, but some bakers like to experiment with cold sour cream, eggs or cream cheese. Whatever the liquid, it must be very cold to help keep the fat solid for as long as possible.
Pie Preparation Pointers
The steps highlighted in the series of photos below demonstrate how easy it is to make a double-crust pie using the pastry recipe that appears on the opposite page. When preparing pie pastry, be sure to remember the following:
- Do not overmix the ingredients because doing so can make the crust tough. Cut the shortening into the flour just until crumbly. When adding liquid, toss with a fork just until moistened.
- Handle the dough as little as possible. Heat from your hands can melt the shortening too soon, also causing a tough texture.
- Pastry dough that's been chilled is easier to roll out than room-temperature dough. That's why many bakers wrap and refrigerate their dough for 30 minutes before rolling it out. Pie dough can be wrapped and stored in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
- Roll the dough from the center outward. Use just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking to the rolling pin and work surface. The less flour you use, the flakier the crust will be.
- Sometimes, the bottom crust must be prebaked to prevent it from becoming soggy from the filling. In this case, you may be instructed to prick the pastry with a fork or line the crust with foil and bake it before the filling is added. If the filling is to be added to an unbaked bottom crust, don't prick the crust.
- The recipe may instruct you to cover the edges of the crust with foil. Since the edges brown the fastest, the foil prevents overbrowning.
Combine the flour and salt. With a pastry blender, cut in the shortening just until the crumbs are the size of peas.
Sprinkle a tablespoon of cold water over mixture; combine with a fork. Repeat until dough just holds together.
Divide dough in two, with one portion slightly larger than the other. Shape the halves into balls; flatten larger ball into a circle.
Roll the circle so it's 1/8 inch thick and 2 inches wider than the pie plate. Roll dough onto rolling pin and ease pastry onto plate. Trim dough to plate's edge.
Roll second ball into a circle 1/8 inch thick. Position over filling. Cut slits in pastry. Trim to 1 inch beyond plate's edge. Fold edge of top crust over bottom.
To flute the edges, place one thumb on the inside of the crust and your other thumb and index finger on the outside. Press dough together to seal.
Keeping a pie crust in the freezer makes it a snap to surprise your family with a homemade dessert.
Simply prepare pastry according to the recipe's instructions. Roll it out and transfer to a pie plate, then place in a heavy-duty resealable storage bag. If the pastry was made with shortening, it can be stored in the freezer for 2 to 3 months.
When you're in the mood to bake a pie, thaw the pastry in the refrigerator. Then simply fill the pie and bake as the recipe directs.
In this Story
- Double- or Single-Crust Pie
- Pie Recipes