Secrets for Successful Pie Pastry

Classic pie pastry recipes are prepared with solid shortening. Lard or butter-flavored shortening can be substitutes for plain shortening if desired.

Measure ingredients accurately, using the measuring tools and techniques suggested.

Use all-purpose or pastry flour for pie crusts. Bread or cake flour will not give the desired texture to the crust.

Combine flour and salt thoroughly before adding the shortening and water.

Be sure to use ice-cold water. Before you measure out the flour and shortening, place about 1/2 cup water in a glass measuring cup and some ice cubes. This way, the water will be icy cold when you are ready to measure it out.

The key to producing a flaky crust is to avoid overmixing when adding the water to the flour and shortening mixture. Overmixing will cause the gluten in the flour to develop and the pastry to be tough.

Chill pie pastry dough for 30 minutes before rolling to make it easier to handle.

Pie pastry can be made 1 or 2 days before using. Shape it into a flat disk and wrap the dough in plastic wrap. Store it in the refrigerator until ready to use.

A floured surface is essential to prevent sticking when rolling out pastry. A pastry cloth and rolling pin cover are good investments - they will keep the pastry from sticking and minimize the amount of flour used. The less flour you add while rolling, the flakier and lighter the pastry will be.

Pie pastry can also be rolled out between two sheets of waxed paper. When the pastry dough is rolled out, just peel off the top sheet, invert it into the pie plate and peel off the remaining waxed paper.

Gently ease the pie pastry into the pie plate. Stretching it will cause it to shrink during baking.

Choose dull-finish aluminum or glass pie plates for crisp golden crust. Shiny pans can produce soggy crusts.

Because of the high fat content in a pastry, do not grease the pie plate unless the recipe directs.

Never prick the bottom of a pastry crust when the filling and crust are to be baked together.

Arrange the oven racks so that the pie will bake in the center of the oven.

Preheat the oven for 10-15 minutes before baking.

If the edge of the crust is browning too quickly during baking, shield the edge with a ring of foil. (See Protecting Pastry Edges from Overbrowning.)

Cool pies on a wire rack.