Flaky, flavorful, and mostly held together when you place it in the pan. That’s the almost perfect pie crust.
It’s become intimidating to many holiday hosts to make their own crusts and live up to those before them, who seemed to serve up the perfect pie with a few twists and turns of the rolling pin. And it’s gotten way too easy to buy the crusts already made.
Homemade always tastes better, and gives you bragging rights. Unless in the process, you use the rolling pin more to beat the countertop or your own forehead. We’ll let you stick with your favorite, handed-down recipe or try this recipe online, and we’ll try to make the process less painful and the pie crust nearly perfect with these tips:
Less is best. When it comes to handling and working your crust, less is best. That goes for mixing too. Don’t overmix your ingredients, but do incorporate all of the fat (shortening or butter) so that you have that sand or cornmeal look before adding liquids.
- Keep it cool. Yes, that means you! But mostly, it refers to the fat, water and dough in your crust. Your fat should be chilled and stay chilled while mixing. Some pie chefs say the colder the better, and that when using a food processor, you can even freeze your chopped-up butter or shortening, shredding the frozen butter with a cheese grater as you mix it in. Most recipes call for chilling the dough before rolling it out. Don’t skip that step.
- Choose your fat. The decision whether to use butter, shortening (or pure lard as your grandmother might have) is a personal preference. All-butter crusts may puff more and have more flavor, but many recipes call for a little bit of butter and shortening.
- Use a pastry cloth when rolling out your dough. This might be another secret that helped make perfect pies land on your grandmother’s Thanksgiving table. The cloth helps prevent sticking on the work surface. Some have guides to help you know when you’ve reached your pie pan’s size. Many also come with a rolling pin cover to prevent the crust from sticking to its surface.
- Better baking tools. Glass Pyrex pans cook more evenly than metal ones, and should give you a better crust. If you have to cook your pie a long time, the edges of the crust can burn. Covering them with tin foil is easy. Just cut a long strip, about 25 inches long, and fold it down. Fasten its ends together using something that won’t burn, such as a paper clip. About halfway through baking time, slip it carefully over the pie and gently fold down the edges.
- Mind the weather. Or altitude, or maybe someone walking by in the kitchen while you roll out the dough. It’s not that pie crusts are persnickety, but… At high altitude, you probably need to increase the amount of water called for in the recipe. The same goes for drier climates. Of course, if it’s way more humid than usual, cut the water a little. And if the temperature outside or in your kitchen is hotter than about 60 degrees, your pie crust may get too warm in record time and not work as it should.
Finally, don’t expect perfection. Your guests have been there. As long as you can salvage enough crust to hold whatever goodness goes inside and rim enough of the pan, you’re probably going to have a tasty pie. If you want it to look perfect, practice a few times before your holiday pie-making. You’re sure to find friendly taste-testers.