Monday, June 17, 2013

perfect pie crust

A couple summers ago at a family reunion, my sweet Aunt Candice, who came all the way from Ohio, took a slice of a pie that I brought.. probably apple or strawberry rhubarb, if I had to guess. She ate that piece of pie with such delight that she sought me out to compliment me on my baking skills.
She said something like "Janell, that pie crust was delicious. I don't usually eat the end crust but yours was great. I can tell a homemade crust when I taste one and you definitely got your baking skills from grandma."

My dad was standing beside me listening to his sister gush on about my homemade crust, not saying a word. He wasn't going to blow my cover. He knew good and well, as I did too, that that pie crust was found in the refrigerated section of our local grocery store. Aunt Candy was SO sure that it was homemade and I didn't have the heart to tell her that it was a reliable standby manufactured by the Pillsbury company.

From that moment, I've been on a quest, of sorts, to find and perfect the perfect pie crust recipe. I wanted to earn those compliments entirely on my own this time. After searching online and doing some research on what makes a pie crust work, I found the only real variations in the types of fat used. I found some recipes that used shortening, a few others that used lard, and some that used butter. I decided to try my luck with what I had most readily available in my refrigerator.. butter.

Maybe it was beginners luck, but the very first recipe I tried was a bullseye.
I filled it with strawberries and freshly cut rhubarb from the patch in my backyard. The butter crust complimented it so well that I would call that pie the BEST pie I've ever crafted.. And that's saying something because I've been making pies, albeit with store bought crusts, for a long time.

Here's the simple, foolproof recipe I used for the most tender, flavorful, delicate pie crust I've tasted:

2 1/4 c. all purpose flour
3 t. salt
2 t. white sugar
2 sticks cold unsalted butter; cut into 1/4" pieces
1/2 c. strained ice water, plus 2-3 T

Equipment needed:
large mixing bowl
your hands
plastic wrap

This recipe makes two 9" pie crusts.
Pour all of the dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Mix lightly with your hands. Cut the butter into 1/4" pieces, put into fridge to chill for a few minutes if its gotten soft. Scatter butter pieces over your dry ingredients. Combine dry ingredients with the butter chunks by pinching each piece of butter in the dry ingredients. Do not break the pieces of butter up, just pinch them. As you are working, keep bringing the ingredients up from the bottom of the bowl, to make sure that you aren't stuck with a lot of left over dry ingredients with no butter at the bottom. Strain the ice water as your pour it into the bowl through a slotted spoon so you don't end up with ice in the crust. Start with a 1/4 c of ice water, poured around the outside edge of your ingredients. Take your fork and push the ingredients around, from the outside in to incorporate the water. Now add 1/4 c of water again and do the same thing. If its humid, you may only need 1T more of ice water. You know you've added enough water when you can squeeze the contents of the bowl together gently and the center of the ball holds together and its not a crumbly, dusty mess. Separate the dough into two equally sized discs. Wrap each one in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes before using. Follow directions of your favorite pie recipe and enjoy.

So the next time Aunt Candice compliments my pie, which happened to be yesterday, I took that praise with a sense of pride and accomplishment.


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