Where I come from, pie crust is serious business, and none was quite so delicious as my Grandma’s — though I believe my mother is pretty much her equal. Great pie crust seems hard to come by, and many home cooks are intimidated to try it themselves, but I’m convinced the secret boils down to two things: a tried-and-true recipe and a little confidence.
For years, I’ve been using the “Never-Fail Pie Crust” recipe from Out of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens, and it truly never fails me. In fact, everyone always raves about my crust, so I’ve never felt the need to branch out. I’ve adapted the recipe below and want to show you just how easy it is to make. Summer and fall are pie-making seasons, so never mind living up to your grandmother’s reputation (or anyone else’s) — just grab that flour, believe in yourself, and make it happen!
Note: While I use a lot of alternative flours in my cooking these days, this is a standard pie crust recipe, so I recommend using unbleached white flour or substituting half whole wheat. This tends to make enough for one double-crust pie plus a single shell, depending on the size of your pie plate. You can double the recipe easily, and the dough freezes well. I use this for galettes and any pie-like concoction that calls for a standard crust.
Alrighty: With my trusty helpers at hand to help me show you how it’s done, let’s get started…
First, get everything ready. Here’s what you’ll need:
- rolling pin
- measuring cups and spoons
- pastry cutter (or two blunt knives)
- sifter (or fine mesh strainer)
- large mixing bowl
- pie plate
- 2 1/2 cups flour
- 1/2 Tbsp salt
- 1/2 Tbsp sugar
- 1/2 lb (approx 8 oz) shortening or lard, cool or at room temperature
- 1 small egg
- about 1/2 cup water
Use a sifter or fine-mesh strainer to sift the dry ingredients together into a large mixing bowl.
Using your pastry cutter (or two dinner knives), cut in the shortening (I use lard straight from a farmer a lot) until the mixture is coarse and crumbly. Here’s how it should look:
Break the egg into a liquid measuring cup and beat with a fork. Add water to raise the liquid to the 3/4 cup mark and beat again to combine. Next, make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in 1/2 cup of the egg mixture, mixing lightly with a fork and tossing flour in from the sides as you go until it’s mixed in:
Knead the dough a couple of times until it comes together in a nice ball, then wrap tightly in saran wrap and keep in the fridge until ready to use.
To use the dough: For a double-crust pie, cut the dough into three equal pieces (and set one aside). Form the dough into a ball, or thereabouts:
On a floured surface, roll out one dough ball into a round disk about 1/4″ thick. Keep plenty of flour under it and on your rolling pin so it won’t stick. (If you give the dough a quarter turn after every roll, that will help keep the dough loose, too.)
Do your best to make it nice and round, then lift it gently from the surface and lay it evenly over your pie plate. To transfer your dough without tears, try one of these tricks: Gently fold the dough in quarters, then place the “point” in the center of your pie plate and unfold; or, gently lift one side of the dough, drape it over your rolling pin, then slowly lift the rest of your dough (keeping the pin in the middle) and lay it in the center of your plate.
Here’s how it looks when my mother makes it:
My own pie crust never looks this great, so don’t worry: If your crust isn’t perfectly round, or if it hangs unevenly over the edges, just trim it. If any holes appear, plug them up with extra dough from your trimmings.
Roll out your top piece of pie dough the same way. After filling your pie, place your second layer on top and trim the edges of the pie with scissors or a knife. Then take a fork and press it gently against the edges all the way around to seal the pie crust together (you can also pinch it with your fingers to create a rounder, lovelier-looking crust). Don’t forget to make a few venting slits.
If you like, brush the top with the remaining egg mixture before placing it in the oven (it’ll make a glossy, beautiful crust), then bake according to your pie’s instructions. (Depending on the pie, I usually bake mine at 375 for 40-45 minutes, or until it starts to brown.)
Do you have a favorite recipe for pie dough? Are you intimidated by pie crust, or is it second nature for you?
This is the second installment of SlowMama’s “The Basics,” a new series of how-to posts designed to help you be a better, more self-sufficient cook, hostess, seamstress, carpenter, homemaker…you name it. If there’s a basic skill you’ve always wanted to learn, let us know!
Images: Zoe Saint-Paul