The Perfect Pie Crust (every time!)

HamBonesCookingTechniques

The Perfect Pie Crust

There is nothing better in eating than a terrific pie crust on a chicken pot pie; or an apple pie; or a wonderful custard pie.  I have friends who much prefer cake to pie because they don’t like eating a pie with a bit of a wet, soggy bottom crust.  Well, guess what – neither do I; and a bottom crust need not be wet and soggy!  I, especially love a good custard pie be it potato, coconut, lemon, etc.  The way I make sure I have a nice crust that’s flaky and dry is to pre-bake!  However, pre-baking will not correct incorrect ingredients or flaws in technique!

The pie crust was one of the most difficult lessons to learn because I had difficulty with “looking like peas”!  But, I could and still can visualize “rough” and “coarse” and “lumps”!

The pie crust recipe below is the one that I use for almost any kind of dish that I make that call for a crust.  I have three versions of it, which illustrates its flexibility!  It’s just flour, shortening, water and vinegar (i.e., flexible with sugar)!  I don’t waste a good egg on a pie crust! I don’t use good cream cheese on a pie crust! I don’t use up good milk on a pie crust!  Just flour, shortening, water and vinegar–perfection every time!

Let’s stop talking – let’s get to the kitchen and make a crust!  Now, I want y’all to use my recipe and follow my instructions!  This recipe is from my Aunt Emma T, and taught to me by Bunch (my mom)!

(You can read the wonderful story about these two amazing cooks and see this recipe in volume one of the series, “Ham Bones: Memoirs of a Southern Cook”!)

Perfectly Flaky Pie Crust

(Not just sometimes, but EVERYTIME!!!)

There are some basic tricks to a perfect pie crust –

  • the first and most fundamental – all ingredients need to be icy cold! So, here is what I do just as routine:  I keep a pint-size Mason or Ball canning jar with ½ water and ½ pure white vinegar in my refrigerator (at all times), so that I can make a pie crust on the spur of a moment! Once I cut up my shortening/butter pieces, I put it in the freezer for 10-15 minutes. 
  • the second being the technique of adding the liquid to the dry, and I’ve given a bit of comical details in the instructions below. 
  • the third – I’m old fashion, I do NOT use a food processor to make pie crust. I use a pastry cutter (a knife and fork can be substituted for a pastry cutter) and my fingers!!! 
  • I use one of my stainless steel bowls. Of course, I’ve had it in the freezer for 30 minutes before I begin to make a pie crust!

So, let’s do this y’all!

I make three different pie crust (i.e., plain, savory, sweet)!  And, of course, with many different additions of spices, the list could go on and on (i.e., cinnamon, etc.)!

As your base for a –

PLAIN PIE CRUST (for meat pot pies and the like and dessert pies when you don’t want a sweet crust)

4 CUPS plain flour

1 ½ cups solid vegetable shortening

water/vinegar mixture as needed

SWEET DESSERT PIE CRUST (for dessert pies when you  want a sweet crust)

4 CUPS plain flour

½ cup 10X powdered sugar

1 cup solid vegetable shortening

½ cup unsalted butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

water/vinegar mixture as needed

[SAVORY] PIE CRUST (for meat and/or vegetables when you  want a sweet crust)

4 CUPS plain flour

1 cup solid vegetable shortening

½ cup unsalted butter

1 teaspoon each salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, ground thyme extract

water/vinegar mixture as needed

Preparation instructions:

  1. Take your stainless bowl out of the freezer
  1. Add the dry ingredients, and using a hand whisk, blend all dry ingredients (no blending required for a plain pie crust)
  1. Cut your shortening ingredients (solid vegetable shortening and/or butter) into cubes
  1. Using a pastry blender (or a knife and fork), cut shortening into dry ingredients.

Hint:  The trick here is do NOT cut the shortening in too fine!  You really WANT TO SEE LUMPS of shortening still remaining in the blended flour.  Lumps should be about the size of sweet peas (i.e., English peas) as my mother would say!  I like to say the flour should now look a bit coarse and rough as a result of the lumps!!!  Visualization your choice!!!

  1. Using only a TABLESPOON at the time, add your water/vinegar mixture! Now, take you hand and mash the liquid into the flour mixture!

Hint:  First time, it’s going to still be very dry.  Now, add the second tablespoon of liquid and repeat the finger-to-blend step!  NOW STOP! 

Take a look/see at your crust – it should just BARELY come together.  Should be crumbly just a tad!

IF it will not come together at all, a third tablespoon is required.

IF YOU HAVE ADDED MORE THAN A TABLESPOON at the time and your crust comes together like a biscuit dough, you are NOT going to have a nice flaky crust.

The difference between a pie crust dough and a biscuit dough –

You want your pie crust dough to be like a DRY “play putty” (that kids use), that when you roll it out, you want to be able to see the large pieces of shortening in the crust!  It should not roll out to easy–it should be just a tad bit stiff!

You want your biscuit dough, on the other hand, to come together well, be pliable a bit that it will stay together when rolled out for cutting into biscuits!

  1. Now, for the technique of rolling out your dough! If you do not have a large marble slab (which I do not!!!!!), I form my dough into two balls, wrap in wax paper and put it back in the freezer for 5 minutes or so to get cold again.
  1. To roll out my dough, I put down a sheet of wax paper on my counter, lay dough on top, and a second sheet of wax paper on top the dough. Using my rolling pin, I hit the dough a couple time to give myself an indention in the dough to get started with the rolling process.

Starting at the center of the dough, I roll to the desired size and shape such that I can lift from the bottom wax paper and flip the dough into my pie plate!  Now, I must say I use the wax paper so that I don’t have to dust my counter with flour.  It’s the one instruction from Aunt Emma T and Bunch that I don’t necessarily follow:  They dusted their counter with a bit of flour!)

But, all in all – Boys and girls, follow this technique and you’re gonna get a perfect pie crust EVERY single TIME!!!!

All best wishes; enjoy,

Joe

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