Homemade pie is an ideal end to your upcoming holiday feast. My favorites are sour cherry and sweet potato (um, separately, not together), and I love taking a gorgeous pie out of the oven and thinking, I made that! But pie crust can be tricky. I've only been making pies for a few years, and my early results yielded mixed results. More often than not, my crusts ended up tough and unyielding.
Fortunately, I started working at a local kitchen shop that teaches cooking classes, and I observed a class on short pastry, which includes pie crusts, where I learned exactly how to fix my pie crust dilemma. Once you learn how pie crust works, a few simple tips will help you produce perfect pie crusts for your Thanksgiving feast.
1. Hot oven, cold dough.
This mantra is drilled into my brain because it is the most important thing to remember when making pies. You want your oven completely up to temperature before you put your pie in, and the dough should be as cold as possible. Why? A crust's flakiness comes from pockets of fat. As the fat melts in the oven, its moisture creates steam pockets that create the layers of flakiness. The firmer the butter, and hotter the oven, the bigger and better the steam pocket will be. Make sense? I chill my dough before and after rolling it out to get it as cold as possible.
2. Butter is better ... sort of.
Normally, I love using butter in any type of pastry because it can do no wrong when it comes to creating mouth-watering flavor. However, butter does not produce the flaky, tender crust that is a hallmark of American pies. Therefore, in order to get the perfect combination of texture and taste, I prefer using half butter and half shortening such as Crisco in my pie crust.
3. Handle the dough as little as possible.
This all goes with the cold dough principle. The more you handle the dough, the greater the likelihood the butter will melt into the dough. Ideally, you can use a food processor on pulse, but it's unnecessary if you have a pastry cutter, which is what I use. I find this inexpensive tool invaluable, because I also use it for biscuits and it's a game changer as far as any short pastry is concerned. You can also find pastry cutters with little appendages that crimp your pie dough, if you like to make tasty pies that are also pretty. In any event, cut in the dough until the largest pieces of fat are pea-sized. When you eventually roll out the dough, use as few rolling strokes as possible
4. Use ice-cold water.
Most recipes call for ice water in pie dough, and this is crucial because of the cold dough principle I mentioned above. The easiest way to do this is to use a gravy separator filled with water and ice, if you have one, but regular old water from a glass of ice water is fine.
5. Keep dough dry, not wet.
When adding water to your flour/fat mixture, err on the side of drier dough. There should be bits of flour sticking to your mixing bowl. If you pinch a bit of the dough together and it holds, you're good. More than likely, your filling is going to be quite moist. This, in addition to wet dough, means a soggy pie.
What are your tips for baking a great pie? What pies are must-haves on your holiday table?
Image via benimoto/Flickr