For everyone that says they can’t tell the difference between a Pillsbury ready crust and a freshly made at home pie crust, I invite you to experience one of my Perfect Pie Crust classes. There is not a doubt in my mind that you will be convinced. There is no better time than Thanksgiving to make an honest to goodness pie crust. The debate rages on regarding the fat that makes a pie crust perfect. I have my opinion, but if you ask my dear friend Jim Fiedler of Fiedler Family Farms, he is certain to have another.
Jim swears by lard for the perfect pie crust. So much so that Jim has gifted me with 10 pounds of lard over the last few years. When I visited his farm and made a pumpkin pie for his son’s birthday, I used lard. I left the farm before the pie was cut, so I can’t say it was perfect. Jim lectures me each time the topic comes up, trying really hard to convince me that lard is really the only way to go. His research certainly shows that lard is healthier than a man-altered fat such as Crisco. Flakier than butter or Crisco.
My husband was raised in rural Springfield, KY where his grandmother rose every morning to make biscuits. Every morning. At 4:00 AM. I never got to meet Stella (STELLA!!!), but it would be a pretty sure bet that she used lard. Supposedly, these biscuits were legendary. The ratio of fat to flour in a biscuit is about the same as in pie crust: 1:3. Biscuits just happen to have more liquid and leavening. It never ceases to amaze me how the same basic ingredients (flour, fat, salt, leavening and liquid) can result in SO many different tasting products. But back to pie crusts.
One of the easiest items on the holiday menu, pies and especially pie crusts, can be made way in advance of the big day and frozen. I usually make three pie crusts at a time, roll them out, fit the pie pans and freeze them. Since the crust is the most time consuming (and scary) parts of the process, it’s great to get that task out of the way. Once frozen, wrap well and slide into those jumbo freezer bags. These crusts will keep for months if they are properly wrapped. When you want a pie, presto! your crust is ready. After you master the technique, a pie crust can be made in less than 10 minutes, 5 for a pro.
Here’s my basic pie crust recipe. Not very different from many, many others. No gimics, just simple pie crust. Use it for lots of fun appetizers, main dishes and desserts.
1 1/2 cups all purpose, unbleached flour
3/4 tsp table salt
1/2 cup chilled fat (unsalted butter, lard or Crisco)
approximtely 1/4 cup ice cold water
In a medium mixing bowl, stir together the flour and salt. Using a pastry blender, cut the fat into the flour using quick strokes. Once the mixture is consistently crumbly, stir in the water a bit at a time. You will most likely use all the water and perhaps a bit more than 1/4 cup, but don’t add it all at once. Humidity, the flour and temperatures all impact the mixture. This is not said to confuse the issue, but to clarify it: only add enough water so that the dough naturally comes together and is neither wet nor dry and crumbly.
Once the dough clings together and forms a ball, gather it up with your hands and wrap it in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and even overnight. Do not leave mixed dough in the refrigerator for more than 24 hours. Freeze the dough if not using within 24 hours.
On a lightly floured board or counter top, roll out the dough using just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking to the rolling pin and your surface. Treat the dough gently. Pressing too hard will seal the dough to the work surface and make difficult work of lifting it.
Once you have determined that your dough is of the correct size, move it to the pie pan and crimp the edges. I ususally use the three finger method, but experiment to find your own way.
Chill or freeze according to your recipe’s specifics.