Does anyone else out there intensely dislike the refrigerated pie crusts offered in stores? The ones that come rolled up in a box? I find them barely acceptable and usually end up eating the filling and leaving the crust on my plate.
In my estimation, the very best crust in terms of flaky texture is made with lard. And while some folk still bake with lard I choose not to. These days I make my crust with butter. If I use salted butter, I omit the salt. For a recipe I still refer to my vintage (antique) Betty Crocker cookbook circa 1965.
In making pie crust, the shortening should be cold and should be mixed in until the texture is crumbly. In other words the bits of lard, or butter, or whatever, should remain a bit pebbly in size. Overmixing makes for a less tender crust.
I've found a shortcut to mixing in the shortening is to use a grater to grate cold butter into the flour, periodically tossing flour into and onto the grated butter (so it doesn't stick back together again). Once all the butter is grated into the flour, I use a hand-held electric mixer to whiz through the mixture until the butter is down to crumb size.
The water, of course, should be cold. Put some ice cubes into a bowl, add some cold tap water, and let it get nice and Cold! Then sprinkle in the recommended amount, stir with a fork, sprinkle in some more water, until the mixture is somewhere between clumpy and crumbly. A bit of kneading and pressing will make it into a cohesive mound.
It is at this stage that many go wrong with pie crust. The recipe usually says to knead several times. My comment on that is "Don't!" I may fold it the mound over on itself, but never more than 3 times (4 max). Overkneading produces "tough crust".
If I am making crust for more than one pie (today I made enough for five!), I will mix the flour and butter in one bowl. For the next step I take out a couple cups of the mixture, placing it in a separate bowl, then add the appropriate amount of water, a bit at a time. I find that I usually need to add a tad more than the recipe calls for.
When I am making the crusts a couple days ahead of time, I'll partially flatten them into a round shape about an inch thick. You will need to dust the counter top with a bit of flour, and redust whenever the dough is sticking to the surface. Wrap the partially shaped dough in plastic wrap or bag, then store in the fridge until ready to finish rolling out tomorrow. (You can also freeze them at this point.) Tomorrow, let them warm a bit before rolling out to size. Not too warm, just warmer than the fridge.
Long ago I tossed out those aluminum pie pans. They simply do not produce a well-baked crust. Instead of the aluminum I prefer Pyrex or pottery pans. The Pyrex are nice because you can see through the glass that the crust has reached a nice toasty color.
The recipe for a 10-inch one-crust pie as Betty herself recommends in her vintage cookbook is as follows:
1-1/3 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt (if using salted butter, omit)
1/2 cup shortening (one stick or 1/4 pound of butter equals 1/2 cup)
3 to 4 tablespoons cold water.
Double this as necessary for the number of crusts you want. When making several pies I will sometimes have enough dough left over to for a small single-crust. And if you do that as well, simply store it in the freezer for a quick bake some later time.
We're having pumpkin, apple and mincemeat. How about you?