Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Pie Crusts - Commercial vs. Home-Made

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?



Kelly said...

Actually, I prefer graham cracker crusts (the the type pies that go in them) to pastry crusts. And... you saw on my blog the recipe I like to use the rare times I make one from scratch. (did you ever try it??) And again, as you stated, I tend to scrape out the filling and leave the crust on most other pies.

My daughters are doing the desserts this year. I think one is making a pumpkin cheesecake and I'm not sure about the other.

Thanks for all the tips on "crust-making". Oh, and I prefer pyrex, too, for both pie pans and loaf pans.

Dandy said...

I use the frozen ones that already come in the tin and don't think they taste anything like the rolled ones. I use Marie Calendars but I'll be honest... I don't know any different. I've enver had homemade pie crust and I definitely want to try this one!

melissa said...

We make pie crust from scratch too. Don't used butter/lard, though. It's butter-flavored Crisco here.

Yours sounds wonderful. :)

Karen said...

I have tried the store-bought pie crusts and have never liked them as much as the "real thing." It is an art to making a good pie crust. I'll try your recipe- it sounds like something I might actually be able to pull off!

Thanks for posting it and for the instructions! The little tips you provided make all the difference, I'm sure of it!

Debby said...

We're having apple, blueberry and pumpkin. And yes, madam, the pie crusts will be homemade. Turkey w/ wild rice stuffing, potatoes, gravy, sweet potato souffle, homemade rolls, dilled peas with walnuts, corn for the purists, waldorf salad, pistachio salad (Dylan's favorite).

Debra said...

Hello-and Happy Thanksgiving! I make all my crusts too. I remember my grandma using lard. Her pies were amazing. I use butter. I think I may have over kneaded this batch-but hopefully, all that whipped cream will make up for it!
Love, Debra

Daria said...

Nothing beats home-made ... it's definitely a bit of work tho.