Pie Crust

If there’s one thing that’s sure to impress, it’s telling people that you made your own pie crust.  Today we’re going to share with you Grandma Lucy’s recipe for pie crust.  Now, I know what a lot of you might be thinking, ‘I don’t have time to make my own crust.’ That may be true, it can be time consuming.  However, pie crust is a perfect example of a recipe that you can make a large batch of almost as easily as you can make a small batch.  When we make pie crusts at our house, we usually make 5-7 and freeze whatever we won’t use right away.

The key to flaky pie crust is inhibiting gluten formation.  Gluten is a protein in wheat flour that quickly interlocks with other gluten molecules to form long strands.  This can be good or bad, depending on what you are doing.  The key to good bread is well-cultivated gluten formation.  Well, you can think of pie crust as the opposite of bread because here you want as little gluten formation as possible.

How do you inhibit gluten formation?
1)  Don’t work the dough any more than you need to.  At each step, mix ingredients just until combined.  Your final product should barely come together for the tenderest crust.

2)  Limit the amount of water.   You can substitute half of the water in the recipe with alcohol–vodka or whiskey.  This provides the necessary hydration while limiting the water–which gluten needs to form those long, chewy strands.

3)  Use lard instead of butter.  Several decades ago, lard was the cooking fat for pies but now it has been largely replaced by butter.  Lard makes better pie crust because butter is 16% water while lard has virtually no water in it.  That 16% makes a big difference in the battle against gluten.  By the way, lard is healthier for you than butter.  But stay tuned for more on that and how to render your own lard in an up-coming post.

4) Use all-purpose flour, which contains less gluten than whole wheat flour.  That being said, the pie crusts shown in the pictures in this post are half whole wheat flour but they are still tender because we used lard.  (We almost always use some whole wheat flour but I’m just giving you the instructions for how to make the flakiest pie crust.)

5)  Keep everything COLD.  Gluten strands do not form as quickly when they are cold.

For one 8 or 9-inch pie crust:
1 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 c. lard, cut into 1-inch pieces and place in freezer for 15 minutes (or 1/2 c. butter)
2 T. water, reserved and waiting in fridge to keep as cold as possible

Add just enough liquid to hold the dough together.

For 6 pie crusts:
6 c. all-purpose flour
1 T. salt
2 c. lard (or 3 c. butter)
3/4 c. water

Mix the flour and the salt together in a large bowl.  Using a pastry blender or food processor, cut in the lard until your flour more closely resembles stone ground cornmeal with a few pea sized lumps of lard in it.  In three stages, slowly sprinkle your water in, moistening the dough as you go.  The more you mix the dough, the tougher and less flaky it will be so try and do this quickly with as little kneading as possible.  Once the flour is moistened, gather dough into a ball and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface.

Flatten the dough ball with your hand and then roll it into a 12-13-inch circle that is 1/16-inch thick.  At this point, if you are making extra pie crusts, place the circles of pie dough between wax paper, stack ’em up, and put them in the freezer for future use.  Once frozen, wrap well in saran wrap.  If you’re making the pie immediately, read on.

Gently fold the circle into fourths and transfer to the pie pan, unfold the dough.  Ease the dough into all corners of the pan, being careful not to stretch it.  The more you stretch the dough, the more it will shrink during baking.  Cut off excess dough, fold under edges, and crimp or flute edges.  (See slideshow below for more details.)  From here on, follow whatever pie recipe you happen to be making!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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This entry was posted in Americana, Cooking Tips & Techniques, Dessert, Holidays and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Pie Crust

  1. ticaudata says:

    I have a surprisingly good vegan pie crust if you ever want to try it. Good for certain folks’ that don’t eat lard and might like meat pies! The general idea is the same though, it just uses frozen olive oil.

    • Definitely. In fact, this weekend it occurred to me that one could probably make a good pie crust with frozen olive oil that would be much healthier. I was going to try to figure this out myself but if you’ve got an olive oil pie crust recipe I’d love to have it. It would work well in the left-over turkey pot pie I want to make.

      • Evan says:

        We had a guest this year who was vegetarian and also didn’t eat hydrogenated vegetable oil. I skipped from lard which I’ve used for years, directly over Crisco, to Spectrum’s shortening from Whole Foods (essentially just whipped Palm Oil). It actually made pretty good flaky crusts. It was tricky to work with because after refrigerating for a few hours I had to let the dough warm up a little bit before I could roll it out.

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