Pie School 102 – the ingredients

11 Sep

4.  Maybe 5.  That’s it.  That’s the number of ingredients that you need to make a pie crust.  And they are all ingredients that you probably have in your house right now.  Compared to the ingredients needed to make a cake, pie crust should be, well, a piece of cake!

I had always heard that making pie crust was a big deal.  It was so scary, so temperamental.  It took some special gene that you were born with.  I honestly thought I could jump in and get it right after a few tries.  WRONG.  My crusts have been edible, but not up to the standards of amazing pie.  I feel like my kitchen has turned into a science fair project.

While I can’t say I’ve perfected crust yet (just you wait, I will!), I have nailed down the ingredient tricks of the trade.  So, for those like me and mining for tips, here’s what I have gleaned so far.

Cold, cold and colder

I hear you – keep the ingredients COLD!  Goodness.  Every person, every book, every website is a broken record.  The colder the better.  So, I am now keeping my butter, shortening and flour in the freezer.  To help make cutting in the fat easier, I slice my butter and shortening along the tablespoon lines while still in the wrapper before I freeze it.  Then, I put them in freezer bags and can break off however many tablespoons I need.

The type of ingredients matter

Butter – make sure it’s unsalted and don’t cheap out!  Some generic brands do not cook well.  Word has it that Land O’ Lakes is a good brand.  I’ve been buying Trader Joe’s and it seems good.  Butter in a crust gives it flavor and tenderness, but an all butter crust will tend to not be as flaky.

Crisco – by all means, buy the sticks not the tub! 

The sticks make it so easy to cut the right amount of shortening.  Shortening is the key to flakiness but not flavor.  I was struggling with an all butter crust, and once I added shortening to the mix, everything changed and the texture was spot on.  I am now a convert – though I think there’s room for both butter and shortening.

Lard – I haven’t gone there yet.  I hear it’s not so easy to find quality lard these days, but I have not tried.  What I do hear is that Lard will hands down give you the flakiest crust in town.  After all, that’s what grandma used.  And that store bought dough?  All lard.  I bought one, baked it and read the ingredients.

Flour – Call me naive, but I thought all purpose flour was all the same.  Nope.  Apparently, BLEACHED all purpose flour is key to pie crust.  I’ve been using unbleached all along.  Whoops.  That might explain my problems.  I have a pie crust sitting in the fridge right now that was made with bleached and am keeping my fingers crossed for a step in the right direction!

Throw in some salt, sugar and ice water and you have yourself a pie crust!  Time to get baking.  Next up will be a recipe for crust and a report back on this weekend’s pie experiment!

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2 Responses to “Pie School 102 – the ingredients”

  1. Heather October 2, 2011 at 1:00 pm #

    I have looked for lard, and all they have in the supermarkets here, after they are done giving me a hard look that says, “LARD?!?!” is partially hydrogenated lard. Lard is already a solid. Why do you need to hydrogenate it? I guess it makes it more stable maybe, I don’t know. There’s a woman here at the regional market who would be happy to sell me the fat, and she says it’s really easy to cook it down in the oven for a few hours. But I’m already going out on a limb making a damn PIE, I am not ready to render my own lard to do it. There’s a place in Ithaca called the Piggery who sell lard at the market there, but I haven’t managed to get to Ithaca on a Saturday morning in the last 18 months, so that is on hold for now. If you find and try some, let me know!

    • emilythome October 2, 2011 at 6:12 pm #

      Heather! I love that you’re as conflicted about lard as I am. My mother-in-law just told me that Heinen’s sells lard, so I’m going to check it out. But, you’re right – the problem with lard is that not all of it is pure lard. I’m not so committed to pie that I will make my own lard. I don’t even like typing the name. I’ll totally let you know if I get the courage up to experiment!

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