Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Perfectly Flaky Pie Crust

There are certain foods that every cook never quite masters. It's different for each person: perfectly smooth creme brulee, non-lumpy gravy, a moist turkey, cookies that stay soft for days. For me, it has been the ever-elusive, perfectly flaky pie crust. Try as I might (and believe me, I've tried), it's always too tough, too soggy, too dry, too bland, too salty, too brown, too pale, too something. Every time. Until now. Thanks to, I have finally created the perfect pie crust. Perfectly flaky, perfectly browned, perfectly salted, perfectly crispy -- "practically perfect in every way." And now I'm going to share it with you. You can thank me later.

Perfectly Flaky Pie Crust

2 cups flour
1 cup butter-flavored shortening
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup ice-cold water

1. Combine flour and salt in a bowl and stir until combined. Chill for at least 15 minutes. Chill the shortening for at least the same amount of time.
2. Cut shortening into the flour mixture with a fork or pastry cutter until clumps form no larger than the size of your baby fingernail. Do not over mix and do not put your hands in the mix.
3. Add ice-cold water one tablespoon at a time and gently toss until combined. The dough will begin to ball on its own.
4. Separate dough into two balls and wrap each in plastic wrap. Chill in fridge for at least 30 minutes. (At this stage, the dough can be frozen for later use.)
5. Liberally flour large wooden cutting board. Flour rolling pin. Remove one dough ball, unwrap and press down gently onto floured board. Roll into 10-inch circle, turning the dough often to make sure it doesn't stick.
6. Fold in half, then into quarters. Set it into 9-inch pie plate and unfold. Prick bottom and sides. Fill pie.
7. Repeat rolling steps with other dough ball and place on top of pie. Trim edges to about 1/2 inch overhang. Press down to seal top and bottom layers, then fold top crust under bottom crust and crimp. Cut four steam vents in crust.
8. Bake according to pie directions.

Substitution Suggestions: You can use 1/2 cup butter to replace half of the shortening. Just make sure it is very cold.

Lessons Learned: Oh, the lessons I've learned trying to make pie crust. I think the biggest thing is that it really does require that much fat to get the light, crispy, flaky crust. So your arteries might clog thinking about that much cholestrerol, but as long as you keep the portion size down, it's a happy mouth-feel indulgence.
I wouldn't bother with a food processor. This really took no time at all to mix up with a pastry cutter. It helped that the shortening was chilled (15 minutes in the freezer was the perfect timing for me).
I floated a few ice cubes in my water to keep it cold and measured out 8 tablespoons (which equal a half cup) one at a time, tossing it into the flour-shortening mixture.
It is very sticky, and by very, I mean that if you don't use a lot of flour, it will stick to your board, to your rolling pin, to your fingers and anything else it touches. I actually rolled it out between two heavily floured sheets of waxed paper. It stuck a little, but I was able to gently pull it off. I may add an extra quarter cup of flour into the mix next time to see if it reduces the stickiness. Since I can't roll a perfect circle yet, I was able to piece together the areas that needed a little patching.
Just before it goes in the oven, consider brushing it with an egg wash (equal parts water and egg). It'll give the nicely browned crust coveted by bakers. Don't brush the edge, though, because that tends to brown quickly without any extra help.
I baked my filled pie (chicken pot pie) at 425 degrees for about 35 minutes and rotated it at the 20-minute mark since the back of my oven runs a little hot. I could tell as soon as I pulled it out of the oven that I had finally achieved pie crust perfection.