How To Make Pie Crust

Make (and master) an exceptional pie crust, and you're more than halfway to an exceptional pie. Here are a few insider tricks for tackling this daunting yet delicious pastry.
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Photo by: Matt Armendariz ©2013, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Matt Armendariz, 2013, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Pie Crust 101

The Dough

Pie dough, at its most basic, is made of flour, fat and a little liquid to pull it all together.

Fat contributes taste and, most importantly, structure. Butterdelivers rich flavor and a deep golden color when baked. Just make sure the butter stays very cold, or the dough will get tough from excess liquid binding with the flour.

Substitute a little shortening for some butter and you'll get flaky pie dough and minimal toughness (because shortening has no liquid to bind with the flour). All-butter crust is going to taste better, so try not to phase in too much shortening.

No matter which fat you choose, it matters how you incorporate it.

  • If the recipe calls for the fat to be mixed some, but mostly left in bits and pieces, the dough will be flaky.

  • If the fat is evenly mixed with flour and made smooth, the dough will be tender, like a cookie.

Liquid holds the dough together, and in many ways is the key to tough or tender crust. The key word here is balance: Too much liquid makes for dense, hard dough; too little liquid makes the crust fall apart. Slightly acidic liquids ? like vinegar, sour cream, yogurt or lemon juice ? will help relax the gluten and assure a tender crust.

Other key points are temperature and touch. Always keep dough chilled, and avoid overworking it while mixing or rolling. 

Beyond this basic formula there are lots of variations:

Added sugar makes the dough sweet and tender. Egg yolks or cream make the crust luxuriously rich.

Nuts bring richness and flavor, but they can be sticky when soft. A little chilling and a floured parchment will set things straight.

Cocoa adds both color and flavor to a crust, but too much can make a dough dry and tough.

Rolling

Make sure the dough is ready to roll ? it should just hold together when you squeeze it together, with some dry crumbly bits around the ball.

Lightly dust the rolling surface (i.e. counter) with flour. Be reasonable here, as too much flour can mess things up later on.

Use a rolling pin and roll from the center, rotating the dough a quarter turn each time to give you a large circle. It won't be a perfect circle, so don't obsess as edges are usually trimmed.

Don't press too hard ? it makes the dough stick to the surface. To un-stick the dough, use a metal spatula to peel it off, then toss a tiny bit of flour underneath and repeat.

Still sticking? Pop it in the fridge, and start again when the dough is cool and firm.

Transferring

Brush off any excess flour with a very dry brush. Then, do the following:

1. Put a lightly floured rolling pin at the top of the dough circle.
2. Gently roll the dough onto the rolling pin. 
3. Set the dough-wrapped rolling pin at the pie plate's bottom edge. 
4. Carefully unroll until the dough is centered on the plate.

Don't stretch the dough to fit the pan. If it doesn't fit, try to roll it out a little more. If you have a glass pie plate, that's excellent ? it will help you be able to check when it's fully blind-baked. What's blind baking, you ask?

Blind Baking

This is a special term for pre-baking the crust so it stays flaky and golden after the filling is added. Here's what you need to do: 
1. Preheat the oven. Ovens take about 30 minutes to get up to speed, so give it some time. 
2. Line the raw crust with a generous piece of wax paper and fill with dried beans ? this weighs down the dough and keeps it flat. 
3. Place pie plate in lower third of the oven, where it's hottest. 
4. Rotate your pie throughout the baking for even browning. 
5. Remove when it's fully blind baked. The crust should be golden brown, not pale or dark brown.

The Filling

During the preheating and blind baking stages, you'll want to be dealing with the filling ? following your recipe, of course. Also, this is a good time to roll out the top layer of dough.

Some recipes call for cooking pie filling before it goes in the bottom crust. That's a pretty good idea, since it keeps the crust crisp and the filling (apples, blueberries, etc.) juicy.

After this stage, you're ready to bake your pie. Whatever cooking time the recipe calls for, just remember to cool the pie afterwards for at least 2 hours.

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