Saturday, January 24, 2009

Making the Crust

Making the crust was the most intimidating part of pie-making for me in the beginning—visions of my grandmother’s perfectly scalloped crust edges haunted me to distraction. If this is the case with you, my best advice is to give yourself permission to create not-so-pretty crust. It will taste just as good as spectacular-looking crusts, and in many cases will be covered by filling anyway. Let go of your perfectionist side and dive in.

One of the joys of pie-making is not having to measure anything. Once you make a few pies, memorize the recipe and measure the ingredients with your eyes. It doesn’t have to be exact to come out well, and you may surprise yourself by improving the recipe by alteration. But until you reach that point, here is a workable recipe for a single crust (for pies with no crust on top):

1 1/3 C flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 C shortening
3 Tbsp. cold water

Mix the flour and salt. Then cut in small chunks of the shortening and work it in with your hands until the mixture is evenly crumbly. Then add the cold water, which will allow you to roll the crust into a ball (it will be a bit sticky).

Next, cover a sheet of aluminum foil or wax paper with a thin layer of flour and put your ball of crust in the center. Flatten it as much as possible with your hands, and then rub flour on your rolling pin and roll it the rest of the way. If some of the dough sticks to your rolling pin, add more flour and continue rolling. The depth and size of your pie plate will determine how thin you need to roll it.

Now for the tricky part: transferring your rolled-out dough to the pie plate. The easiest way I have found is to spread a thin layer of flour on the top of the dough, then take the edges of your aluminum foil or wax paper and use that to fold the dough in half. Then transfer the folded dough into your pie plate (good luck!) and then unfold it.

If your dough breaks or crumbles in this process, or looks a bit like it’s been through a shredder, do not pull your hair out, curse the wretched hobby of pie-making, and send nearby family members running for cover. Remember what I said about embracing less-than-perfect crusts? Simply smoosh the dough back together, pressing it evenly and firmly to the bottom of the pie plate and all the way up the sides as well.

Poke a few holes in the bottom with a fork to prevent air bubbles, and pop it in the oven at 425 degrees. Bake it until the edges turn slightly brown (you may want to cook it a bit less if you will be cooking your pie filling in it afterwards as well). Enjoy!


  1. I'll just eat your pie...January 25, 2009 at 11:56 AM

    I must admit--I have no real desire to bake a pie at this point in my life. Perhaps it is due to a lack of resources (such as a KITCHEN), or the lack of a special occasion. Also, I would argue that there does not exist a perfect situation in which to pioneer a pie-making career. To support my argument, let’s consider the categories of people one would bless with a homemade pie: loved ones, casual acquaintances, and strangers.

    Loved ones are scary pie recipients, because one feels the need to bake “the perfect pie.” Also, baking pies for loved ones usually coincides with a special occasion such as a Valentine’s Day dinner or a family holiday. A ruined pie could ruin an occasion, and humiliate you in front of those you want to impress most. Also, loved ones are risky, because if you grew up in a family like mine, a disastrous pie could easily become fuel for life-long ridicule.

    Next, casual acquaintances. Honestly, these people are just not worth the time and frustration that it takes to bake them a pie. You do not need to make a good first impression, and they probably do not need a grand gesture to reaffirm their relationship with you. Plus, your sixth best friend from high school might be a little creeped out if you showed up at his or her door with an apple pie.

    Finally, strangers. These are the new neighbors and the unmet in-laws. There is too much at stake when meeting these people to place all your eggs in one pie plate. I would feel more comfortable with something a little safer. A nice plate of brownies may be the best compromise between a crushed bag of Oreos and a mutilated pie.

    This leaves only a fourth option for a pie-baking audience. Yourself. And who wants to spend the money, time, and energy it takes to bake a beautiful pie for a lonely night in front of the TV? Maybe if your pie turns out decently, you could venture next door and offer your neighbor a piece of a pie that you’ve pre-tasted and approved. Confident pie giving is a lengthy process, but I would assume worth the effort. Someday, I will make myself dozens of pies, gain 50 pounds, and eventually develop the confidence to share my pie-making with the world. Until then, I’ll just eat yours.

  2. Thanks for the comment! I would agree that if you don't feel inspired to make pie, you shouldn't. We probably all have enough stress in our lives without voluntarily adding more.

    And as for trepidation over embarrassing pie failures, I've definitely been there. I once had a small dinner party for which one of my friends requested banana creme pie. It ended up being banana creme soup (still not sure what happened, as I've made many successful banana creme pies before and since). My guests graciously ate it (in bowls), but it was definitely less than fantastic.

    The good news is that even though offering pie to others makes you vulnerable to criticism, it also makes you vulnerable to friendly responses. Casual acquaintances that you offer pie to might become closer friends who prove your efforts worthwhile. In my own case, I often have trouble getting the ball rolling when I meet new people I want to get to know. Pie won't make you friends, but it can help break the ice and give you something to talk about. It's a great sign of goodwill, and most people appreciate the time and effort you dedicate to them. I have offered pie to many people, and I've never been turned down.

    If you're nervous about presenting bad pie, an easy thing to do is to make a pie which will not change its taste in the baking (such as a fruit pie), and sample a bit of the filling before you bake it. That way, you can ensure that it will taste good and you can present it with more confidence. If it doesn't taste good, then you can toss it, and if you haven't told your potential recipients of your pie-baking intentions, no one will be the wiser.

    It has been my experience that the potential for positive social and culinary results in pie-making far outweighs the potential for disaster. And failed pies can be great opportunities for self-improvement (and often make funny stories). But pie-makers are nothing without willing pie-eaters, so I am thankful for people like you who give the rest of us a reason to flour up!