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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Mom's Foolproof Pie Crust

This is the basic pastry dough I use for most pies and tarts, and it's good for savory dishes like chicken pot pie, turnovers, quiche, and so on. It's my mom's recipe. For a sweet pie you can add sugar if you like, but it's not necessary—I tend to like unsweetened crust, especially for fruit pies. This is a flaky, tender crust, not a terribly sturdy or tough one, thanks to the vinegar and egg. It's easy to roll out and work with.

Pastry dough: This will make enough for a 10-inch, two-crust pie. Combine 3 cups flour, 2 tablespoons sugar (optional), and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a large bowl. Add 1 1/4 cups shortening (or part shortening, part cold butter if you like).
Cut the shortening into the flour mixture using a pastry blender or two knives held in one hand, until the pieces of shortening are about the size of ragged peas (?).

Make a well in the center of the mixture and add 1 egg, 1 tablespoon vinegar (any kind will do, or use a sweet wine like Marsala, or sherry—in this batch I used tarragon vinegar because it's the only kind I have at the moment besides Chinese black vinegar), and about 5 tablespoons ice water. Stir the egg and liquids together with a spatula. (Did I say any kind of vinegar? Well, I guess I wouldn't use black vinegar, or red-wine vinegar, or good balsamic vinegar . . . )

Using sharp folding and cutting motions with a wooden spoon or a spatula, stir just until the dough holds together.
Turn out onto the counter and gather the dough into a very rough ball. Use the palm of your hand to smear the dough away from you.
Then use a bench knife to scrape it back into a rough ball. Repeat twice. (This step is more important when using cold butter in the dough, as it helps to flatten the pieces of butter into shards, which will melt into flaky goodness when the crust bakes. Not so important with just shortening.)
Divide the dough into two roughly equal-sized pieces.

Wrap them tightly in plastic, smoothing them into an even and flat disk shape.

Chill in the freezer for about 20 minutes, or in the fridge for 30 minutes, until firm. The dough can be wrapped in a couple more layers of plastic and frozen for several months; defrost in the fridge for a couple hours before continuing.

Unwrap one disk of dough and place it on a lightly floured surface. Whack it a few times with a floured rolling pin (a wine bottle or a thick dowel will do in a pinch) to flatten it a bit.

My dad made this maple rolling pin.

Rolling from the center of the circle out, just to the edge (but not over the edge), lifting the edges of the circle with the bench knife and reflouring the counter if necessary to keep it from sticking, roll the dough out to a circle large enough to line your pie pan.

Drape the circle over the rolling pin and transfer it to the pie pan.

Trim the edges, and patch and pinch the dough together if it tears.

Roll out the second disk into a circle about the same size. Fill the pie (don't forget, as I often do, to dot the filling with butter), then drape the second circle over the top. Fold and pinch and crimp the edges together. Cut vents.

Or you can roll out scraps and make a lattice top. Mr. Chalmers and the bug and I
got some blueberries at the Comer farmer's market on Saturday; for this batch
of two pies I cut them with supermarket berries I'd already bought.
If you like, brush the top of the pie with egg wash (1 egg beaten together with 1 teaspoon water) and sprinkle with sugar—none of this is necessary, but it looks nice. Bake until it starts to bubble over and leak, which my mom says means it's a good pie.
This is the kind of afternoon I love: pies cooling on the counter, beer chilled and ready for later, and it's raining out. Pouring, with thunder and lightning. I've gotten the jasmine and some ivy planted outside. The bug is happily giggling at her mobile and the dogs are not getting into trouble as far as I can tell. The only thing that could be better is if Mr. Chalmers were here instead of at work.


Courtney said...

Yum! Thanks for sharing your secrets. I see where I failed last time--I didn't have a pastry cutter, so wore myself out with two knives, and I didn't have a rolling pin, so used a glass. Ha! I still don't have a bench knife thingy, but it's now on my list.

Liana said...

Apparently the rolling pin is walnut. Whatever it is, it's got ten years' worth of shortening and butter worked into it.

Mom says brush the top crust with milk or cream for the same effect as an egg wash. (But I like to give the leftover egg to Cooper. He perks up every time he hears an egg crack!) And she does the fraisage (pushing the dough out to flatten the fat pieces) with the pastry blender in the bowl. And she drinks skim milk with her pie.

Mary Jessica said...

I am mightily impressed with your pie-making skills! I admit, I have never made a homemade pie crust. I do enjoy baking from scratch, but that seems to only apply to cakes and cookies and muffins and things like that - no pie crusts for me so far.

Anyway, the pie looks amazing. You are just like Martha Stewart, except nice.

Liana Krissoff said...

Five years later, I just now noticed I said "wineglass" when I meant "wine bottle." That's what you'd use if you don't have a rolling pin. But good grief, you should have a rolling pin!