How to Make Pie Crust at Home
My wife makes a fantastic apple pie. She is really good at it and can put together a perfect apple pie in about fifteen minutes. She uses commercial pie crust found in the refrigerator section of the supermarket, and feels no guilt about it at all. Being a full time working mom with very little extra free time for baking on the weekends and staring at a basket of gorgeous apples from the farmer’s co-op, she doesn’t mind a shortcut. But does she really need a shortcut when it comes to pie crust?
Store bought pie crust (which can be frozen by the way) is certainly convenient, and if my wife can use it to make a great homemade pie, I’m all for it. Then, I started wondering what’s in commercial pie crust. Here’s what I found out.
According to the back of the box, Pillsbury refrigerated pie crust contains the following ingredients:
- Enriched flour, bleached
- Partially Hydrogenated Lard with BHA and BHT Added to Protect Flavor
- Wheat starch
- Rice flour
- Xanthan gum
- Potassium Sorbate and Potassium Propionate (preservatives)
- Citric acid
- Yellow 5 and Red 40
Now, homemade crust only contains three main ingredients – flour, fat and water. So it makes me wonder what all these extra ingredients are for.
I guess I can understand some preservatives, because they can’t know how long you’ll keep the dough in the freezer. Citric acid could add a subtle “zing.” Most home bakers get that with a little vinegar. But partially hydrogenated fats that contain trans fats? BHA and BHT? Xanthan gum? Food coloring?
I’m not suggesting that any of these ingredients are harmful. After all, they are all FDA approved. And, if it gives busy people a leg up on making homemade desserts, then that’s great.
But, if you’re interested in making your own crust with just a few ingredients, all of which are pronounceable, here’s how to make your own pie crust.
Pie Crust – Store Bought or Home Made
12 oz. all purpose flour
9.5 oz. very cold butter
lard or trans-fat shortening or a combination (try 4 oz. fresh lard and 4 oz. butter)
1½ teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons sugar
3-5 oz. ice water, a glass with ice cubes and then add water
How To Prepare At Home
Whisk together the flour, salt and sugar in a large bowl.
Cut the cold fat into ½" cubes.
Toss the cubes of fat with the flour mixture until all the fat is coated with flour.
Using just the tips of your fingers (the coolest part of your hands), begin breaking the fat into smaller pieces, rubbing some of the fat into the flour between your thumbs and fingers. This is easiest to do with butter, since it is the firmest fat at refrigerator temperatures.
Keep breaking up/rubbing in the fat until the largest pieces are no larger than pea-sized and the rest looks like coarse meal. Be careful not to overwork the fat and flour mixture or you'll end up with paste. Make sure that if the fat begins to get too soft while working with it, put the whole bowl into the freezer for ten minutes or the refrigerator for half an hour.
Sprinkle about 2 tablespoons of ice water as evenly as you can over the flour/fat mixture. Toss the water and the flour with your fingertips. Try to go in down the sides of the bowl and then toss the flour up a bit. You don't want to start mixing right on top of the water, or you could end up developing too much gluten, making your crust tough.
Once you've thoroughly tossed the flour/fat and water, sprinkle on another 2 tablespoons of water and toss together as described above.
At this point, take a small handful of dough - it should still look very sandy at this point - and squeeze it gently in your fist. If it holds together and doesn't break apart when you gently press it flat, you have added enough water. You heard right. The dough will still look very sandy. If the dough does not hold together, or it splits apart into sandy chunks when you press on it, sprinkle on another tablespoon of water and toss.
Continue adding a bit of water at a time, tossing, and testing by gently squeezing a bit of dough. If you're not sure, err on the side of a little too dry than a little too wet.
Rather than dumping the sandy/floury dough out on the counter, it's easier to just compact it in the bowl you mixed it in. So press the dough together in a disc at the bottom of the mixing bowl. Cut in half. Take each half out and shape them into ½" thick discs. Roll each disc between two pieces of parchment paper to a thickness of about 1/8".
Put the rolled discs in the refrigerator for an hour. This will let the flour completely hydrate. After the hour, you will notice that if the dough was a little dry before, it is no longer sandy. At this point, you can either use the dough or freeze it for later.
To store in the freezer, remove from the refrigerator until pliable. Then gently roll the dough, parchment and all, into a cylinder. Wrap the cylinder in heavy duty plastic wrap and store in the freezer for up to two months.
Who says you can't make frozen pie crust at home? And for the cost of one box of commercial pie crusts you can make a whole lot of fresh ones yourself. Tomorrow, look for my post on How to Line a Pie Pan.
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