How to Make the Perfect Pie Crust

How to Make the Perfect Pie Crust

4 hours of Traditional Pie Making class later — My boyfriend took this to work and brewed fresh coffee for his colleagues. It was gone within the hour.

Pie-making was always a mystery to me. Pies are often unheard of in Brunei. It was only in the gaming world of Fable 3, I was a Level 3 pie-maker in Brightwall. Where I went wrong in real life: I used the food processor.

NAIT was offering a pastry bootcamp for the price of a return ticket to barely reaching Australia. However, the City of Edmonton was offering Traditional Pie Making (Sweet or Savoury) classes for $40, which covered all pie ingredients and we were provided recipes — all we had to bring was a glass pie plate. It was a full class of 8 keen pie pastry enthusiasts. We learnt the tricks of blind baking and what “egg wash” means. The instructor was very friendly and helpful — she completely changed my nervous perspective on pie making! The class is awesome, especially for bakers who are accustomed to bread/pizza/cookie dough making. Through the class, I met a fellow food blogger who collects endless yummy baking recipes. Small world!

Keen on not wanting to be a pie school drop out, since my first class, I have made one blueberry pie and two apple pies after my first apple pie. In total, 4 pies in two weeks — not bad! It’s so funny the moment that I realized that I got carried away — oh, I ran out of butter! Looking at fruit pie recipes from Canadian Living Baking Book (2007), a lot of the fruit filling commonly use 1/2 cup sugar and 1/4 cup flour. In my blueberry pie, instead of using an egg wash for brushing the crust, I used a mixture of 3 tablespoons of sourcream and 1 1/4 cup of water. The blueberry pie was served with homemade whipping cream.

There are endless resources on pie fillings, but the challenge really lies in making the crust itself. I have consulted many people prior to my class; their advice was such: “Use cold lard”, “Use really cold water”. From my last pie pastry, I have got one to add: run your hands under cold water if your hands are warm. Also, if you have added too much liquid to the dough, add more flour to get the right consistency. Pie and pizza making are quite similar — you have to get a feel of how much liquid your dough needs.

Pie Dough (Makes Top and Bottom crusts):
2 1/2 cups flour; plus extra for dusting and reworking
1 stick salted butter (if using shortening, add 1/2 tsp salt; other optional variations: 1/2 stick butter and 1/2 stick lard)
Equipment: large mixing bowl; two table knives or a pastry blender

Egg wash: To add to the dough and brush the pie pastry:
1 egg beaten in 1 1/4 cup very cold water (I always add a bit more water — just in case)
**Cold Milk or cream can be substituted

One golden rule of pastry making: DO NOT OVERWORK THE PIE PASTRY DOUGH. Like Hookes’ Law in physics, there is no point of return. Unlike the pizza dough, it is shaggy and loose.

In a large bowl, use either a pastry blender or two butter knives to cut cold butter into smaller chunks. Using butter knives, pretend you are cutting up a piece of cooked steak — only that you are working with butter and flour. (I found this method preferrable to the “Edward Scissorhands”, where you’d hold two butter knives as if it were a pair of tongs.)

Use both hands to scoop from both sides of the bowl, letting flour and butter mixture to fall between the cracks of your fingers. *Think Loose* Rub any big butter chunks lightly with the flour, so that it will have a flakey texture; not tough. Here is a picture of how loose I was holding the mixture:

Loosely work the flour/butter mixture. Let the mixture fall through the cracks of your hands. Pretend you are playing with sand.

Once all the big butter chunks are turned into butter flakes, it is time to pour in about less than a cup of the eggwash/liquid. Now, as if the dough is a dish rag, you want to use your “spider hand” to gently wipe around the sides of the bowl. By “spider hand”, I meant:

Loose Rag Method – Move your hand as if you are gently wiping the sides of the bowl with a dish rag. Do not overwork. This should take roughly 3 seconds or so.

Take about a grapefruit sized dough ball and roll on a floured surface. Sprinkle flour all over the dough ball.Roll dough flat. Turn the other side of the dough up and sprinkle more flour as needed. You may notice a marble-like texture in your dough — this is a good sign.

Do the “secret fold” twice: fold your dough into thirds lengthwise and then, into thirds breadthwise. Fold as if you would fold fabric, basically. It should look like this:

This folding method will allow the gluten in the dough to stretch as much as it can — without being overworked.

When you are rolling your second fold, it is time to try to aim for your perfect circle. Sprinkle flour lightly and roll until the dough is translucent: you can see the surface of the table — or when you put your hand underneath, you can see your hand. The goal is so that nobody will leave a thick pastry crust unfinished on their plates. Carefully transfer the rolled out pastry to a pie plate — there is no need to prep the plate as there’s butter in the crust. Cut any excess dough with either a table knife or kitchen shears (the latter being a handy tool in my kitchen). I would leave about a small border of crust, so that the pie could be closed with the top crust.

Always brush the crust with the desired liquid prior to adding your fruit filling — and when you adding the top crust onto the bottom. The egg wash will help your top and bottom pie crusts stick together. Remember to create vents in your top pie crust, so that the fruit filling will cook properly. This is the fun part — it’s an awesome chance to be creative! Use cookie cutters or simply make incisions with a table knife. Otherwise, you can cut the top rolled out top crust into strips and weave into pretty lattices. (I did this with my niece over the weekend! It is actually quite deceivingly simple.) If you were to choose the lattice top, make sure you roll each strip thinner with the rolling pin.

To close the top and bottom, simple utensils such as the tip of a fork or the back of a table knife will come in handy. Otherwise, you could keep folding — make an indent using left forefinger and push it down with right forefinger and right thumb. My latest pie creation from last night, picture taken with the courtesy of my coworker:

Apple Filling: 5 different apples, cinnamon, dash of nutmeg, brown sugar, 1/4 flour and a surprise hint of orange zest.
For the top crust, I brushed the egg wash and sprinkled a bit of sugar cinnamon for the browning effect. 

We can also use the same pie pastry for savoury pies! Any leftover pastry dough can be frozen for up to one month in a zip tight bag. Use any leftover dough to make tarts or little quiches in a muffin tin. Hope this pie pastry method works for you! 🙂