There are three basic ingredients in a pie crust: fat, flour, and liquid. Cold ingredients and limited handling are the key to preparing a wonderful pie crust. The colder the better. All ingredients (even the flour) should be ice cold before mixing. It is especially important for the fat you are using (butter, lard, and/or vegetable shortening) to be very cold. Professionals say pie dough should never get warmer than 60 degrees F. If you are making the dough in a food processor you can even freeze the fat before using it.
Fats: The type of fat you use will affect flavor and flakiness, while the amount affects tenderness. Flaky crusts result when bits of un-melted fat are layered between layers of flour and melt away with baking. They can be made from a variety of solid fats such as butter, vegetable shortening, and lard. Check out Pie Crust Recipes using various types of fat.
Butter, lard, and vegetable shortening must be chilled prior to use. If it is too warm, the flour will absorb too much of the fat and produce a tough crust. If using butter or margarine, cut into small pieces prior to adding to the flour.
Tip: Cut the butter into small (about 3/4 inch) cubes. Wrap in plastic wrap and freeze until frozen solid, at least 30 minutes. Butter Tip: Shred the frozen butter into the flour with a cheese grater.
Liquids: For a tender crust, you want just enough liquid to moisten the flour without drenching it. Liquids should be well chilled (actually liquids should be ice cold). The mixing, after water is added, is critical in making a pie dough – water should be added gradually to the dry ingredients and not all at once.
Mix by hand with your fingers or a pastry blender Use a minimum amount of liquid and handle the dough as little as possible. Overworking the dough will make it tough. NOTE: If too much water is added, the dough will have to be mixed with more flour thus becoming overworked and tough. If too little water is added, it will cause a dry crumbly dough with poor handling qualities.
Tip: You can use the pinch test to see if your dough has the right amount of liquid. Pick up a small clump of dough and gently squeeze between your fingers. When the dough justs sticks together with small dry cracks, your dough is perfect.
Flour: To promote tenderness in your pie crust, choose a low protein wheat flour such as cake flour or pastry flour. All-purpose flour is readily available and works well for pie crusts. Unbleached flour is more tender. Always sift the flour before measuring it. In fact, all dry ingredients need to be sifted together.
Pastry-Type Flour: To make a pastry-type flour from all-purpose flour, place 1 tablespoon of cornstarch or other non-gluten flour in the bottom of the measuring cup for every cup of flour you measure.
If you want to use a whole grain flour to make pie crust, allow extra time. You will have a much more tender crust if you refrigerate the pie dough overnight before baking to allow the bran to rehydrate thoroughly.
Perfect Pie Hints and Tips:
If you roll out the dough on wax paper or parchment paper, it makes cleanup easier. To keep wax paper from slipping, sprinkle a few drops of water on the countertop before arranging the paper. When rolling dough out, always start from the center and work your way out in all directions. Use a heavy rolling pin for rolling piecrust.
Pyrex glass pie plates are the best choice for baking your pies, as this type of pie pan conducts heat evenly, which allows the bottom crust of the pie to bake thoroughly. Also you can see when the bottom crust of your pie is browned. If using a glass pie plate, reduce the oven temperature by 25 degrees. Do not oil or grease pie plates.
Thin, aluminum pie pans are a poor choice because they cook unevenly. If you have to use them, double them up and use two. Dull metal pie plates are better then shiny metal pans for making pies. The shiny metal pans keep the crust from browning properly.
Hints to prevent bottom crust from getting soggy:
Always chill pastry dough before rolling and cutting. Chill it again rolling and before baking, to further relax the gluten. Refrigerate the dough (in the pie plate) for 15 minutes before adding the filling.
If pie has only a bottom crust, you can blind-bake (see #4 below) the crust and then moisture-proof it. You can brush it with a bit of egg white two or three minutes after it comes out of the oven.
A good way to keep pie crust from becoming soggy is to sprinkle it with a mixture of equal parts sugar and flour before adding filling.
Another way is to brush the unbaked bottom crust of a pie with a well-beaten egg white before filling. This keeps the berries and other fruits from making the pie bottoms mushy.
Baking a frozen pie is also a help, as the crust begins to bake before the heat thaws the filling, and the entire pie bakes for longer than it would normally.
Blind Bake the Pie Crust:
To prevent sliding by blind baking, first line the pie plate with aluminum foil. Take a piece of aluminum foil long enough so that when folded in half, it covers the pie plate. Fold it in half, then shape it on the counter by pressing your hand down in the middle and pulling up on the sides (making sort of a bowl shape.) Now put the foil in your pie shell and gently press it so that it evenly covers the bottom and sides of the pie dough. Now put your pie weights in (you can use beans, rice, rock salt – virtually any small, heat-proof items to weigh the crust down so that it neither puffs up nor slides down). Bake in the preheated oven for about 10 minutes. Take out the aluminum foil and pie weights, and continue baking until lightly browned.
Another trick to weigh down the dough is to place empty pie pans on top of the dough in the pie plate. This is called double panning.
Two-Crust Pie: Brush a little water around the edge of the bottom crust before placing the top crust. This helps create a good seal once the two are crimped together.
Tip from Sarah Macsek of Bethlehem, PA: Before placing double-crusted pies in the oven, loosely wrap aluminum foil around the pie crust edges. This will help the edges from browning too quickly. Remove the aluminum about 10 minutes before pies are ready to come out of the oven so the crust is properly browned.
Fruit Pies: Always make deep slits in the top crust of fruit pie. If you do not do this, the filling will be soft and soggy. To prevent the crust from getting too dark, you can cover it with a strip of aluminum foil or a pie shield. You also have the option of reducing the oven temperature if you notice things getting too dark.
Egg Wash:For achieving a nice golden brown top crust.
1 tablespoon heavy cream, half & half, or milk
1 large egg yolk
In a small bowl, beat cream and egg yolk together. Using a pastry brush, brush the surface of the top pie crust. Bake according to your recipe.
NOTE: My mother also uses just cream or milk on the top crust.
Cooling Baked Pies: Cool baked pies on a wire rack set on the counter. The rack allows air to circulate under the pie, preventing it from becoming soggy from the steam remaining it in.
Storing Prepared Pie Dough: Pie dough may be refrigerated for up to 2 days. Frozen, up to 3 months.
(Adapted from http://whatscookingamerica.net/piecrsthint.htm)