I’m sorry this has taken so long; it’s been one of “those days.” Tomorrow, pictures of the curio and wine hutch. After I clean the dining room (which doubles as my “office”).
Anyway, pie crust. It’s not as hard as you might think; the secret is to not over-mix or under-mix the dough. If you over-mix the flour and fat (be it shortening or butter or cream cheese or lard) before adding the liquid, you’ll moisture-proof the flour, preventing it from absorbing the water, and the crust will be too fragile to roll. If you under-mix the flour and fat, the flour will absorb the water too easily and form too much gluten, giving you a tough crust.
Now, aren’t you just thrilled you know that?
Making pie crust is like anything else; it takes trial and error and experience. I’ve been making my own pie crusts for 25 years, and never doubted myself until I bought Rose Levy Berenbaum’s Pie and Pastry Bible. According to her, I’d been doing everything WRONG, and I quickly became unsure of myself (not to mention amazed I hadn’t given anyone a lethal case of indigestion with my WRONG pie crusts). So, I started following her recipes with a devotion I hadn’t quite felt since I was in middle school and had my hair cut in a Farrah Fawcett shag (oh, the time I spent in front of the mirror every morning…). I soon became very frustrated; you see, Mrs. Berenbaum has got to be one of the most anal exacting cooks that has ever walked the face of the earth. She doesn’t just measure her ingredients, oh no – she weighs them. To the tenth of a gram. To say that sort of precision drives me completely batty is like saying the Grand Canyon is a large hole in the ground – I was giving myself headaches following her recipes to the letter. Fortunately, she also gives standard measurements for each of her recipes (even though she makes it quite clear that weighing the ingredients – using tenths of grams, mind you – will give the best results), so I can use 6 tablespoons of Ice water rather than weighing 88 grams in a cup on my Salter electric food scale, by which time it has become just plain old tepid water, necessitating putting said cup in the freezer and forgetting about it.
You simply cannot make a pie crust with an 88 gram ice cube, no matter how hard you try.
She also raves about her Flaky Cream Cheese Pie Crust, which contains not only cream cheese, but butter, heavy cream, baking powder and cider vinegar. It is a very flaky, tender crust, I’ll give you that. It also tastes weird. Not necessarily bad, just…weird. It took me awhile to figure out just what it was about that crust that made it taste so odd before I realized that I grew up in Texas and every pie crust I ever ate was a shortening-based crust. If my grandmother was in the mood, she’d substitute about half of the shortening with butter. In fact, up until I began The Great Pie and Pastry Bible Pie Crust Experiment, that was the crust I’d made.
And it is again.
for a 9 to 10 inch pie shell
1 1/2 cups bleached all-purpose flour
5 tablespoons shortening
4 tablespoons butter, cold and cubed
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 – 5 tablespoons ice water
Whisk the flour and salt together in a large mixing bowl. Using a pastry knife or fork, cut in the shortening until the mixture is the size of small peas. Quickly cut in the butter until the mixture resembles a coarse meal, with some pea-sized bits. Stir in 3 tablespoons of cold water until the mixture holds together when forming a ball; use the additional two tablespoons if necessary.
Slightly flatten the ball into a disk about 4 inches in diameter; wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes, but preferably overnight before rolling. Once the crust is rolled and placed in the pie pan, refrigerate for another 30 minutes to an hour before filling a baking to prevent shrinkage.