Yes, You Can Make Pie Crust!
Yes, You Can Make Pie Crust!
By Jan K., The Proofer
Yes, You Can Make Pie Crust!
I used to be Pie-Crust-Challenged. I never would even try to make pie crust. I just browsed through the freezer section in the market, and found those pre-made pie crusts. I'd hope that the edges weren't too broken. Then there came the day when my husband said, out of the blue, "I really wish you'd make homemade apple pie." I looked around the kitchen, thinking that Martha Stewart (or Mrs. Smith or Marie Callendar) must have come in while I wasn't looking. However, I was the only person standing there. My husband made that remark...to me.
"Me? Make homemade apple pie? You must be kidding, right?" I asked.
"Aw, come on...how hard can it be? I know you can do it," he replied.
Well, I figured that after all these years of marriage, if he had that much faith in me, then I'd give it a whirl. I checked my only cookbook (a very yellowed paperback copy of Fanny Farmer that I'd gotten as a bridal shower gift in 1973, and is now rubber-banded together) and it seemed like the main ingredients were, well, apples. A couple of spices, some flour, and a few other things, and voila! Apple Pie. That much I figured I could handle.
Then came the moment of truth---I looked up Pie Crust. Don't ask me why, but my knees went to jelly (the instructions for which are also in my Fanny Farmer cookbook...but let's not go there). I seemed to remember my mother standing at the kitchen counter, flour up to her elbows, telling me about how you had to cut in just the right amount of shortening and add just the right amount of water until the pie crust dough looked just right. That's just right about when my eyes glazed over. But my husband had asked and then trusted me to come through for him. I couldn't let him down.
I shopped for apples, spices, and the short list of things Fanny Farmer said I needed for the pie. While I shopped, I spied a box of pie crust mix. What is this? I asked in total wonderment. Someone else measured out just the right amounts of flour and shortening, and had mixed then together until they were just right? This was a miracle! I snatched up two boxes (...just in case I made a total mess of the first try). And that, my friends, was the beginning of the "I can make pie crust" phase of my culinary talents (what few of them I have).
During the last couple of years, as I've expanded my pie-making repertoire, I've come to learn (always "the hard way") that there are a few secrets to making great pie crust...even from a box mix. But it's not like it is rocket science, or even brain surgery---and there's no secret society of Pie Crust Makers of which I am aware, no special handshakes to perform, no passwords that must be muttered directly into the gatekeeper's ear---so I'm going to share those tips with you.
Before your knees turn to jelly and your eyes glaze over, know this: I've gone one step better---I've prepared an illustrated guide to making pie crust. This guide will open in a new window, for your convenience, and is easily printed. It has several pictures in it, so it might be a little slow to open. But, like a good pie crust, some things just take time...
Now, you're ready to go!
I've used two or three different brands of pie crust mix, and I've never noticed any difference, so just go to your local market and look in the aisle where the cake mixes are. Find a box of pie crust mix (Pillsbury, Betty Crocker, or Jiffy make them, but just buy whatever you find). The box will probably tell you that one box will make one 9" pie, with a top and a bottom crust, or two 9" pies with only a bottom crust. I've never made a top and bottom crust pie, only bottom crust pies---my culinary talents only go so far. But I've found that one box makes pretty skimpy bottom crusts for two pies, so, truth to tell, I buy two boxes (and then end up throwing away some dough...which makes my mother's eyes roll skyward---how dare I throw perfectly good pie crust away when it could be used for making a cinnamon roll---more about that later!).
Making the Pie Crust
I use a pastry cloth and I do have a pastry cutter (a tool that "cuts" shortening into flour). However, a fork works perfectly well. You'll also need a rolling pin. Remarkably, I had a rolling pin (why, I couldn't tell you, and how or from whom I got it is even more of a mystery). If you don't have one, there really isn't much of a substitute. You don't need a fancy one---just a plain old wooden rolling pin.
Following the directions on the box, measure out the water. Even though the box might say "5 tablespoons" or "1/3 cup" of cold water (and yes---use COLD water, it does make a difference---why I don't know, but it does...some things you just have to take on faith), you might not actually need that much water. There's probably some highly scientific explanation for why you might only need 3 tablespoons of water instead of 5, but that's beyond me. I've just learned that sometimes I just don't need all the water...and sometimes I do. Guess it has something to do with adding that "just right..." amount of water, in some cosmic sense.
Pour the dry mix into a mixing bowl. Add half of the water (no more than 2 tablespoons). Using the pastry cutter (or fork) start to blend the water into the mix. It isn't the easiest thing to do, and the mix starts to get pretty sticky as it forms the dough. Just keep whacking at it with the cutter (or fork), until you've got the water mixed in. At some point, you'll begin to notice that the dough is holding together and all the mix is moistened. Add a little bit of water if it isn't quite all moistened. After you've mixed it pretty good, flour your hands and test the dough. Does it all hold together? If it almost feels like Play-Doh, you've got it! It's OK if you haven't used all of the water...and it's OK if you have...it's that cosmic "sometimes you don't need all the water" thing. Now, place the dough ball onto a floured pastry cloth, or floured kitchen countertop. Cut the dough ball in half. Flatten the half dough ball, and pat a little flour on the top.
With the rolling pin, start to roll out the pie crust. You've seen enough TV shows of pastry cooks (or June Cleaver, depending on your age...) rolling out dough---just go for it. As you roll out the dough, roll in different directions, trying to maintain the same amount of pressure on the rolling pin, until you have a fairly round shape of rolled-out dough. As you'll see in the illustrated instructions, my rolled out pie crust won't win any prize---but it gets me there.
Roll out the pie crust until it looks like it is bigger than your pie pan. It's just one of those "eyeball it" measurements. When you think the pie crust is big enough, then using the rolling pin, gently lay one half of the crust over the pin, and pick up the whole crust. Flop it into the pie pan. Use your fingers to push it down into the pan and up the sides. If it "rips" then just nudge it back together, overlap the sides a little, and squoosh it back together. If you are a little short on one side, then roll out a little piece of dough and lay it over the short side. Then push the edges together.
Trim off the excess that is laying over the rim of the pie pan. Crimp the edge with your thumbs and index fingers, with a slight "pinching" effect. It's kind of a tricky thing, but you'll figure it out...or you'll go buy a pie crimper. Be sure to see the illustrations in the guide of crimping the edge by hand.
Now---and here's the first real "secret" about pie crusts---use a fork and poke holes in the bottom and along the sides. This is going to get a little steam out. You need to let the steam out because---and here comes the second "secret"---you are going to pre-bake just the crust.
Put the pie crust (in its pie pan, silly!) on a cookie sheet, and put it into a 425-degree oven for about 3 minutes. Rotate the pie crust (most ovens bake a little unevenly). Bake for another 3-4 minutes. The pie crust should start having a "flaky" look, it is puffed up a little, and likely the crimped edges have pulled back from the edge of the pie pan somewhat. If the top of the dough doesn't look "dry," then slip it back into the oven for a few more minutes.
Congratulations! You've just made pie crust! Now---you are ready to fill the pie with whatever you've decided to put in it!
You know, once you know you can bake pie crust, you'll be thinking about tackling other kinds of baking you swore you'd never be able to do---like baking bread! Get my free recipe for Sourdough Starter and Sourdough Bread at Jan's Dough (and other recipes, including Grandma Gallagher's Pumpkin Pie) at: http://www.jansdough.com/.
PS: Got some leftover pie crust dough? Make my mother happy...use it to make a little cinnamon roll that is easy to make---and just as easy to eat! Go to Jan's Dough and click on the "Other Free Recipes" link. You'll find the recipe for Leftover Piecrust Cinnamon Roll (along with lots of other good recipes from Poppo [my dad], Mom, and me).
Good luck and happy baking!
Jan K., The Proofer is a freelance copyeditor and proofreader. Visit Jan’s Portal (http://www.jansportal.com) for more information about Jan's free crafts, recipes, tutorials, other resource sites, and free content articles, as well as Jan’s freelance proofreading business services. Be sure to visit Mom's Break (http://www.momsbreak.com/) for free printable crafts and projects. © Copyright 2005 to present. All rights reserved.