I am not a fan of shortening. You will never find a recipe on this website that uses shortening (well, I may have used it one time years ago). I have said it before: It creeps me out. When I see a can of that greasy goo, I just can’t bring myself to cook with it. Maybe it is because my mom never even had it in the house. Or maybe because for a long time, all shortening was full of trans fats and even though you can get shortening made from palm oil now, it still has a negative connotation in my mind. Or maybe because butter has so much more flavor! Who knows. But I do know that I can still get an amazingly flaky pie crust without the mystery goo from a can. Over the past two weeks, I have made a bunch of pies and done a ton of research. I can tell you without a doubt, YOU CAN MAKE FLAKY, FLAVORFUL PIE CRUST WITHOUT SHORTENING OR LARD!!!! However, there are a few tips and tricks that will really help you get a really flaky crust. Its really easy, but there is a technique for achieving those flaky layers. Don’t be intimidated by the length of this post. Just read it. It is not a reflection of the difficulty or time involved in making the pie, I just tried to be very thorough and detail, including every little tip I could think of.
First off, to an extent, the recipe isn’t that important. In fact most recipes you find for butter crust will be very similar. For a double crust recipe you will need the following:
- 3 C. flour
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 TBSP. sugar
- 1 C. (2 sticks) butter, frozen
- 1/2 to 1 C. ice water
As long as your recipe isn’t too incredibly different from what I listed, it probably doesn’t really matter. In the past I have used 2 1/2 cups of flour instead of 3. I don’t think it really matters other than there is a little more dough to work with. Although 2 1/2 is slightly flakier because the butter to flour ratio is higher, it is a little bit harder to work with. Regardless, the instructions I have for you today, will apply to any pie dough crust. This recipe makes two 9 inch pie rounds. Just cut it in half if you don’t need the top layer of dough. Or just make two pies.
1. Make sure your butter is frozen. I always keep a box or two of butter in my freezer so I can have it ready for a pie crust at any given moment. If it is not frozen, make sure its really cold. The reason? If you still have little bits of butter visible in the crust, then you will have a flaky pie dough. If the butter is cold when it hits the oven, it will make steam, which will raise the dough around the butter, making little flaky pockets. The way to keep little bits of butter visible in the crust, is to keep it as cold as possible through the whole process of making the dough.
2. Measure out water and place it in the freezer. Measure out the flour, salt, and sugar in a mixing bowl or the bowl of a food processor. Mix to combine ingredients. Place bowl of ingredients and any utensils you will use (pastry cutter, spatula, food processor blade, etc) in the freezer.
3. Cut frozen butter into small cubes. I like to use my big cleaving knife because it slices through the frozen butter like a charm. I have also tried using a cheese grater to grate the frozen butter, but I found it difficult to grate that much frozen butter. My arms got really tired and the butter melted easier and we want to keep it frozen. Place the butter into the bowl on top of the flour and put it back in the freezer if you feel it is starting to get soft.
4. Using a food processor or a pastry cutter, blend the butter into the flour. A couple pulses in the food processor should do fine. If you are using a pastry cutter, I suggest using a nicer sturdy one. I use to have a flimsy one from the dollar store and it just wasn’t strong enough to cut through the frozen butter without bending out of shape. It still worked, it just took me twice as long. When you are finished with this step, the butter should be a little smaller than small peas.
If you feel like your butter is starting to get soft, put the whole bowl back into the freezer for a couple minutes. If you used a food processor to blend the butter, I highly recommend that you transfer the dough into a mixing bowl and do the rest by hand at this point. It prevents the dough and the butter from being over worked. If you mix the dough too much after the water is added, it will become tough and butter bits we want, will fade away. If you decide to keep the dough in the food processor, just make sure the butter bits are more like lima beans than peas when you add the water.
6. Drizzle 1/2 cup of the ice cold water over the dough. I like to wait until my water has little ice crystals forming on top, but if you are in a time crunch, you can place a bunch of ice cubes in some water. Use a rubber spatula to gather and press the dough together. Eventually, it is easier to use your hands, but until our dough comes together a little more, keep your hands and their body heat away from that butter. A rubber or silicone spatula work perfectly for this.
7. After the dough starts to come together a bit and get shaggy, you can use your hands (wash them first) to bring together the dough. You will probably need at least 1/4 cup more water, maybe 1/2 cup. Just add it 1 tablespoon at a time until it starts to come together. It will still be a little bit shaggy and crumbly, but once it can hold a ball shape without half of it crumbling away, then stop.
8. Turn dough out onto a sheet of plastic wrap and wrap tightly, crumbs and all. Place plastic wrapped dough ball into the fridge. Let the dough rest in the fridge for a few hours at least because it really makes the dough easy to work with. It also gives the gluten in the dough a chance to achieve it’s full potential. You can, however, leave the dough in the fridge for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to a month.
9. When you are ready to assemble the pie, remove the dough from the fridge and unravel plastic wrap. Flour a clean surface and rolling pin. Split the dough ball in half. Wrap up the remaining dough and put it back in the freezer or fridge. Lightly flour the top of the dough and roll out so the crust will fit a 9 inch pie plate with a little bit of extra overhang.
10.If your dough and surface are floured sufficiently, you should be able to roll the dough around the rolling pin as support for the dough as you transfer it to the pie plate. This will prevent tearing as you move it. Just unroll the rolling pin into the pie pan. Remember, you want to be able to see little flecks of butter in the dough (have I said that enough?)
11. Using a knife or a fork, poke holes around the bottom of the pie dough. Cut off any extra pie dough overhang and pinch dough between fingers all the way around the pie. If you are doing a double crust, repeat the steps for rolling out the dough with the extra ball of dough in the fridge. Pinch top and bottom layers of dough together. You can also do a lattice pie crust or some kind of decorative edge at this point. Or you can use a pie stamp to cut out a shape from the extra dough to use around the edge or on top.
12. Once you have formed your pie crust, I recommend freezing it for at least 15 minutes before baking it. Again, this will ensure that the butter bits are nice and cold, especially after handling the crust so much. If you are blind baking the crust, this will also prevent the dough from shrinking. You can freeze the crust for up to a month at this point, as well. Just make sure it is tightly wrapped and that you use a pan that it safe to transfer directly from the freezer to the oven.
OTHER TIPS AND TRICKS:
- To prevent butter from getting too soft you can also place a bag of ice on the surface on which you will be rolling out the dough for about ten minutes. While you do this, freeze your rolling pin. I don’t usually do this, but it would be really helpful if your kitchen was already warm (which it may be if you are making your pies on Thanksgiving day while other tasty dishes are heating up the kitchen).
- You can freeze a whole fruit pie (doesn’t work as well with cream pies) for up to a month. If you assemble the crust, fruit, and top crust early, just wrap it tight so it doesn’t get freezer burnt. Make sure you do this with a silicone or metal pan because sometimes Pyrex can shatter if you move it directly from the freezer to the oven. Do not thaw the pie before baking or it will get soggy. Add an extra 15 to 30 minutes (maybe more depending on the type of pie) to the original cooking time.
- I haven’t tried it, but I have heard that it works well to lay down some greased plastic wrap or tin foil in the pie pan before rolling out the crust. Assemble the pie like normal, wrap up the whole pie, and freeze. After pie is completely frozen, just pop out the whole pie by pulling up the plastic wrap or tin foil. This way you can freeze the whole pie without freezing your pie pan for an extended amount of time. When you are ready to bake, just pop the pie back into the original pie pan.
- If you are blind baking a crust, you can use dried beans on top of some tin foil to weight the crust down and prevent it from shrinking.
SOLUTIONS TO COMMON CRUST PROBLEMS:
If your dough is too sticky to work with, you probably added too much water. You can always add a little flour. Wait to do this until after you have let it settle in the fridge, because it becomes nice and smooth after letting it rest in the freezer.
Shrinking Pie Crust:
This usually happens if you are baking the pie crust before adding the filling. If your dough is losing form and shrinking in the pan it could be for one of the following reasons:
- No pie weights. Either invest in some pie weights or use a bunch of dried beans on top of tin foil. Make sure there is enough weight, or it will continue to shrink.
- No resting time for dough. Let the dough rest in the fridge before rolling it and again before transferring the rolled dough into the crust. About 5 minutes before transferring should be fine. Also, let it chill in the freezer for a little bit before baking.
- Too much water in the dough. This is why it is important to add the water a tablespoon at a time when combining water and flour/butter. You can try and remedy it by adding some flour, but be careful not to over mix it.
- Not enough fat in the dough. This should not be a problem if you use my recipe.
- Dough was over worked. Try not to handle the dough too much. Roll it out in as few rolls as possible and avoid rolling back and forth over and over. The dough will start to shrink even before you cook it and will become tough and hard to flatten.
- Dough was stretched too thin. Loosely place the dough in the pan and crimp the edges. Avoid pressing dough firmly into the crease where the base meets the side of the pan.
- Dough is not thin enough. If the dough is so thick that it doesn’t leave a good over hang over the edge of the pie crust, roll it out some more. Tuck the edged down slightly over the lip of the pan and trim away extra dough.
Gooey filling & Burnt Crust:
Simple solution. Half way through cooking, cover the pie in tin foil. Or at least the ring of exposed crust. Give the filling the full amount of time, just cover the crust.
This usually happens if you have handled the dough too much. Work quickly and don’t knead or over mix the dough.
Not Enough Time:
If you in a time crunch and can’t refrigerate the dough for all the right times and in all the right places, use the freezer and cut the time down. Still, give the dough the right resting breaks. If you have to, cut down the time or use the freezer, but do your best to lest the dough rest after mixing and before rolling.
Not Enough Pie:
You may frequently receive the common complaint of there not being enough pie. If you are hearing phrases like, “I want more pie” or “Can I have fourths?” or “It’s gone already?”, then, my friend, you are out of luck. The only solution to your growing pie popularity is to make more pie! Happy pie baking!!!!
Here are some of my favorite pie recipes:
- Pumpkin Pie
- Lime Coconut Pie with Macadamia and Toasted Coconut Crust
- Sweet Potato Pie with Toasted Marshmallows
- Peaches and Dream
- Black Berry Mango
- Fruit Crème Frozen Pie
- Fresh Fruit Tart
Tutorial from Edible Experiments