Flaky Like Me

Pie pastry needs butter for flavor and shortening for flakiness. Pastry dough needs to chill and relax, so yes, I’m going to say it: Your pastry must chillax. Be gentle with your dough. Pie pastry is tricky. It needs to be kept at the perfect temperature and handled with care. The dough cannot be too wet or too dry. Conditions must be perfect for dough to give you what you want: a delicious, buttery, flaky, golden crust.

I promised that I would tell you all about my pie disasters, and I will, but I want to start with a success. Pie perfection. I’m talking tiara, sash, and pageant tears perfection. Right off the blocks. (I’m a swimmer, I say “off the blocks” rather than “out of the blocks,” so, whatever.) The pie I needed to be perfect baked up perfectly. But before I can even tell you about the perfect pie, I need to start with the perfect crust.

I did a lot of research to find the perfect pie pastry. Duh, I’m a librarian! I am keeping a bibliography of resources I like (lists! I love lists!) and will create a tab just for that. If you can only check out three books today, these are the ones you should get. Now, I am telling you to go to your public library to check out the books. Do not buy them. Once you check out several pie cookbooks and find the one that you like, then you can ride your bike to your local independent bookseller to buy it. Peace, love, and pies, man. Peace, love, and pies.

  1. Baking with Julia is a fantastic reference for the beginning baker. Not really pie-heavy, but an excellent primer for pastry and full of drool-worthy recipes and delicious photographs. (You can find Julia’s pie pastry tips on the PBS website. And if you like public television, make a donation while you’re there.)
  2. Ken Haedrich’s book Pie: 300 tried-and-true recipes for delicious homemade pie is a big book. That’s a lot of pie. I like Ken and I like his style. (Shhhhh! Don’t tell, but you can find the perfect pastry tips and more on Google books.)
  3. Mrs. Rowe’s Little Book of Southern Pies is pretty cute and a nice reference for a “Southern” girl like me. Yes, it’s a joke. I was born in South Florida, but now live in North Florida, which is the “Southern” part of the state. It’s South Georgia, really. I love grits and bake pies. That’s Southern enough.  (Take a peek at her basic tips on Amazon.)

From my extensive research and limited experience, I can honestly tell you that this is the easiest and tastiest pie crust you can have in your recipe box. I agree with Julia Child that “heaven forbid” you should have just one pie pastry recipe, this would be it. This is my variation of Julia’s Flaky Pie Dough from Baking with Julia.

This recipe will make four 9-inch shells or two double-crusts. I halved it the first time just to make sure I liked it. It is perfect, so now I make the big batch and freeze the two or three balls I don’t use. Tee hee! It is so much work to get all of the ingredients out and measure and then put everything away, that it saves time to mix up a bigger batch of dough. So there you go.

Did you read Julia’s tips? I’m serious, now. Make sure the water is ice cold. Put the shortening in the freezer and the butter in the fridge. Keep the dough cold. Let it rest. It takes patience for perfection. I promised my Canadian photographer friend that I would give her my perfect pie crust recipe and this is it.

2 ½ cups pastry flour (unbleached, organic, or what you prefer)

2 ¾ cups all-purpose flour (unbleached, organic, or what you prefer)

1 tbs kosher salt

1 ½ sticks cold, unsalted butter, cut into cubes and kept cold (REAL BUTTAH!)

1 ¾ cups solid vegetable shortening, cut into cubes and kept cold (Crisco sticks, or whatever you like)

1 cup ice water

Now it is up to you to decide if you are going to do it by hand or with a mixer. I did it by hand until my pie taster gave me a beautiful KitchenAid Artisan Stand Mixer. {cue Heavenly Angels singing} The mixer works really quickly. Doing it by hand gives your arms a good workout. (Yes, that is what I said.) You can use a pastry blender or two knives, or you can just use your fingertips. Whatever you choose, do not overwork your dough. Keep it cool and let it rest.

Are you measuring properly? Do not scoop the flour, spoon the flour.

Spooning the flour into your cups gives you perfect measurements

Once you measure and mix your flour and salt, toss the butter cubes in and cover them in flour before you begin to cut them into the flour.

Toss your butter cubes in the flour to coat before mixing

You want to achieve coarse crumbs. Do not let the butter get warm.

Coarse crumbs achieved by magic fingers

Cut in the shortening next, the same as you did the butter, working to achieve small clumps.

Ooooh! Coarser crumbs achieved with a little forking

Add the ice water 1 tbs at a time, mixing just to incorporate. You want the dough moist, not wet.

How cold is my water? ICE COLD!

You may not need all the water and that is OK. Once the dough really starts clinging to itself, it is ready.

Oh, that feels nice and moist

Gently form into a ball and halve. Halve those two balls and gently pat into a small round and wrap in plastic wrap.

Wrapped and ready to chill

Refrigerate the dough you are using and freeze the rest. Refrigerated dough should be used within a week; the frozen dough will keep 6 months if wrapped properly. Let the dough chill for at least an hour before rolling.

I like to roll the dough out between two sheets of lightly floured waxed paper.

Ready to rock and roll

Roll out the dough to the width of the paper for a 12-inch circle. Be gentle. Keep the dough cold. I keep returning the dough to the freezer to let it rest. While the dough rests, I clean up the kitchen and have a beer. Beer, rolling, freezing, cleaning. You get it. I like a clean kitchen and a cold beer.

I’ve tried all methods but I prefer to roll the dough around my rolling pin and place it into the pie plate.

Let's do this!

Easy as pie. Gently press the dough into the pie plate and trim around the edges leaving enough overlap to crimp into a pretty crust. Keep the scraps to decorate a double-crust. (This is where I got busy with my crust and forgot to take photos. Photos to come with next pie, I promise.) Now it’s time to put that baby in the freezer to rest for about 10-15 minutes.

And this is the time when I leave you. Wha-hat?!?! Why would I abandon you now? Because you need to figure out what kind of pie you are going to bake. Some pies require blind-baking and pie weights, others need an egg wash, plus there are variations of crimping to discuss. It gets complicated and this post is already way too long. Besides, you need to study the materials I gave you before you attempt that crust. A pie pastry fail is totally discouraging. We want pie perfection.

~Peace, love, and pies

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12 thoughts on “Flaky Like Me

  1. Elizabeth June 6, 2011 at 8:38 pm Reply

    Did you feel that Pie Mistress? It was a giant virtual hug (smeared with a little real buttah!). I’m going to give this a go on the weekend – photos may follow (hmmm). To be continued. (ha ha ha).

  2. Karina June 22, 2011 at 2:38 am Reply

    I am so happy to read this…been wondering lately about using shortening in my crust (previously always used only butter)….but I love that you have now told me WHY i need to include both. Of course I want my crust to be flaky. I’m a bit concerned with the amount this recipe makes….I’ve been known to eat my pie dough raw….so those extra balls you freeze may well end up eaten by me…but it’s a risk I’m willing to take.

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  8. livinglearningeating July 25, 2011 at 4:26 pm Reply

    So you’re a pie-fectionist? 🙂

    • Pie Mistress July 25, 2011 at 4:33 pm Reply

      My name is Lyssa and I am a pie-fectionist.

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