As the former owner of Sacramento’s Real Pie Company, I have met many nervous people who would rather buy a pie than make one at home. Pie-making fear is rampant, and it seems to center around the crust production – people have had a bad experience or two in their past and are certain they don’t have the knack for preparing successful pie dough. However, if you follow these suggestions, I guarantee you can make a fabulous crust.
• Use whatever fat you like in your crust. There are endless debates about what’s “better” – shortening, butter or lard (or a combination of these) – but it all boils down to your own personal taste. And don’t forget salt in your dough – saltless pie crust is bland and yucky.
• Chill all your ingredients – including the flour – before you prepare the dough. Put ice in your water 5 minutes before preparation. It really does make a difference.
• If you are using your hands to make the dough, that’s fine – just work quickly. The heat from your hands can melt the fat in the dough, resulting in a greasy, tough crust. I prefer a food processor – it’s faster and easier.
• Don’t over-process/mix the dough. Leave lumps of fat in your dough the size of small peas. These are what will make your crust flaky.
• After you make the dough, form it into a disc or discs, and let it rest for at least an hour in the fridge. I guarantee it will behave much better when it comes time to roll it out.
• Roll the dough out confidently, with enough flour to keep it from sticking on the counter, then place it in the pie pan (you can put the pie top on a cookie sheet). Let it rest again in the fridge for 30-60 minutes before proceeding with the recipe (this is especially important for all-butter dough).
• And if you’re making a pumpkin pie, partially pre-bake the shell – this makes all the difference. I loathe pumpkin pie slices with sodden, uncooked bottoms. Partial pre-baking ensures a crispy bottom and thoroughly cooked shell (and happy dinner guests).
Here are two sites that discuss pre-baking (or “blind-baking”):
Good luck, and happy pie-baking!