26 February, 2010

The Best Pie Crust Ever, and Cute Little Pies

Baking has long been the weakest of my culinary skills.  It took me quite a while to get the hang of making homemade bread, for example, and even now I'm not all that good at it.  I can make a decent white Italian bread dough, which I use for specialty loaves (pepperoni bread, Easter Pizza, spinach bread, and so on) but I admit I'm a lot better at curing a slab of bacon than baking a loaf of bread.

That goes for pies, too.  Not the fillings, mind you - my pie fillings are awesome - but my crusts have always been less than spectacular.  Some years ago, I finally just gave up trying and started buying Pillsbury refrigerated pie crust, which is pretty much just flour, lard, and a bit of salt, just like most homemade crusts. But lately money's been pretty tight and pre-cut pre-rolled circles of pie crust from the refrigerator case is more expensive and less versatile than homemade.  So the search was on for a pie crust recipe that even a baking doofus like me could knock together reliably.  

It took a while, but I finally found a pie crust recipe that comes out beautifully - flaky and tender and, um...easy as pie to make.  It was on a handwritten scrap of memo paper tucked in one of my old estate-sale cookbook discoveries, and versions of it are common all over the internet.  I present it to you here:

Never Fail Pie Crust
Makes pastry for two 2-crust pies

1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 3/4 cup lard
1 large egg
6 tablespoons icewater
1 teaspoon cider vinegar

Combine the salt, sugar and flour in a large bowl.  Cut in the lard with a pastry blender until the mixture is coarse and crumbly.  

Beat the egg with icewater and vinegar, then stir it into the flour mixture with a fork until moistened.  Knead it a little to make a smooth, silky dough.  Divide the dough into four equal portions, wrap each ball in plastic, and refrigerate it for at least 15 minutes before rolling it out.
You can use shortening instead of lard if you like, but I've found that lard really does make the best pie crust and because I don't make a steady diet of the stuff I'm not too worried about indulging occasionally.

You wouldn't believe how easy this dough is to work with.  I rolled it out directly on my lovely old formica tabletop without pastry cloth or wax paper, just a dusting of flour to keep it from sticking, and it was simple to roll and easy to pick up off the table top no matter how thin I rolled it.  Truly awesome.

Last night I made up a batch of the pie crust to help me use up some leftover chicken and gravy.  I lined a bunch of little Pyrex custard cups with the pastry, filled each of them with cubed chicken, some precooked diced potatoes and carrots, some frozen peas, a bit of minced onion, and a big dollop of chicken gravy.  Then I fitted them with top crusts and popped them into a 375F oven for a little less than an hour.

They turned out great.  Seriously great.  I am so glad I found that pie crust recipe.



foodhoe said...

I especially love the title, Never Fail Pie Crust. That appeals to me, the maker of rockbread and slate-tile crusts. and omg those chicken pot pies look good.

Christina said...

Pie crusts are even easier to make if you use a food processor, although the purists might say that this beats the dough too much, thus making it tough.

Dave said...

My mom uses her food processor to make pie crust, and it always comes out fantastic. For me, though, the processor just makes the pastry come out tough.

I've had more success using my trusty ol' KitchenAid mixer - using the whisk attachment to cut in the lard and the dough hook to mix in the liquid - but I don't mind spending a little time with a manual pastry blender.

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Alan said...

Well, your bookmark recipe brought me here. I'm lazy when it comes to pie crusts, but I might just give this a try.