Homemade pie crust. Mom would slide a bowl in front of me with a mound of flour/salt/Crisco inside, put a fork in my (then kiddie-sized) hands, and tell me to “cut in” the fat until it was the size of peas. As I smashed Crisco into pieces, I learned the secrets to a tender, flaky pie crust. (Heck, sitting there captive to the crust and chatting with Mom, I learned lots of good stuff…but…fodder for another blog.) My mom’s tricks to perfect crust? Read on!
Of course, pie crusts are made with a short list of ingredients: flour, a little salt, fat, and liquid (and maybe a hint of sugar/spice for flavor). We can use a few different methods to make a great crust, but by hand or food processor, the secrets are the same…
- Trick: smash/whir fat into pea-sized pieces. The science? When the dough is rolled out, the little fat pieces make layers of fat pockets. (Mmm…) The fat melts in the oven, and any moisture will turn into steam and slightly puff the dough, forming a flaky crust. Many crusts use a combination of lard/shortening and butter. The lard creates a tender crust, and the butter (with its moisture content) adds more flakiness.
- Trick: Use cold ingredients. The science? If the fat is too warm, you won’t get the flakiness noted above. Rather, the warm fat will it will soak up the flour and create a tough crust.
- Trick: Don’t add too much liquid. The science? You might need to overcompensate with additional flour, which will result in a tough crust. Note: if you need more liquid then the recipe requires, the fat probably wasn’t properly incorporated into the flour. Flour should be “moisture-proofed” with the right amount of fat cut in.
- Trick: Let the dough rest in the fridge before baking. The science? Resting will allow the gluten in the dough to relax. It also helps to keep the fat chilled and prevents any stickiness on counters/rolling pins, requiring more flour.