Pie Crust 101

done.pies

A good pie is a flaky crust filled with delectable filling and a side of ice cream.  Once on masters the crust, and figures out correct volume for your particular pie pans, you are free to experiment and create new combinations of pies.

But I truly believe, a good pie is all about the crust.  I have done quite a few posts about pies – but still get frequent requests for my crust recipe.

I have used the same crust recipe for a number of years now, one that my dad shared with me.  I always use it, because it creates perfection.  Why the vodka, you ask?  My dad discovered the vodka crust method from J. Kenji López-Alt’s article in Cook’s Illustrated.  The idea is, you are able to add more liquid to the dough, without making it tough by adding too much water.  Most of the vodka bakes out and there is no after-taste.  In a pinch I have used gin in place of vodka, and used bourbon once to make a fantastic bourbon apple pie.

I am by no means pie scientist, I just do what I know works best – check out J. Kenji López-Alt’s Serious Eats article on pie myths for even more information on pies.  I will have to test out the rubber spatula method on my next pie!

Dad’s Pie Crust – makes a double crust for a pie

Ingredients:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup cold butter
3 tablespoons ice-cold water
3 tablespoons cold vodka

1.  Preheat oven for particular pie recipe temperature.  In a medium mixing bowl, use a pastry blender to cut in cold butter until pieces are coarse crumb size.

2.  Sprinkle 1 tablespoon ice-cold liquid at a time, alternating water & vodka; gently toss with fork.  Push moistened dough to side of bowl.  Repeat using rest of liquid.  Dough will be dry, do NOT give into temptation to make dough moister by adding more liquid, however, if it is unworkable, dry and crumbly, you may add 1-2 more tablespoons of vodka.  Too much water will make your dough tough.  Divide dough in half; form into a ball.

3.  On a lightly floured surface, use your hands to flatten ball of dough.  Roll dough from center to edges into a circle 12 inches in diameter.  Do not overwork the dough and do not allow dough to warm up.  Refrigerate while preparing filling, or if your baking time is delayed.  If the dough is too warm, it will stick and tear.

4.  Carefully transfer dough to pie pan, by wrapping around a rolling-pin, not allowing it to stretch.

5.  Transfer filling into pie pan.  Repeat steps 3 and 4 for second ball of dough.  Gently drape second circle of dough over the filling.  Use your fingers to seal the edges of the dough.

6.  Optional: brush dough with milk and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar.  Cover edges in foil or with crust shield.  Place piece of foil on bottom rack of oven, or pie drippings pan.  Place pie in preheated oven, on middle shelf.  Bake, according to filling directions.

7. Let cool on wire rack.

 

butter

Crust is all about the right ingredients – like cold butter and cold vodka.  I am always a big fan of organic butter.

pie.tools

Crust is also all about the right tools: pastry cutter, marble rolling-pin, silicone baking mat, and crust shields.  My first few pies were without these tools and it wasn’t impossible, but a little more frustrating to work without them.

Sometimes I stack the fillings high, sometimes I keep my pies classic, and sometimes I mix and match the fillings.  Following the correct volume, thickeners, and sugar amounts is important – once you have mastered the basics, any pie is possible.  These two pies are strawberry-rhubarb and raspberry-rhubarb.

My newest and most favorite pie tool is the silicone mat.  I measured my pie pans and now never have the issue of a crust being too small and falling apart when I try to roll it larger.  I still have the occasional small piece of crust is lop-sided and then a patch is needed.  I never said my pies all looked like perfection – but taste is another story!

See more about my must-have pie tools below.

pie.crust.brush

Depending on the pie, there can be a proper finish.  For my double-crust fruit pies, this entails a brushing of milk and sprinkling of Demerara sugar.  Sometimes cinnamon is also called for.

 

My favorite pie tools are the following items:

A marble rolling-pin helps keep the dough colder while you are working with it.  I refrigerate mine before rolling out the crust.  I do not wash it with soap, just hot water.  

A silicone pie mat prevents sticking, helps with correct measurements, and makes cleaning up the countertops easier.  

 

A pastry blender works better for cutting in cold butter than a fork, but now I am intrigued with the idea of using a rubber spatula, and will be trying that next.  
King Arthur all-purpose flour is the only kind I use these days.  The quality is top-notch and it never fails for all my baking needs.  Unless I am baking gluten-free, and then I use Cup for Cup.  I am still working on a perfect, from scratch gluten-free pie crust.  I will let you know when I make the break-through.

You may have noticed earlier in this post, that my pie shields are a tad on the small size. I may have to invest in these adjustable ones in the near future.  

A pie drip catcher means you are no longer wasting rolls of foil, trying to keep your oven free of the bubbling over pie fillings.  


I don’t believe in all the crazy sugar-fad items, but I sure do like the taste of coconut sugar.  I will be trying this combination out on the top of my next pie!

Christmas 2015

pie.sliceThis year for our Christmas Day meal, I decided to make a blueberry pie.  It’s good to shake things up a bit, especially on holidays, I think.  Some of my family would disagree and say this is a terrible idea – why mess with a a good thing, especially on holidays?!  It is due to this sentiment that I left my Challah recipe alone this year.

blueberry.pieI was using a combination of a couple recipes – a terrible habit of mine when I am in the kitchen.  I ended up with a delightful, though a bit on the juicy side of a pie.  My youngest – a huge pie fan – almost perfected his ability to say the word pie due to his love of the blueberries in this pie.

I used my dad’s crust recipe with gin this time – I was out of vodka.  And the basic blueberry filling from my Martha Stewart pie wheel.  See below for both recipes.  I would add thickener in the form of tapioca or corn starch for future reference.  I topped it off with real whipped cream.  I accidentally bought a carton of heavy whipping cream instead of the kids’ milk, so I have been creatively putting it to use.

walkIt snowed on Christmas Eve day and so I enjoyed a wintery walk with my eldest child.  She is a budding scientist and makes keen observations that make her mama proud.  Here she is gingerly touching the thin crust of ice at the very edge of the pond.  She told me after doing this that she, “would hold on to my hand while we were near the water’s edge.”

familyWe enjoyed quality family time with cousins and grandparents.  Poor Q, Christmas is a lot of work when you aren’t yet 2.  Though it’s a lot of work when you are my age, too.

IMG_8487Here he is earlier in the day, a little calmer and still barefoot.

IMG_8492My daughter’s writing is exploding now.  She decorated my present herself, asking for spelling help with all her favorite characters.  If she hadn’t made me open it, I would have just left it wrapped like this forever.

batmans

Santa visited my two little Batmen with some surprises, and some surprises for me – they are actually sharing in this picture!  My youngest little ham now slits his eyes when he smiles – not sure if he is trying to be funny or if this is how he thinks one is supposed to smile.

frostOn Christmas Day the foggy morning weather made everything a frosty white that surprisingly lasted all day.  It was absolutely beautiful and I found myself stopping and staring out my in-laws windows frequently during the day.

giftsWe opened gifts .  The chaos of this picture is perfect.

salt.fish

The men did most of the cooking.  Eric is working on assisting my brother-in-law with his salted fish recipe.  The fish are covered in a salt and egg white mixture and then baked.  The salt crust is then peeled off and a perfectly cooked fish is left inside.  This was paired with a saffron risotto, challah, a salad, and yule log cake and pie for dessert.

all the grandkidsWe certainly missed Grandma this year, this image was taken last year at Christmas.  She would have turned 91 on Christmas Day – how lucky I have been to celebrate her birthday and Christmas, together, for so many years.  So, with the exception of losing loved ones, each year Christmas just gets better.  I am so grateful for my life, my family, my health, my friends, and the way I get to spend my time.  Here’s to 2016!

Dad’s Double Pie Crust

  • 3 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup butter
  • 4 to 5 tablespoons cold water
  • 4 to 5 tablespoons vodka
  1. Sift together flour and salt; cut in butter with pastry blender until pieces are the size of small peas.  (For extra tender pastry, cut in half the shortening till like cornmeal. Cut in remaining till like small peas).
  2. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon water over part of the mixture.  Gently toss with fork; push to side of bowl.  Repeat, alternating water and vodka till all is moistened.  Form into 2 balls.
  3. Flatten on lightly floured surface by pressing with edge of hand 3 times across in both directions.  Roll from center to edge, till about 1/8 inch thick.
  4. Trim lower crust even with rim of pie plate.  Cut slits in top crust.  Lift pastry by rolling it over rolling pin; then unroll loosely over well-filled pie.  Trim 1/2 inch beyond edge.  Tuck top crust into under edge of lower crust.  Flute edge of pastry as desired.

Blueberry Pie FillingMartha Stewart Pie Wheel, (click here for your own printable version)

Combine in a large bowl: 3 pints of blueberries, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, and 2 chopped up tablespoons of butter.

Bake at 425° for 20 minutes with a Pie Crust Shield or aluminum foil on edges to protect crust edges.  Reduce to 350°, remove foil or shield, cook for 30-40 minutes more or till golden and filling is bubbling.

 

 

Bourbon Apple Pie

bourbon.apple.pieA looming due date creates all sorts of projects for me – cleaning, organizing, packing hospital bags, readying the baby room, and even baking pies.  Actually, it was not a looming due date that caused me to bake these two pies, but the return of family from out of town.  Eric’s sister and her family just arrived in town to become residents of the Des Moines area, so these were welcome back pies.

pie I did try something slightly different with my tried and true apple pie recipe though – the addition of bourbon and brown sugar in the filling.  See below for the recipe.  strawberry.rhubarbThe second pie was a strawberry rhubarb pie – one of my all time favorite flavor combinations.    The strawberries do an excellent job mellowing out the tart rhubarb.  I am ever so grateful to be able to buy reasonably priced and high quality fresh rhubarb now that we are back in Iowa.  The only way to actually get decent rhubarb in North Carolina was to buy it frozen.

 

Dad’s Pie Crust – makes a double crust for a pie

Ingredients:
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup shortening
3 tablespoons ice cold water
3 tablespoons cold vodka

1.  Preheat oven to 400°.  In a medium mixing bowl, use a pastry blender to cut in cold butter until pieces are coarse crumb size.

2.  Sprinkle 1 tablespoon ice cold liquid at a time; gently toss with fork.  Push moistened dough to side of bowl.  Repeat using rest of liquid.  Dough will be dry, do NOT give into temptation to make dough moister by adding more liquid.  This will make your dough tough.  Divide dough in half; form into a ball.

3.  On a lightly floured surface, use your hands to flatten ball of dough.  Roll dough from center to edges into a circle 12 inches in diameter.  Do not overwork the dough and do not allow dough to warm up.  Refrigerate while preparing filling.
4.  Carefully transfer dough to pie pan, by wrapping around a rolling pin, not allowing it to stretch.
5.  Transfer filling into pie pan.  Repeat step 3 and 4 for second ball of dough.  Gently drape second circle of dough over the filling.  Use your fingers to seal the edges of the dough.
6.  Optional: brush dough with milk and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar.  Cover edges in foil.  Place piece of foil on bottom rack of oven.  Place pie in preheated oven, on middle shelf.  Bake for 20-25 minutes at 400°. Reduce oven to 350°, remove foil, and bake another 35-45 minutes longer or till crust is golden and filling is bubbling.
7. Let cool on wire rack.

 

Bourbon Apple Pie Filling

Ingredients:
3 lbs of tart apples, peeled and sliced
2 tablespoons of lemon juice
1/4 cup of brown sugar
1/8 cup flour
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
3 tablespoons of bourbon
1. Peel and slice 3 lbs of tart apples.  Place in large mixing bowl.  Add lemon juice, brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, and bourbon.  Mix well and allow to stand for 10 minutes.

Boozy Snooki Peach Pie

What is one of the best things about living in the South?

Peaches, of course!

The following is the making of my Boozy Snooki Pie, using the vodka crust.  Great thanks to Instagram, which is now my favorite app.

I use my trusty pie recipe wheel.  My sister got the template from Martha Stewart and gave this to me for a bridal shower gift.
Peel and slice 4 lbs of peaches into approximately 3/4 inch cubes.

Mix peaches in a bowl with 3/4 cup sugar, 3 tablespoons flour, and 2 tablespoons butter.

For the crust, I used the Better Homes & Gardens red plaid cookbook recipe.  It is the simplest and best out there.  Before we move on though, a few important things to remember about pie crusts:

a. Always use butter, high quality butter.

b. Keep the butter, water and/or vodka, and dough as cold as possible. Work fast and handle the dough as little as possible.  If the dough becomes too warm, refrigerate before continuing,

c. When transferring dough to the pie pan, do not stretch, this will cause shrinkage during baking.

I use butter from a local dairy.  It comes in a tub, so measuring is a little tricky.
Cut butter into flour with a pastry cutter.  Pieces should be pea-sized.  A pastry cutter is a must if you are making pie crusts. 
 
Cut in 8-10 tablespoons freezer-temperature vodka in place of water to make a flakier crust.
Flour and butter mixture post vodka.  It should still seem dry.
Quickly form dough into 2 disks.  Handle the dough as little as possible.
Flatten dough and roll into a circle roughly 12 inches in diameter.  This is where a cold marble rolling pin is very handy to keep the dough cold.
Wrap dough around rolling pin and ease into pie pan.  Do not stretch the dough.  Transfer prepared filling into pie pan. Roll out remaining dough, same as first dough.  Transfer to top of pie.  Press edges together with fingers or fork edge.  I am not a fancy edge pie person – it needs to taste amazing, not look pretty to be on the cover of a magazine. Notice the rough edges below.
 
Cut vents for steam to escape.  These can be simple lines or a fancy design, such as shapes, letters or numbers.
Brush top with milk and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar.
Wrap edges in foil to prevent over-browning.
Place a sheet of foil with edges turned up on bottom rack to catch drippings.
Bake in 425° oven for 20 minutes.  Remove foil from edges.  Reduce heat to 350° and bake for 30 to 40 more minutes.  Insides should be bubbling and crust golden.

Cool on wire rack.  I firmly believe that a pie is always better with ice cream and on the second day, after it has had a day to set up.

Boozy Snooki Peach Pie

1. Peel and slice 4 lbs of peaches into approximately 3/4-inch cubes.

2.  Mix peaches in a bowl with 3/4 cup sugar, 3 tablespoons flour, and 2 tablespoons butter.

For Crust:

1. Cut 2/3 cup butter into 2-1/4 cups flour with a pastry cutter.  Pieces should be pea-sized.

2. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon cold vodka over part of flour and butter mixture.  Toss gently with fork.  Push moistened dough to one side of bowl.  Repeat using 1 tablespoon at a time until all flour is moistened, use 8-10 total tablespoons of cold water/vodka mixture.  Divide in half; form into 2 disks.

3.  On a lightly floured surface, use hands to slightly flatten dough.  Roll into a circle approximately a 12 inches in diameter.

4.  Wrap pastry dough around rolling pin and carefully transfer to pie pan.  Do not stretch the dough, this will cause shrinking during baking.  Trim excess dough off, if needed.  Transfer prepared filling to pie pan.

5.  Roll remaining dough into circle about 12 inches in diameter.  Cut slits to allow steam to vent.  Place pastry over filling, trim excess to 1/2 inch past edge of pie pan.  Press edges together with fingers or using a fork.

6.  Brush top with milk and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar.  Wrap edges in foil to prevent over-browning.

7.  Place a sheet of foil with edges turned up on bottom rack to catch drippings.

Bake in 425° oven for 20 minutes.  Remove foil from edges.  Reduce heat to 350° and bake for 30 to 40 more minutes.  Insides should be bubbling and crust golden.
The vodka makes the perfect flaky crust.
 The peaches are almost too good to be real!
 P.S. The pie doesn’t taste like vodka at all.