Tomorrow my post is a tomato tart, based on a recipe by Giuliano Bugialli. Because my blog is written primarily for people who don’t do a lot of cooking but want to, I thought I’d first go over making a pie crust.
A lot of people would rather purchase pre-made pie crusts than try making one at home. And if you must, that’s okay. But if you try this one pie crust one time, you will see how much better it tastes, how easy it is, and how much less expensive it is as well. And that’s minus whatever preservatives might be in the pre-fab crusts .
I’m going to use a food processor to show how I make pie crust. Even Julia Child, the grand dame of French cooking and old-school chef, began using a food processor in her later years. It might have even been Martha Stewart who showed her how well it worked, without compromising the quality of the dough, during one of her cooking shows.
Nonetheless, if Julia Child can use one, so can I. There are just a few rules that are important. But they are simple rules.
First, have everything on hand. That would include your food processor, flour, cold butter, shortening, a pourable container full of icy water, and a large piece of plastic wrap. Here’s a recipe.
Pie Crust, also called Short Crust Pastry if you want to be fancy…
2 cups white all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons cold butter, diced
4 tablespoons shortening*
Pinch of salt
Icy cold water, at least 2 cups just so you have enough
Sprinkle a little bit of flour onto the piece of plastic wrap and set aside.
Then place the flour, the diced butter, shortening and salt in your food processor. The butter is diced so that it will incorporate more easily into the flour. (My pie crust for the tomato pie contains nutmeg, which is why you see it in the photo.)
Pulse the food processor’s blades until the mixture looks like crumbs.
Have the water in one hand, and use your other hand to run the food processor. Start up the food processor on the continuous mode and begin slowly pouring the water into the floury mixture. A slow drizzle will work well. If you over pour the water, you will get globs of wet flour, so it’s best to go slowly if you’re concerned about this. Normally, over processing the dough will create a stiffer dough, which isn’t good, but this can be worked out later when you’re making your pie crust. So just make sure there’s a constant drizzle.
At one point, stop and look at your dough. If you see some parts that look like dough, but other parts are dry and floury, you definitely need to add more water.
Stop when a giant dough has formed within the jar of your food processor. You’ll know when it happens. Keep in mind that when you’ll be working with your pie crust, and if it’s a little too wet, you can always add more flour. However, if the dough is too dry to begin with, there’s no turning back. You can’t add water to dry dough. It doesn’t work
One your giant blog of dough has formed, remove it from the food processor jar and dump it onto your piece of plastic wrap.
Sprinkle a little flour over the blob, and then working with the plastic wrap, place your hands underneath and mold the dough into a firm, flattened disc. No kneading is necessary. Fold the plastic wrap over the disc and refrigerate it for a couple of hours, or overnight.
When you are ready to use the dough for a pie crust, have your pie pan ready, some flour handy, and your rolling pin available.
First, unwrap the disc and place it on your surface, with a little flour sprinkled on top. Try to use as little flour as possible, because believe it or not, the flour can add up and create a dry crust.
Then take your rolling pin and beat the cold dough with it. This will loosen the dough a bit, and allow for better rolling**.
Then start rolling out the pie crust. This recipe will easily make a 9″ or 10″ pie crust, so you should have plenty. Don’t worry if you aren’t making a complete circle – that’s nearly impossible. Roll it out about 1/4″ thick – too thick isn’t good, and too thin will cause tearing. Any tears you do get can be sealed, so don’t worry about those, either.
As you roll, carefully lift the crust and turn it over, so you can thoroughly but lightly dust the crust with flour, if necessary. Every wet spot on the crust can potentially stick to the pie pan, and you don’t want that.
When it is larger than the diameter of your pie pan and the correct thickness, fold the crust over the rolling pin and gently place the dough over the pie pan. Make sure it is centered, and then gradually press down on the bottom of the pie crust. After you do that, work your way around the sides and press the crust into place. If you have long fingernails, use your knuckles.
There are many ways to make a fancy pie crust edging, but I’m going to make mine absolutely plain, because it’s not necessary to be fancy. Simply take your rolling pin and roll it over the top of your pie pan, and all the excess dough flaps will essentially get cut off. There! You now have a pie crust.
As you can see, mine isn’t perfect. I was working too quickly, which I often do for some unknown reason, and the dough tore, but it’s seriously no big deal unless you’re entering a pie competition. The dough will seal as it cooks. But if you are concerned, dip your finger into water and mush the tear together to smooth it out. I’m only talking a drop of water.
The rest is up to your recipe. Sometimes, as with the tomato tart, the crust has to be cooked ahead of time, just like with a quiche. If that is the case, line the pie crust with foil, and then fill up the bottom of the crust with pie weights, or simply beans; these work just as well. Bake the pie according to the recipe. Sometimes the foil and weights are removed, and the crust is cooked more for browning purposes. Often, the pie crust bottom is pierced with fork tines before the browning step, because this technique keeps the pie crust from puffing up. If puffing occurs, and you push down on the puff, then the crust will break and crumble. (Can you tell I’ve done this before?!!!)
If you’re making a pie that requires you to fill it immediately and bake, then make sure you also turned on your oven before you began working with the pie crust.
The best advice I can give with pie crusts, however, is that they be refrigerated after they’re placed in the pie pan. If the crust dough is warmish, then as soon as they’re in the oven, the fat will ooze out of them, and the results will not be pleasant. It will be a soggy mess. Trust me on this, because I was once in a hurry to bake some puff pastry, and didn’t take the time to put it back in the refrigerator for a mere 30 minutes….. I remember this hard lesson learned from many years ago!
Now that you’ve made a pie crust, think of all the fun things that you can add to it – like dried herbs, or white pepper, or cayenne or chili powder…. Then, you can also add finely grated cheeses to it… Or finely chopped nuts….. Oh, it gets even more fun!
If you happen to have some dough left over, you can easily make a couple of pie pockets, with savory or sweet fillings, or top a stew with the crust for a prettier presentation! Don’t let it go to waste!
* Supposedly, the best fat mixture for pie crust is a 50-50 mixture of butter and shortening. The butter adds flavor, and the shortening provides flakiness. You could certainly use either or if you prefer.
* I went to the Aspen Food and Wine Festival many years ago, and had the pleasure of being in attendance at a Julia Child cooking demonstration. At one point she was making a pie crust, and she began beating the crap out of her dough with a giant rolling pin. Everyone started laughing. I mean, even if you knew what she was doing, it was still funny. Here was this 6 foot something hulk of a woman beating a little piece of dough! She seemed sincerely stunned at the laughter! Can you just hear her? No, really, you have to beat… the dough… to get it more pliable……