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Perfect Pie Crusts

Even the most experienced bakers sometimes shy away from making pies. Usually, it’s not the fruity or creamy filling they fear, but rather the temperamental crust. Bakers everywhere, regardless of age, can no doubt relay stories of pie crusts gone bad, including soggy, undercooked versions and sticky, tough, and cracked crusts that just don’t taste (or look) very appetizing.

Nevertheless, pies are so versatile and are traditionally an important part of many menus, including those for holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. They come in a variety of tastes and textures and most people love them, so learning to master the art of pie crust-making can certainly come in handy. And as with many baked goods, a few tried-and-true tips can help even novice pie-makers create the perfect crust.

Cold, cold, cold – All experienced pie makers agree that the colder the ingredients, the better the crust. So, unlike for cakes, you don’t want to keep your pie crust ingredients at room temperature. Butter or vegetable shortening needs to be ice cold as do any liquids added to the mix. Some bakers even keep their dry ingredients cold as well, including flour. When ingredients get warmer than about 65 degrees F, the crust is certain to be tough.

Work quickly – The longer you take to mix up ingredients, the warmer you’ll your crust (and ingredients) will get. Also, too much mixing or kneading leads to a tough crust as well. When you’re ready to add the butter, cut it into small, manageable pieces and cut it in with two knives or a pastry cutter for best results. The crust should look like course meal with small lumps of shortening remaining. Again, a smooth crust without lumps of butter that’s been mixed too thoroughly will be tough. Add ice water quickly and just a little at a time. Once the dough holds together, you’re done. Got a food processor? Use it, especially if it means the entire process will be quicker and easier. When you’re satisfied with the result, form the dough into a disc (or two), wrap it, and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Roll with care – Many novice pie bakers get hung up on this step. Even experienced bakers can have problems with rolling as well, especially if the crust isn’t as pliable as it should be. Use a lightly floured board (beware of too much flour!) and start at the middle of the disk and roll upwards. Turning the dough ¼ turn, continue the process until the crust is basically even. If you roll in all different directions – again – the crust will get tough. Some bakers like to roll their crust between wax paper to avoid sticking, but that usually takes some practice.

Baking the best – Once you’re done rolling and lay the crust in the pan, gently working it in to fit, you’ll want to leave a little hanging over the edge and then fold it under so that it’s the size of the pan. Then you can crimp it to make it decorative. (Using two crusts? Wait until you put the top one on to tuck in the excess and crimp.)  Some recipes demand that you pre-bake the crust. This is usually the case with one-crust custard pies and other similar creations. If you’re pre-baking, remember to cover the crust with foil and fill it with pie weights or rice to prevent shrinkage while you bake.

It may take more than a few tries to get the pie crust to the taste and texture you prefer, so it’s best not to make your first pie for a special occasion but rather as an unexpected treat for your family or friends on an otherwise ordinary day. You can also experiment with different recipes found in cookbooks or even on shortening cans. Instructions may differ, so be sure to follow each recipe closely so you can determine which one will be best for the next holiday or special event.