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Buttermilk Clouds

Pie Crusts 101

pieslice by you.
I really had not intended on another pie post so soon, but there have been some crust questions that must be answered. First off - people - don't be afraid of the crust. It is only a little pile of flour, shortening, salt and water. That is it. Nothing magical. Nothing mysterious. About as plain as it can get. But, if you simply can not muster up the courage to tackle the crust, my suggestion is - drink a glass of wine. Yes, a glass of wine is guaranteed to take the edge off and that crust will almost roll its self. Thinking about it, a glass of wine is how most of my cooking sessions start! If one doesn't help, have another. But, I wouldn't recommend more than two. Things will start to go downhill and, well, it could get ugly.

To make a pie crust, you must have certain tools of the trade. Just little items to make it painless.

The Tools:
Wonder Cup
Pastry Frame
Rolling pin
Pastry blender or a food processor
Pie plate
Mixing bowl
Spatula - I love my spatula for tossing the cold water in the flour

tools by you.
How would you measure 2/3 cup of shortening? I use the Wonder Cup. The unique design allows for no-struggle, mess-free measuring. To use, push the yellow cylinder down to the measurement mark you need and stuff the cylinder full of shortening, then level it off and push it into your bowl. Much easier than attempting to get your shortening out of a normal measuring cup.

Another pretty handy item to have around is a pastry frame. Not only is it necessary in my book for pie crusts, it is wonderful to roll out biscuits, bread and cookies. The official name of mine is the "Foley Pastry Frame". The unofficial name is "The Happy Thing" - named by my husband because every time I bring it out, he gets happy! It's very old and I don't think they make this particular brand any longer. But, there are other brands out there now. A pastry cloth will do if you can't find a pastry frame. The frame, while being convenient, is not necessary. It helps to hold the canvas 'pastry cloth' in place on your counter. Always remember to flour the canvas well before rolling out your pie crust. When finished using, shake out excess flour, roll up and store. (Mine is in a cardboard tube in a kitchen cabinet.)

The rolling pin is instrumental to the pie making process. Mine is not fancy, and once again very old. Hmmmm....seems most of my favorite, most used kitchen tools are old and well used. Anyway, you can find rolling pins in a variety of materials...marble, glass, steel, hollow plastic, wood. Mine is wood and it works like a pro. I suppose it is just a matter of preference, and I prefer wood. I like the way it looks and the way it feels. My pastry frame came with a stockinette rolling pin cover which keeps your dough from sticking to the rolling pin. Before rolling your crust, rub flour over the stockinette.

The last tools I will talk about are the pastry blender and food processor. For many years I used a pastry blender and never had a problem with it. But, recently I bought a food processor because it seemed like every recipe and every food show used one. Now I know why - they work! But, even after purchasing one, it took me a long time to finally decide to see how it would cut shortening into the flour. (Old habits die hard.) So, if you have a food processor, definitely use it for pie crusts. Put the flour, salt and shortening into the bowl and pulse it until it looks crumbly. I don't use the food processor to add the water, because I feel it would over work the dough at this point. If you don't have a food processor, don't fret over it. Just buy a little pastry blender for a few dollars. It will work just as well and make a wonderful flaky crust.

I can't remember exactly where I got my recipe, but I suspect it was from a Gold Medal flour bag, although I use any flour I have on hand. It has directions for a one-crust or a two-crust pie. Usually I will make both...enough for three crusts because I like to have plenty of pie crust to work with.

The Recipe:
~8 or 9 inch One-Crust Pie~
1 cup Gold Medal Flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup shortening
2 to 3 tablespoons cold water

~8 or 9 inch Two -Crust Pie~
2 cups Gold Medal Flour
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup shortening
4 to 5 tablespoons cold water

The Crust:
It is always easier to assemble everything before hand. Not saying that is what I do all the time, but when I do, the process is much smoother. If I really had forethought, I measure the shortening, cut into cubes, put into a bowl and set it in the refrigerator to get chilled. More often than not, my shortening doesn't get chilled. According to "Pie Authorities" that is a big no-no. But, my pies turn out great anyway. So, don't fret about that either. What I do, and I think this does make a difference, is get a little glass of water with ice at the beginning. That way when I'm ready to add the water it is good and cold.

To make the pie crust, add your flour, salt and shortening to a bowl or the food processor bowl if that is what you are using. Cut your shortening into the flour with the pastry blender or pulse the food processor until it resembles something between cornmeal and pea size chunks of flour/shortening.

crumbly by you.
UPDATE: 11/17/06 I've had a couple of people ask what that black thing is. Well, curious readers, that is the center post of my snazzy Wolfgang Puck Food Processor! And that is the flour blended with the shortening in the processor bowl ready for the addition of water.)

Now the ice water gets added. If using a food processor I empty the flour mixture into another bowl because I don't like working around that middle pole of the processor bowl. Just me. Anyway, adding the ice water is critical. Don't laugh...it is. Too much water and you crust will be tough. Too little water and it will not hold together and crumble when putting it in the pie plate. This is the only part of the whole process that I actually pay attention. I will add the water, one tablespoon at a time, and keep count. I only keep count because it gives me a general guideline. I say guideline because the amount of water added to a pie varies from day to day, depending upon the humidity in the air. After each addition of water, I use a rubber spatula and gently toss the mixture. I keep doing this until the dough starts to form larger clumps and hold together.

holding_togther by you.
Some days I use more water, some days less. You will develop a feel for it.

When I think enough water has been added, I press it into a ball, handling it as little as possible. That is the golden rule after adding the water. Handle as little as possible. Anyway, press it into a ball and place on your floured pastry frame or pastry cloth. Press it flat into a disc. With your floured rolling pin, start rolling from the center to the edge. Sometimes I help keep the dough round by pressing the edges into shape with my hands into a circle.
shaping by you.
Most times just rolling from the center out will form a nice circle.

Now comes the part that use to make me crazy...getting the crust into the pie plate without it falling apart. I finally found a fool-proof way that works each and every time. If you are using a pastry frame, you will have to disconnect the frame to do this. After the crust is rolled out, place the rolling pin on the front edge of the pie closest to you.

edge by you.
Gently pick up the front edge of your pastry cloth and pull it towards the back edge.

lift by you.
This motion wraps the crust around the rolling pin.

lift3 by you.

lift2 by you.
Place the pie plate in front of the rolling pin/crust.

in_place by you.
Lift the rolling pin and match the far edge of the crust with the far edge of the pie plate. Unroll the crust over the pie plate and the crust will fall into the pie plate!!

in_pan by you.

in_pan2 by you.
It is the greatest move I have ever perfected in the kitchen. No more torn crusts and patching them up. Perfection.

If you are making a cream pie, dock the crust. (Dock is taking a fork and poking holes in the crust.) Then bake in a 475 degree oven until lightly browned, usually about 10 minutes. If you are making a fruit pie, prepare your filling and put in the crust. You can put a little crumb topping over your fruit.

Crumb Topping:
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup butter
Cut butter into flour and sugar until crumbly. Spoon over your fruit filling and bake as ususal.

Or if you are making a 2-crust pie, place the top crust over the filling in the same manner as above.

One last thing. Did you know that pie crusts freeze nicely? Most of the time I try to have a frozen pie crust or two in my freezer. I roll it out, put it in the pie plate, crimp the edges and wrap it in plastic.

crimp by you.
That way when you want a pie all you do is take it out, put the filling in, make the little crumb topping and bake. Really fast and easy. Great for last minute guests!

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By: Sharon Pickering | 11/12/2006 at 5:47 PM | If you want, you can leave a comment by clicking here.


  1. Anonymous Beks | 11/16/2006 1:50 AM |  

    I am one of those people scared by crusts - so i just cheat and make crumbles instead. Maybe I will try this out one day - can shortening be substituted with butter/margarine?

  2. Blogger annie | 11/16/2006 3:46 AM |  

    @Beks, you are not alone, but it is really easy. About the butter/shortening and 'crumbles'. First, a crumb topping is only that...a topping, not a bottom.You still have to have a rolled crust on the bottom. (It goes rolled crust, fruit filling, topping...either crumb or rolled.)

    You cannot substitute shortening for butter in the topping. Let me rephrase that...I have never used shortening for a crumb topping. I really think it would affect the taste.

    On the other hand, I know that you can substitute butter for shortening in a rolled crust. I personally have never done that either. And, I'm not sure, but I would try and find a recipe that calls for butter because I feel the other ingredients would probably change slightly also.

  3. Blogger bureka | 11/17/2006 6:53 AM |  

    hi annie, thanks for stopping by and visiting!

    making "perfect" pie crusts is indeed an art in itself and one which demands practice.

    from my knowledge and experience, you are right that shortening cannot substitute for butter as its properties are not exactly the same.

    there is however a big debate as to whether a great crust is best made with a combination of butter AND shortening (or traditionally lard)or with butter alone. this debate, apart from the issue of flavour, has a lot to do with achieving the proper flakiness; butter and shortening melt at different rates.

    there are many different kinds of crusts and i think that each one has its own special needs in terms of which fat you use. as i keep kosher, i cannot use a butter crust at a meat meal, let's say for a dessert. while it may not be the "same" as a great butter crust, ones made with shortening or margarine alone do work. (hehe, eventhough everything is better with butter, right?!).

    have you ever tried the butter flavoured crisco product? i have used it in certain preparations and it really does work nicely. unfortunately, there is a controversy these days with these types of products due to their hydrogenated fats.

  4. Blogger annie | 11/17/2006 8:15 AM |  

    @bureka, yes, a good pie crust is an art. Not necessarily a hard one to master. I have followed Alton Brown and he really breaks down the shortening aspect of pie making. He does a mix of lard and butter,if I remember right. I use to only use lard, and then decided it just wasn't that healthy, lol. Like shortening is that much better. At any rate, I don't think I remember a big difference in the pies. And, if you have watched Paula Deen, you know that anything with butter in it is better, and she manages to get butter in almost every recipe. One day I will have to try a butter crust. But, I love my pies as is, so it is hard to experiment. Ages ago I tried the butter flavored shortening, and liked it well enough, but I didn't use it often enough to warrant the purchase. So, I'm back to regular shortening.

    I really do like your blog. I love photos with recipes...I'm a visual person. So, your blog is right up my alley. I will check it on a regular basis!

  5. Blogger hillgrandmom | 11/24/2006 8:43 AM |  

    First of all, I hope you had a great Thanksgiving Annie!
    Your post is really a terrific cooking lesson, cos you've given the way it looks at all the important stages. Great!
    I've made pie crusts--but always by hand as I don't have a food processor. I've used both shortening and butter. But somehow the quality of the crust depends on my mood I think:)

  6. Blogger annie | 11/24/2006 8:53 AM |  

    @hillgrandmom, My Thanksgiving was very nice. Thank you for asking.

    I'm glad you think my post hits the important aspects of pie making. It took me a while to put that post together. Well over a week...with the picture taking, pie making (2 different times) and making it all come together in a post.

    I use my food processor, but sometimes I like the pastry blender better. Depending on my mood.

    I'm with you and the correlation between the crust and your mood. Never the same two times in a row!

    Thanks for stopping by!

  7. Blogger pagewon | 1/22/2007 6:14 PM |  

    I am interested in where I can find any other brand of a pastry frame. I have a foley and my daughter and daughter-in-law love it, but like you said they don't make it any more. I would like to be able to buy them something similar to mine. They do not like just a pastry cloth.

  8. Blogger annie | 1/22/2007 6:58 PM |  

    @pagewon, I have looked for them in stores for ages and haven't been able to find any.

    Then, when I was making this blog, I found one! Click on the 'Kitchen Gear' link right under my header. You will see the pastry frame in the second row of The Well-Stocked Kitchen (Or~items I own or would like to own). I was happy to see that they still make them, because my daughter loves them too.

  9. Blogger pagewon | 1/25/2007 10:45 AM |  

    You have no idea what I have already gone through. In December I won the bid on ebay of a Foley pastry frame(new) - I think probably the last one in America. Sent it to my son and daughter-in-law, which some how got lost in the mail. (I hope the lady that sold it doesn't read this, she'd be sick - as I am). I am thrilled and have already order 2. Thank you, thank you.

  10. Blogger annie | 1/25/2007 11:02 AM |  

    @pagewon, I'm so glad you were able to find them again. Did you do ebay or Amazon? I have looked on ebay, but was not able to find them when I looked.

  11. Blogger pagewon | 1/27/2007 9:15 PM |  

    I went to the top of your site to Kitchen Gear. The order was processed thru Amazon. I really don't care just so I know when I can get a pastry frame. I spent hours on the internet and don't know exactly how I happened onto your site.

  12. Blogger annie | 1/28/2007 5:25 AM |  

    @pagewon, Thanks!! You are the first one to order from there!! I had fun making the amazon stores and hope people would find them useful.

  13. Anonymous Becoh | 7/23/2007 12:40 PM |  

    Annie, I happily happened upon your web site while looking for a Foley pastry cloth (found one on eBay). When I read your description of making a crust it could have been written by me - except not as well. Same recipe, same techniques - same two glasses of wine - wheeee - same disregard for the pastry mavens. The recipe is from the old (1950 something) Better Homes & Gardens cookbook. Always works! The only thing I do that is different is that I save the pastry crumbs that are always left at the bottom of the bowl, throw a couple of tablespoons of sugar on them and sprinkle them on the top crust of the pie before baking. Makes a really pretty & crunchy topping to the crust. Try it, you'll like it.

  14. Blogger annie | 7/23/2007 3:30 PM |  

    @becoh, ahhh, a kindred soul! So glad you found my website and more importantly, a Foley pastry cloth! Sometimes I think the art of pies is fading. So, it is good to hear from a fellow pie chef. And I love it that our style is so similar, right down to the wine!!!

    I love your idea for the pie crumbs. Why didn't I ever think of that? Oh, I know why. My family always wants me to make a "Pie Thingy". This is made from all of the left over dough from crimping the crust and the crumbs at the bottom of the bowl. I roll it out again, thin, and spread butter over it, then sprinkle it with sugar and cinnamon and bake for 10 to 15 minutes. But, that method only works if you have enough left over dough. (which, btw, I sometimes plan for by making extra dough) On the occasions that I don't have enough to make the Pie Thingy, I am going to try your method!! Awesome!!!

  15. Anonymous Becoh | 7/25/2007 2:39 AM |  

    Thingys are good too - as long as you don't burn them, which I almost always do. Blueberries are in season in Michigan. Just got 10 lbs for the freezer. Do you have a great blueberry pie recipe?

  16. Blogger annie | 7/25/2007 2:55 AM |  

    @becoh, HA!! funny you should say that about burning it. I'm famous for that. I really have to be on top of it and almost sit in front of the oven so I don't forget it in there. A timer has helped this matter immensely. The other thing I always seem to burn, no matter what I do, is potatoes when boiling for potato salad. I can't set a timer for that because it always is different. So, I wander off to do something else and usually remember the potatoes about the time I smell something burning, lol!!

    And I do have a little recipe for a Blackberry-Blueberry Crumb Pie that is wonderful. The combination of blackberries and blueberries is a match in heaven. This would be a perfect pie for your pie dough crumbs!!