25 November 2009

Making your own pie crusts is as easy as, well, pie

It's Thanksgiving tomorrow and in keeping with my one man crusade against convenience foods, I am dipping into my time-tested recipe box. Actually, I don't have a recipe box. I have a file in my computer that's called "recipe box" though.

I am a pie man, through and through. Few things give me the pleasure of cranking out pies in anticipation of major holidays. Thanksgiving is my day to shine thank you very much and nothing says Thanksgiving to me like a real pie or pies as the case may be. And by real I mean made from scratch.

I am a self-taught baker. My mother was a skilled cook and my grandmother too. But kitchens were woman turf and though I watched them bake on holidays I wasn't allowed anywhere near the action. It wasn't until I got out on my own that I realized that I not only like to bake, I'm actually pretty good at it.

I know, I know, I hear it all the time; "We're too busy nowadays to bake from scratch." Well, I'll be the first one to tell you that that's a damn lie. I have a schedule that would kill a lesser man and somehow I manage to cook dinner for myself every night and turn out a hell of a spread of baked goods on holidays. Nobody's too busy, but people have different priorities. Having different priorities is fine, just own that. Telling yourself that you're too busy is what makes you neurotic.

I have a real problem with convenience foods. I don't care that they're not organic or that they're mass produced. What bothers me about them is that they're tasteless. It bothers me too that I can't tell what's in something that's prepackaged. Scratch baking keeps me in control of what I put in my mouth and it also makes me expend some effort before I get a reward. Self-discipline never sleeps kids.

So here's my recipe for pie crust, the first step toward a blue-ribbon apple pie like mine. This recipe's also perfect for the bottom crust of a tartine, but that's a topic for another day. Making pie crusts is not hard, despite what everybody says. All it requires is that you pay attention. Try this, just once, and you will never buy another convenience food for the rest of your life.

2-1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of sugar
1 cup of cold Crisco
1/2 cup of ice water

Put everything, including the bowl,  in the refrigerator for an hour before you start. Then mix the flour, salt and sugar together in the now-chilled bowl. Cut the chilled Crisco into small pieces and work it into the dry mix with a fork. When the Crisco and the dry mixture are blended, it will have the consistency of coarse meal.

Add the cold water in small drips and drabs and work the dough after every addition of water. After you have a quarter cup of the water worked in, slow down and start to test the dough after each time you add more water. Test the dough by squeezing a pinch between your fingers. If it's crumbly, then add more water. When it holds its shape and approaches the consistency of Play-Doh, stop adding water. Work the dough into a ball with your hands and wrap it in plastic wrap. Then put it back in the refrigerator. After an hour or so, cut the ball into two halves. The amount above will yield more than enough dough for a two crust pie.

Happy Thanksgiving!


  1. I'm a pie maker too and never buy the short crust type. But I have to confees that I do buy the puff pastry and never get compliments for that. In fact my daughter peels it off and gives it to one of her siblings.
    I tried a frozen pizza the other day (only because it was free) and it was awful!

  2. I never think of Luxembourg and frozen pizza in the same sentence I have to admit. Is that kind of pre-made stuff popular there? I always think of frozen convenience foods as a US thing. I've tried frozen puff pastry before and it always seems limp and bland to me. I make it from scratch for the exercise of making it from scratch, I have yet to perfect it. Puff pastry's in a whole other league, that's for sure.

  3. I agree with your emphasis on making meals from ingredients you assemble from scratch. My crusade against boxed cereals started a few years ago when I came across my mother's granola recipe. Whole grains, nuts, and you can vary the ingredients to prevent boredom. Every two weeks it takes about 30 minutes to make enough cereal to last at least 2 weeks.

  4. Hurray, I'm not alone in my crusade. I agree, it doesn't take a whole lot of time, just some planning and prioritizing. My scratch cooking thing started with bread years ago and it took off from there. I'm convinced that it's a worldview, a philosophy I've adopted and it reverberates out from my kitchen, that's for sure.


    Do you blind bake your crusts for double crust pies or quiches?

    This season I am giving my first go at butter flavored shortening.

    I like to fleetingly pulse my chilled cubes of fat with my flour in the food processor. It's not as good as a homemade pie crust from a true expert baker, but for me, I seem to do better at achieving an even "coarse meal" size with that, than a fork or pastry cutter.

  6. Sometimes I'll blind bake crusts (dried beans makes them stay put) but with apple pies I never do. I like the texture they get on the bottoms when everything bakes together at the same time.

    I have bread dough rising as I type this and am about to go tackle my pie crusts. Boy I love Thanksgiving!

  7. I have never blind baked for apple pie before, but I was wondering if perhaps I should.

    My butter-flavored shortening processor-pulsed pie crust is in my fridge now. I'm going to bake the pie but have to wait till tomorrow to taste the full pie. I'm going to make a little individual ramekin pie though for tonight. :)

  8. yay for making pie. I made eight pies (six were pumpkin) and two cobblers over Thanksgiving weekend. My mother makes a fabulous pie crust, mine is merely good, I use a food processor to introduce the butter into the dry mixture. But "homemade merely good" is extremely tasty, so much better than anything you can get premade at a store or bakery.

    A couple of the pies were gluten-free (and not from scratch; using Bob's biscuit mix) and I blind baked the crusts of those. I've never baked gluten free before.

  9. People get all excited about baking cakes, but they bore me. I think pies are art. The baker pours more of his or her heart into pies. Or so I say at any rate.

    Gluten-free baking is a mystery to me. What holds everything together without gluten as a binder?


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