Uppercrust forever

“We’ll behave, Mary Poppins, we promise.”

“That’s a pie crust promise: easily made, easily broken.”

Tuppence a bag

Tuppence a bag

As usual, the practically perfect Mary Poppins is right. Pie crusts are like the martini of the pastry world: their very simplicity belies a complexity of manufacture that has broken many a chef.

A basic pie crust contains 4 ingredients: flour, shortening, salt, and a binding liquid. A sweet crust may include sugar, and a tart crust–or pate sable–generally includes an egg yolk, as well. Other crust recipes may include ingredients as varied as ground almonds, vanilla, baking powder, or even vinegar. The type of flour, shortening, and liquid may change as well, depending upon your interest or the recipe, but generally, pie crust can be made with ingredients you probably  have in your pantry, barring an intolerance for gluten or dairy.

Shortening is any fat rendered solid. As a shortening element for pie crust, lard is the traditional ingredient, but today, pie crust is more commonly made from vegetable (hydrogenated) shortening or butter, or a combination thereof.

The ingredients listed below will make a double crust pie:

2 1/2 cups of flour
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, vegetable shortening, or lard-diced into tablespoon sized pieces and chilled
3 T COLD crème fraiche, heavy cream, sour cream, buttermilk, or iced water-plus more, as needed
1 tsp salt (or a pinch, if you’re making a sweet crust)
1 tsp sugar (if you’re making a sweet crust)

Before the machine age, pastry was mixed by hand. This is why Mrs Patmore is always in a bad mood. If you choose to blend your pie dough by hand, sift dry ingredients into a large bowl. Add the shortening and mix until blended into coarsely shaped pea sized lumps. To do this, you may use 2 knives held scissor fashion, a fork, a pastry blender, or even your hands, if your circulation isn’t what it should be. What you want to avoid is warming the butter as you blend it: this will toughen your crust. Or, you may behave as any civilised person would, and blend the flour and butter in your food processor.

Add COLD butter cut into tablespoons

Add COLD butter cut into tablespoons

If you do not have a food processor, buy one. It will slice 8 cups of onions for you, if you’re making French Onion Soup; it will grate Gruyère, if you’re making a Quiche (or French Onion Soup Gratinee); and it can be used to chop meat, if you refuse to buy food grinder. There are many brands on the market now, but Cuisinart is a pioneer in the field; I have had mine for over 20 years, and it is as strong today as the day I bought it.

Coarse, pea sized

Coarse, pea sized lumps

To make pie crust in a food processor, add the dry ingredients to the bowl and pulse 3-5 times to blend. Add the shortening–I favour an all butter crust, some say that shortening will provide the flakiest one, and Julia generally made a crust that combined butter and vegetable shortening–and pulse up to 20 times, until the butter and shortening are blended into coarsely shaped, pea sized lumps.

At this time, you may add the liquid. I favour crème fraiche or heavy cream. Whatever you use, it must be COLD.  Stir to mix, if you are a Luddite, or pulse 6-9 times to blend. If the dough is too dry, add cold liquid, a teaspoon at a time, until it just binds. If it is too sticky, add flour, 1 tablespoon at a time. Don’t overblend, though, as this will toughen the crust.

Pulse until just combined

Pulse until just combined

It should just stick together when you pinch it!

It should just stick together when you pinch it!

Remove the dough to a floured pastry board or silicone rolling mat, and gently knead 2-3 times with the heel of your hand to ensure it is fully combined. Separate it into 2 parts, 1 twice the size of the other, and gather each into a ball. Flatten each ball into a disc, and tightly wrap in cellophane.

Refrigerate for at least an hour, our you'll be sorry...

Refrigerate for at least an hour, our you’ll be sorry…

Refrigerate for at least an hour, or as long as two days. Or you may wrap it in 2 layers of aluminum foil and freeze it for up to 2 months. Thaw it in the refrigerator before using. If you refrigerate it longer than 2 hours, allow it to sit at room temperature for 10 minutes before rolling it out.

Using your floured silicone baking mat (by now, you will have purchased one, along with your Cuisinart) roll the larger disc out to a 12 inch diameter, gently rotating it on the mat to ensure that it doesn’t stick. You may need to dust your rolling-pin, and/or the dough, with more flour. To move it to your pie plate, you may either roll it around your pin and gently reroll it into your pie plate or fold it into quarters and gently unfold it into your pie plate. While it’s settling into the pie plate, roll out the smaller disc.* Fill the pie plate, and cover the filling with the top crust. Crimp it rustically or elegantly, depending upon what type of pie you are making. It’s lovely to brush the top crust with an egg wash. Cut air vents into the top crust. If you like, dust it with sea salt or sanding sugar before baking. Bake the pie until done.

Don't forget the vents, or use a pie bird. Feed the birds, tuppence a bag!

Don’t forget the vents, or use a pie bird. Feed the birds, tuppence a bag!

With practice, your pie crust will be better than Mary Poppins: it will be perfectly perfect in every way!

Mary says, "Don't overblend, our your crust will be tough."

Mary says, “Don’t overblend, our your crust will be tough.”

*Pre-baking a single crust pie crust will be addressed at another time.

About What would Julia do?

Being timid and meek like Dorothy Gale, I have surprised myself by starting this blog. But a few people have suggested I do so, so there it is. I love to eat and I love to drink, so although this blog could be about almost anything I choose to type, there's likely to be a lot about what you put in your mouth. Why the title? Anyone who knows me knows my reverence for Julia Child. I don't think it's hyperbolic to say that our country's interest in the culinary arts would be all but non-existent but for Her. I would not attempt to count the number of people who have cited Her influence in their lives and careers. What Atticus Finch is to lawyers, Julia Child is to the cook, be s/he servantless or professional. Honesty demands me to say that it is not simply Her advocacy of GOOD FOOD that has immortalized her; She had the happy circumstance of coming into her own at a time when media was in her favour. We can all be thankful for that. I would name Julia Child as the patron saint of second starts, but I'm a happy heretic. Julia's dogma goes beyond the kitchen: She has famously stated that "[y]ou've got to have the courage of your convictions..." Her statement applies as equally to any part of one's life as it does to flipping a potato gallette. I will conclude by noting I have my own personal trinity of Js--Julia, Judy Garland, and Joanna Rowling. Please refer back to that part about my being a happy heretic.
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