I grew up eating my Grandma's home made pie crust; that is to say it was my Grandma's recipe that both my Mom and Grandma used, so if there was a pie around, whether for a dessert at home or at a family gathering, it always had the same incredible crust that I have always liked better than whatever was filling it. I learned to make it when I was maybe fourteen years old, and have been making it ever since.
Home made pie crust, whether my Grandma's recipe or any of the many versions of pie pastry (also known as short crust pastry), is a beautiful thing. It should never be dismissed as just a platform for a filling. If the crust doesn't taste good, the pie doesn't taste good. With packaged pie crust, not only does it taste barely average at best, but as with most processed food, contains undesirable and unnecessary ingredients such as food coloring, and has little nutritional value. While obviously not a nutritional powerhouse, home made pie crust can easily be made with healthier ingredients, and it certainly tastes better.
The best part is that home made pie crust is incredibly easy to make, taking as few as four ingredients for the most basic version, and taking as little as under ten minutes from gathering the ingredients to sitting in the pie plate ready to be filled.
To see my Grandma's recipe and how simple the process really is, click "read more"!
I should mention that I don't think there's anything magical about this recipe that causes it to be especially easy to make. People seem to have an irrational fear of making pie crust. I am confident that anyone can make it just as easily as I do, whether with this recipe, or with a more traditional recipe calling for ice water and lard or butter. You just have to kind of relax and go with it, and it will work out just fine.
The photo shoot below is me making our Thankgiving pumpkin pie crust. Even with having to stop a number of times to set up for the next photo, the entire process from the first shot to the last shot took a grand total of ten minutes. Not ten "TV" minutes ("And now, through the magic of television...."), but ten actual clock minutes. The extra few minutes it takes to do this versus opening the package are so worth it in the final product!
Basic Pie Crust (for a two-crust pie, or cut in half for a single crust pie)
1 1/2 Cups whole wheat pastry flour
2/3 Cup shortening (I use an organic vegetable shortening)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 Cup (approximately) milk
The one piece of equipment I would highly recommend that you have is a bench scraper (the flat silver thing with the handle in the pic above). You can even do without a rolling pin (empty wine bottles work fine, and are fun to empty), but having a bench scraper makes life easy.
Place the flour, salt, and shortening in a medium mixing bowl. "Cut in" the shortening into the flour until the mixture becomes pea size lumps of flour and shortening. I find it easiest to use a pastry blender, but it can also be done with two knives, or even with your fingers if you work quickly so the mixture doesn't get too warm and melt the fat.
Pour in most but not all of the milk, leaving about two Tablespoons or so in the measuring cup, and stir the dough with a fork to see how it comes together. If it comes together nicely and starts to form a ball, you've added enough liquid. It should be a little wet, but not too sticky to handle easily. I find that a little on the wet side is better than a little on the dry side, because when it's dry you may have to spend a little time patching it together because it tends to fall apart. That's not a big deal, it just takes an extra few minutes.
Ta dah! Pie crust accomplished!
I usually do, but this time I didn't do this step because my photographer wanted to get the shoot done. ;-) At this point it's good to wrap the dough ball tightly in plastic wrap and put it in the fridge while you make your filling. This accomplishes two things...the fat hardens up again, and the proteins from the flour relax (science is fun!) making it easier to roll out the dough. It's not like your crust will be ruined if you don't rest it in the fridge, so if you can't wait just go right ahead and roll it out. It's just that it's a little easier if it does rest in the fridge.
Okay, now get some kind of a rolling surface ready. I personally like my big board, sprinkled liberally with flour, but you can also just sprinkle your countertop with plenty of flour, or use one of those pastry mats, or a lot of people swear by rolling pie crust between two sheets of plastic wrap (the thicker, less stretchy kind like Saran or Reynolds I think, rather than the thinner stretchy kind that always gets all tangled up).
If you're not doing the plastic wrap thing, also toss a little flour on the bottom of the dough ball and place it on the board, then toss a little flour on the top of the dough ball too.
Always do just one complete rolling motion, then turn the dough 1/8 turn. I do it very quickly, like roll away from you, roll toward you, turn, and repeat (and repeat, and repeat, and repeat).
As the disc gets bigger, the center may start to stick to the work surface a bit as you're trying to turn it. If this happens, pick one side of the dough up a bit by sliding the bench scraper underneath, and toss some more flour under the dough. You can do this a few times, picking up different sides, until the dough turns nicely again.
If bits of the dough start to crack apart, no big deal, stick it back together. If it doesn't want to stick on its own, wet the area with a little of the leftover milk.
Check your dough disc by holding your pie plate upside down over the dough. The dough should be an inch or two bigger than the rim of your pie plate.
When it's the right size, pick up one side of your dough disc with the bench scraper with one hand while holding the rolling pin right above the dough with the other hand. Drape the dough over your rolling pin (kinda hold it on with the thumb of the hand that's holding the rolling pin), and turn the rolling pin to pick up the dough. Then position the hanging end of the dough over the far edge of your pie plate, and drape the dough into the pie plate, turning the pin toward you to unroll the dough off the pin.
Then just reposition it in the plate as necessary, trim the overhanging edges, and patch any holes or gaps using milk as glue and your edge trimmings as patches, and you're ready to fill however you like and bake!
If you're doing a top crust too, roll it out the same way, but it doesn't need to be quite as big since it doesn't have to cover the sides of the plate. Brush the rim of the bottom crust with milk and then crimp or just press with a fork around the rim to stick the two crusts together.
I like to leave the edges rough. It's not that I'm being lazy, it's just that I prefer a more rustic look since that is more my cooking style. If you want to tidy it up, it's very easy to do, make a neat edge with scissors and crimp.
If you're making something that requires the crust to be prebaked, like a lemon meringue pie, dock the dough with a fork or fill with pie weights or dry beans (this keeps the dough from puffing up), and bake in a preheated 475 F. oven for 8 to 10 minutes.
A couple of quick tips....
You can use regular (white) all purpose flour if you prefer. I like the whole wheat pastry flour for the extra nutritional value, and I'm very much accustomed to the flavor of it.
It's easiest if the fat (shortening, butter, or lard) is chilled. Mine never is because I use vegetable shortening that I store at room temperature, but still, it may be helpful to you to use chilled fat.
Be afraid of grocery store lard, but don't be afraid of slow rendered lard from a farmer or home made lard. Grocery store lard is hydrogenated and full of unhealthy trans fats to increase shelf life. Made correctly though, lard is relatively healthy (or less unhealthy anyway), at least as far as solid fats are concerned.
If you're not making a pie to take somewhere that you'll never get your plate back from, use a glass or stoneware pie plate for best results. Only use metal or foil if you have to.