pie dough tenderized using sugar and cider vinegar.
tell people I grew up in a family of pie bakers, it’s easy
to imagine I’m bragging. My mother’s pies are legendary
— rich, velvety custard fillings or mounded fruit pies,
each cradled in an ornately decorated crust, golden and with
the most delicate layers. And don’t get me started on my
grandmother; in her day, she was known as the "Pie
Baker of Villa Park," a small suburb west of Chicago.
went to start baking my own pies, I didn’t think much
about it. Pie-making was something my family took for
granted. But then I sliced into that first homemade pie —
it was pumpkin, brought to a work potluck — and found to
my horror not a perfect take-for-granted pie, but a bubble
of raw dough beneath the layer of filling. There are some
mistakes not even a truckload of whipped cream can cover.
dozen or so years later, a career change, several restaurant
and catering jobs and a few hundred pies later, my skills
have improved — though they still don’t quite match
those of my mother or grandmother. But I’ve learned a lot
and continue to pick up tips. Recently, I spoke with some
experts and tested more than a dozen combinations of fats,
flours, ingredients and tricks. Here are my results.
THE RIGHT FAT
pie bakers tend to have a religious zeal about what type of
fat goes into their crusts, and not without good reason.
and shortenings are absolutely critical to pies," says
Ernest Miller, research and development chef at Coast
Packing Co., a major supplier of animal fats and shortenings
for cooking, baking and frying based in Vernon. The type of
fat determines flavor and can influence the final texture
and color of the crust. Bakers tend to use one of three
kinds — butter, shortening or lard — or a combination.
But which, and why?
is among the most traditional of kitchen fats, once made
from heritage pigs specifically bred for their fat. "In
certain points in our history, lard was actually more
expensive than pork," says Miller. Never mind the cost
of butter. "You wouldn’t be using butter for baking
unless you were wealthy."
notes that shortening, with the introduction of Crisco in
1911, was created to mimic the effects of lard, but at a
fraction of the price. "An all-Crisco crust will give
you the best border," notes Rose Levy Beranbaum, author
of "The Pie and Pastry Bible," "but I don’t
use shortening, because there’s no flavor."
people began shunning shortening for health reasons, bakers
looked for alternatives such as butter, even oil. Over the
years, I’ve taken to making my crust using a ratio of
two-thirds butter to one-third shortening. I’ve found,
particularly when I keep the fats cold until the crust goes
in the oven, I get some of the benefits of shortening in my
detailed borders, along with the flavor of butter. (For
savory pies, I’ll usually substitute shortening for lard,
or even bacon, goose or duck fat, which lends great savory
flavor and rich coloring to the crust.)
my grandmother and mother preferred shortening, they would
often brush the formed crust with butter, and occasionally
dust with sugar, before baking, for added flavor and color.
lard is making a comeback. Occasionally, you can find lard
from heritage pigs, such as Manga-litza, as well as from
specific parts of the animal, such as leaf lard, which is
valued by bakers for its delicate flavor.
Packing is currently testing a treated lard and tallow
blend, not yet on the market, that mimics leaf lard; in my
tests, I could barely tell the difference from the real
and its ratio to other ingredients, particularly flour, is
integral to a great pie. "I think too little fat is not
a pie crust," says Los Angeles baker and pie specialist
Nicole Rucker, a past winner of KCRW-FM’s Good Food Pie
Contest. "Once you remove a certain amount of fat, you’re
forming more of a bread or biscuit dough."
it comes to flour, some experts swear by all-purpose, others
by lower-protein pastry flour and still others by a host of
custom blends, all in the name of making a tender but flaky
using all-purpose flour Beranbaum finds that adding a touch
of sugar works to tenderize the dough, mimicking the results
she normally gets using pastry flour. (This is a trick she’ll
be adding to her new book on baking basics, due out next
also uses the sugar trick in her dough, though she goes an
extra step by dissolving the sugar in water before she adds
it, ensuring that it’s evenly absorbed by the flour and
making for a uniformly tender crust.
trick is adding apple cider vinegar, which also helps to
tenderize or "shorten" the crust. (You might smell
it as you make and roll out the dough, but the vinegar will
evaporate as the pie bakes and shouldn’t affect the taste
of the crust.)
combining the ingredients, it’s important to keep them
cold — particularly your fat. If the fat, especially
butter, softens and begins to melt, the flour will absorb
it, creating a tough dough. I actually take the extra step
of chilling everything — fat, flour, water, vinegar —
even the bowl and food processor blades.
though some purists may argue, making pie dough in a food
processor is wonderfully simple and easy. Just be sure not
to over-process it; use the pulse feature and your dough
will be tender as if mixed by hand.
out the dough
you’ve made the dough, flatten it into a disk, cover and
chill it before you roll it out.
keep the dough even, work the rolling pin in the center of
the dough and don’t roll all the way to the edges. You’ll
have greater control over the thickness of the dough if you
keep the pin toward the center — the closer you get to the
rim, the more likely you are to roll the pin off the edges,
flattening them and making the dough uneven. Rotate the
dough a quarter-turn each time you roll.
keep the dough from sticking and absorbing too much flour,
roll it between lightly floured sheets of plastic wrap or
parchment or wax paper.
you’ve formed the crust, chill it. I freeze my formed
crusts for 20 to 30 minutes, which allows the crust to hold
its shape and any designs while it bakes.
PAR-BAKING AND FINISHING THE PIE
or par-baking, a crust is common when you’re using a
filling that doesn’t need to be baked or when the crust
needs to bake longer than the filling, such as with pumpkin
and other custard pies. (Both flaky pie and short tart
crusts need to be weighted before baking so the pastry doesn’t
puff on the bottom or slip on the sides.)
blind-bake a crust, line the chilled dough with parchment or
a large coffee filter, then fill it with weights. If you don’t
have store-bought ceramic or metal weights, use dried rice
watch the pie as it bakes. Most ovens heat from the bottom,
so adjust the pie if necessary, moving up or down in the
oven as needed. And cover the top or edges of the crust with
foil if they’re browning too much.
minutes, plus chilling times. Makes enough for 1 (9-inch)
single crust pie with extra dough for a decorative or
teaspoons cider vinegar
cups (9.6 ounces) bleached all-purpose flour, chilled
1 teaspoon salt
tablespoons cold shortening or lard
cup (1 stick) cold butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
water, if needed
white, for brushing a par- or blind-baked shell
a small bowl, combine the sugar with the water, stirring
until the sugar is dissolved to form a simple syrup. Stir
the cider vinegar in with the syrup. Cover and refrigerate
make the dough using a food processor, pulse together the
flour and salt until thoroughly combined. Add the shortening
and pulse until incorporated (the dough will resemble moist
sand). Add the butter and pulse just until the butter is
reduced to pea-size pieces. Sprinkle the syrup over the
mixture and pulse a few times until incorporated. Remove the
crumbly mixture to a large bowl and very gently press or
knead the mixture until it comes together to form a dough,
adding additional ice water, a tablespoon at a time, if
needed. Mold the dough into a disk roughly 6 inches in
diameter. Cover the disk tightly with plastic wrap and
refrigerate for about 1 hour.
make the dough by hand, whisk together the flour and salt in
a large bowl. Add the shortening and incorporate using a
pastry cutter or fork (the dough will resemble moist sand).
Cut in the butter just until it is reduced to pea-size
pieces. Sprinkle the syrup over the mixture, and stir
together just until incorporated. Gently press or knead the
mixture until it comes together to form a dough, adding
additional ice water, a tablespoon at a time, if needed.
Mold the dough into a disk roughly 6 inches in diameter.
Cover the disk tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for
about 1 hour.
a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough into a large
round roughly 1/8-inch thick. Place in the baking dish or
pan, trimming any excess that extends more than 1 inch from
the sides of the dish and crimping the edges as desired.
(One trick I use is to roll out the dough onto floured
parchment or wax paper, invert and center the pie dish over
the dough and then flip the dough into the dish.) Use any
extra dough to make a decorative border (brush the edges of
the unbaked crust with water or egg white before pressing
any cutouts or other decorations) or save it for later use:
Form the dough into a disk, cover tightly and refrigerate
until needed. Freeze the formed shell for 20 to 30 minutes
before filling and baking.
par-baking (or blind-baking) the crust, line the frozen
shell with parchment and fill with pie weights. Bake in a
400-degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes, then remove the
weights and parchment, prick the sides and bottom a few
times with a fork and bake until the crust bottom is dry and
lightly colored, an additional 10 to 15 minutes (longer if
fully baking the shell). To "waterproof" a
par-baked crust, cool the crust for several minutes, then
brush the bottom and sides of the crust with egg white
From Noelle Carter. The simple syrup step is inspired by
hours, plus cooling times. Makes 1 (9-inch) pie with a
decorative or lattice top
6 large) tart apples, such as Granny Smith
tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
tablespoons dark brown sugar
teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
cup raisins, rehydrated in rum, another liquor or juice
flaky pie crust dough, chilled
white and sugar for finishing the top crust
Peel and core the apples, and cut each into 8 slices. Cut
each slice crosswise into 1/4-inch pieces.
a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Stir in
the apple slices, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt, and cook,
stirring frequently, just until the apples start to soften,
3 to 4 minutes (the slices should still be crisp). Remove
from heat and stir in the raisins and cornstarch. Spread the
apple mixture onto a baking sheet to stop the cooking
process and allow the apples to cool.
Heat the oven to 400 degrees, and fit a rack at the lowest
part of the oven.
Remove the crust from the refrigerator and roughly divide
into two pieces (figure on using about 2/3 for bottom
crust). Wrap and refrigerate the smaller portion of dough
while you roll out and fill the bottom crust.
a well-floured board, roll the dough for the bottom crust to
a thickness of about 1/8 inch. (It might help to roll the
dough on a large sheet of floured parchment or wax paper.
The dough then can be more easily lifted and inverted over
the pie dish.)
Gently lift and center the dough over a 9-inch pie dish; if
the dough cracks, simply press the crack together to seal,
or patch with a little leftover dough. Ease the dough into
the pie dish, making sure to remove any air bubbles from
underneath the dough, and trim the edges, saving any scraps.
Fill the shell with the fruit filling, mounding the fruit in
the center of the pie.
Roll out the top crust, cutting decorative cutouts or
lattice strips if desired. Decorate the top of the pie,
brushing egg white as needed to adhere the decorations or
lattice. Sprinkle sugar over the decorations or lattice,
avoiding the outer edge of the crust where the sugar is more
likely to burn.
Bake the pie on the lowest rack of the oven until the crust
is a rich, golden color and set, and the filling is bubbly
throughout, about 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes. If any
part of the crust browns too quickly, tent with foil, and if
the bottom crust browns too quickly, move the pie to a
Cool the pie before serving.
From Noelle Carter.
1 1/2 hours. Makes 1 (9-inch) pie
frozen unbaked pie shell
cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
teaspoon ground cinnamon
teaspoon ground ginger
teaspoon ground nutmeg
teaspoon ground allspice
teaspoon ground cloves
cups, or 1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree
cup plus 2 tablespoons maple syrup, preferably dark
Par-bake the crust: Heat the oven to 400 degrees, and fit a
rack at the lowest part of the oven.
Line the frozen shell with parchment and fill with pie
weights. Bake in a 400-degree oven for 20 minutes, then
remove the weights and parchment, prick the sides and bottom
several times with a fork and bake until the crust bottom is
dry and lightly colored, 10 to 15 minutes more. Set the
crust on a rack to cool for several minutes. Brush the sides
and bottom with egg white to seal the crust and set aside
until the egg white is dried. Meanwhile, reduce the oven
temperature to 375 degrees.
a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, cinnamon, ginger,
nutmeg, allspice, cloves and salt.
Whisk in the pumpkin until the sugar and spices are evenly
incorporated, then whisk in the maple syrup. Whisk in the
eggs, 1 at a time, until incorporated. Slowly whisk in the
Pour the filling into a prepared pie shell, filling it just
until it reaches the rim of the crust (depending on the
depth of the shell, you might have a little leftover), and
bake until the custard is set (the filling should barely
jiggle when tapped), 40 to 50 minutes. If the outer rim of
the crust darkens too much, tent with a ring of foil, and if
the bottom crust browns too quickly, move the pie to a
higher rack. Remove to a rack and cool to room temperature
From Noelle Carter.
PRIMER ON FATS
adds flavor to a crust, along with color due to the milk
solids in the fat. However, over-mixing the butter can make
the crust tough and crunchy.
has a high melting point, which will give you a light and
flaky crust and allow for creative decorations, but it lacks
the flavor found with butter or lard.
makes a light and flaky crust. Leaf lard and rendered caul
fat (another fat preferred by many bakers) have the benefits
of lard with less flavor, perfect for dessert pies.
results in a crust that is generally more mealy in texture,
though certain fruity oils, such as olive or some nuts, will
lend flavor and coloring to the crust.