It took me a long time to learn how to make my own pie crust. It was very frustrating trying different recipes — all promising to be “perfect” and “fool-proof.” I tried vodka, apple cider vinegar, rolling it between parchment paper, pressing it in, you name it. Then I learned that the trick was not in the recipe but in the technique. When making pie dough a “minimal touching” approach is best. The doughs usually have a butter content of around 60% (butter to flour, that is) which means temperature control is key. The butter needs to stay cool during the entire process of making the dough. Also, achieving a flaky crust means maintaining pockets of butter between layers of dough. When that dough then goes in the oven the steam from the butter “inflates” the layers of dough thereby creating the flakiness. If you knead that dough or overwork it you are eliminating those precious pockets of butter and essentially creating a mealy cookie dough. Which is ok if you are making pate sucree but not a flaky pie crust. So, keep your hands off the dough. You are just going to gather the dough into a ball then smear it briefly. That’s it. Don’t worry if it looks rough.
The other important factor in making pie dough is moving the dough while rolling it. On a well floured surface, start rolling it out into a circle, then pick it up and move it a quarter turn. Make sure it’s not sticking to the surface by flinging more flour underneath if necessary. Keep rolling and turning it until you get it to size. If its too warm the fat will start to soften and it will be difficult to roll out. Put it back in the fridge for a few minutes. If you have a digital thermometer you are looking for a dough temp of about 60F. If it is too cold it will start to crack. Give it another five minutes on the bench.
Let’s talk fat. The fat has to be well chilled before incorporating it because you will be working it into the flour and that will create heat. You can do this in the food processor which will be faster. But doing it by hand will give you a better feel for it. Imagine that every bit of flour needs to be coated with fat but you don’t want the fat pieces to be so small that it just turns into a cookie. You want to end up with pea-sized and walnut-sized pieces. I’ll be honest. I don’t like to use shortening if I don’t have to. I prefer all butter crusts. But many, many pie crusts are made with shortening because it is easier to roll out and produces a flakier crust.
No crazy stories before church today except the usual comment — in a falsetto voice that doesn’t sound anything like me — about how long it was supposed to take to bake the pies versus how long it actually took and a bonus comment this week about baking not being the exact science that it is said to be (or some annoying nonsense to that effect). Since Husband insists on taking some credit for my bakes in some shape or form he will get a nod for the combination of apples he picked for “that perfect contrast of sweet and sour.” By the way, if you will make a lot of apple pies, tarts, applesauce, etc. I highly recommend you invest in the Kitchenaid spiralizer attachment.
12 oz (340g) AP flour
1 1/4 tsp kosher salt
3 Tbsp sugar
8 oz (225g) shortening or 8 oz butter-flavored shortening or 6 oz shortening + 2 oz butter substitute such as Earth's balance - cut into 1 oz pieces and chilled
2.5 oz (68g ) ice cold water
3 lbs mixed variety culinary apples (I used half honeycrisp and half Granny Smith)
2 Tbsp lemon juice
2-3 Tbsp brown sugar (depending on how sweet you like it)
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
pinch of kosher salt
2 Tbsp AP flour
2 Tbsp Non-dairy milk for brushing the pie crust
For Pie crust:
In a bowl, mix together flour, salt and sugar. Add the chilled shortening and toss them with the flour mixture. Use your fingers to rub the fat into the flour mixture. You can also rub between your palms. The idea is to get as much of the flour coated with the fat as possible. Stop when your mixture has a combination of pea-sized and walnut-sized pieces. If you successfully coat the flour with the fat you will need very little water to bind the mixture. Less water is better when making a pie crust! Drizzle the water over the mixture and mix with a fork.
Note: To do this in a food processor: put the flour sugar and salt in the bowl of your food processor and pulse a few times to blend. Add half the shortening (separating if stuck together) and pulse a few times until you have pieces that are no bigger than a pea. Add the rest of the shortening a pulse a couple of times until you have pieces no bigger than a walnut. Add the water and pulse a couple of times until dough just starts to clump together.
Dump the mixture on your work surface. Gather loosely in a ball. Then using the heel of your hand smear the dough from the center out in four parts. Gather again in a loose ball and divide in half. Flatten each half into a disc and wrap tightly in saran wrap. Chill for 30 minutes or overnight. If chilling for more than 30 minutes then set out at room temp for 5-10 minutes before working with it. Dough made with shortening will soften much quicker than that made with butter.
For apple filling:
Peel, core and thinly slice the apples. Mix together with lemon juice, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in a large bowl. Let macerate for one hour at room temp or in the fridge overnight (covered with saran wrap). Drain juices and discard. Mix in flour.
To assemble pie:
Preheat oven to 375F. Flour your work surface and flour the top of your dough. Roll out into a 12" circle (about 1/8" thick). Line a 9" glass or ceramic pie dish with the dough. Trim only to the edge of the pie dish. Chill for 30 minutes.
Roll out the top crust to the same size. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. You can either cut out decorative leaf shapes from the center or simply cut 3-4 slits in the center for venting (you can also cut the slits after laying it on the pie later). Chill the top crust for 30 minutes.
Fill the bottom crust with apple filling, mounding in the middle . Lay the top crust over the apples. Trim the top crust only to the edge of the dish. Take both the top and bottom crusts at the edge of the dish and fold them under to create a thicker edge then crimp. Brush the non-dairy milk over the entire crust. You can attach the cut out leaves with some milk then brush the tops with milk as well.
Bake in the center rack of the oven at 375F for 1 hour or until the filling is bubbling, the top is evenly golden and, if you used a glass dish- the bottom is golden as well.