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There are three basic ingredients in a pie crust, fat, flour and liquid. You can come up with numerous variations just by changing your basic ingredients and their ratios.
To promote tenderness in your pie crust, choose a low protein wheat flour such as cake flour or pastry flour. All-purpose flour is readily available and works pretty well for pie crusts. Unbleached flour is more tender. To make a pastry-type flour from all-purpose, put 1 tablespoon of cornstarch or other non-gluten flour in the bottom of the cup for every cup of flour you measure.
If you want to use a whole grain flour to make pie crust, allow extra time. You will have a much more tender crust if you refrigerate the pie dough overnight before baking to allow the bran to rehydrate thoroughly.
The type of fat affects flavor and flakiness, while the amount affects tenderness. Flaky crusts result when bits of unmelted fat are layered between layers of flour and melt away with baking. They can be made from a variety of solid fats. Crusts made with all butter are very flavorful, but the milk solids and water in butter reduce the amount of fat compared to lard or vegetable shortening, so butter crusts usually are not as flaky as crusts made with shortening or lard. Vegetable shortening has much less cholesterol but more trans fats. It produces a flakier pie crust that is slightly easier to work with than one made with butter. Lard, a saturated fat, produces the flakiest crust and leaf lard or kidney fat is preferred for pastry. Some of the best pie crusts are made with a combination of fats, part butter for flavor and part shortening for flakiness and ease of workability.
You can also make a pie crust with vegetable oil. The resulting crust won't be as flaky as a solid fat crust, but it does make a very tender crust that almost melts in your mouth.
For a tender crust, you want just enough liquid to moisten the flour without drenching it. When adding liquid to the flour and fat mixture it must be ice cold in order not to melt any of the fat. Water is most common, but eggs, sour cream, cream cheese, and cream can also be used, adding different flavors and textures to your pie crust. Always add liquid a little bit at a time. If you add too much liquid your crust could turn out tough.
Acid ingredients like vinegar and sour cream prevent the flour from developing all its protein, making the crust a little more tender.
These techniques will help you produce a tender, flaky crust every time.
In a classic two-crust apple pie, the pastry is tender and flaky, and the fruit remains in separate pieces that aren't mushy. The apples in the pie hold together when cut and served. The juices are a thick, clear, silky syrup, achieved by using a small amount of cornstarch or tapioca flour as a thickener to complement the natural pectin in the apples. Minute Tapioca is more widely used, but tapioca flour produces a slightly smoother result than Minute Tapioca. If in doubt about the amount of thickener needed, remember a slightly runny pie is infinitely preferable to one whose filling resembles concrete. The cook lets the fruit pie cool completely and leaves it at room temperature for about 6 hours before serving, so that the filling can set up and not be runny.
A good sharp cheddar is wonderful with warm apple pie.
Step By Step Apple PieOne beautiful 9" pie
To make the pastry in a food processor, with the metal blade in place, process the flour with the salt for 3 seconds. Scatter the butter pieces over the flour; pulse 4 times. Divide the shortening into 4 lumps and add them to the work bowl; pulse 3 times. Scrape the work bowl. Combine the cider vinegar with 6 tablespoons ice water in a 1-cup glass measure. While pulsing very rapidly, add the liquid in a steady stream through the feed tube. Keep pulsing until the dough almost gathers into a ball. There should be several largish clumps of dough in the bowl. Remove the dough from the work bowl and press it gently so that it holds together. Divide in two, with one piece slightly larger than the other. Shape or pat each piece into a 6-inch disk, dust lightly with flour, and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 30-60 minutes or longer.
To make the pastry by hand, combine the flour and salt in a mixing bowl. Use a pastry blender to cut the butter into the flour until the pieces are pea-sized. Add the shortening and cut it in until the particles of fat resemble coarse meal. Combine the cider vinegar with 6 tablespoons ice water in a 1-cup glass measure and drizzle the mixture over the dry ingredients while tossing and stirring with a fork. Keep mixing until the dough gathers into a ball. Divide, wrap, and chill as described above.
When ready to bake, adjust two oven racks with one in the lowest position and the other in the center position. Place a heavy baking sheet on the lower rack and preheat the oven to 450°F (235°C).
Roll out the larger disk of pastry on a lightly floured surface into a 13-inch circle. Fold the dough into quarters. Center the point of the dough in the center of a 9 -inch pie plate, then unfold the dough. Lift the overhanging edge of pastry all around the pie plate so that the pastry lines the pan loosely but snugly; do not stretch the dough. Leave the excess pastry hanging over the edge. Roll out the second piece of dough into a 12 -inch circle. If your kitchen is warm, refrigerate both crusts, placing the top crust on a baking sheet.
To prepare the filling, combine the sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, tapioca flour (or cornstarch), and salt in a large bowl. Add the apples and toss to combine well. Mix the lemon juice with the Fruit Fresh, if using, and drizzle it over the fruit; toss again to combine well.
Turn the filling into the pie shell, mounding the apples in the center. Distribute the butter bits evenly over the filling. Brush the overhanging edge of the pastry lightly with water and cover the filling with the top crust. Press the edges firmly to seal. Using scissors, trim away the excess pastry to within 1/2 inch of the pan's rim. Fold the edge of pastry back on itself to make a standing rim, and flute it. Brush the top crust lightly with water and sprinkle with the sugar. With a small sharp knife, make four slits at right angles to each other between the center and edge of the top crust.
Place the pie on the baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Transfer the pie on the baking sheet to the center shelf, reduce the temperature to 350°F (175°C), and continue baking for about 1 hour longer, until the crust is well browned and you can see thickened juices bubbling up through the slits. Cool the pie on a wire rack for at least 6 hours before serving.