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Perfect Pie Crust and Best Apple Pie

A Guide to Better Pie Crust

Ingredients
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.

Flour:
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.

Fat:
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.

Liquid:
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.

Techniques
These techniques will help you produce a tender, flaky crust every time.

  • The colder the better. All ingredients- even the flour- should be ice cold before mixing. It is especially important for the fat you are using to be very cold. If you are making the dough in a food processor you can even freeze the fat before using it.
  • Less is more for pie crust. Do not overwork the dough. Don't really knead it. Mix gently, quickly and as little as possible. Overworking the dough will cause it to be tough.
  • Rest and relax the dough. By chilling the dough in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before rolling it out, you relax the gluten (protein). This makes the final crust more tender and helps to prevent stickiness when rolling out the dough. Chilling the dough also keeps the fats from melting too much before baking, which helps to keep the finished crust flaky.
  • Roll on. Roll the dough from the center out using even firm rolls. Use little or no extra flour when rolling- the more flour, the tougher and drier the finished crust. Try a pastry cloth, or between two sheets of waxed paper. This also makes it easy to turn the dough as you work, about an eighth of turn for each roll, helping to keep it round. Work as quickly as possible to keep from warming the dough and melting the fat.
  • Don't stretch, measure: The bottom crust of a 9" pie is a 13" circle, the top is a 12" circle. To put on the pie plate aftyer it is rolled, fold into quarters, center the point of the dough in the center of the 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.
  • Give it another little nap: Once the dough has been rolled out and transferred to the pie pan let it chill in the refrigerator for another 30 minutes before filling or baking.
  • Don' that be pretty? Once filled, 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 pinch or flute it, being careful not to press it too thin.
  • Baking tips:

  • When pre-baking a pie crust, line it with foil, parchment paper or another pie plate and fill that with pie weights, dried beans or rice. Bake until the rim just begins to color. Remove the weights and with a fork carefully prick the bottom and sides. Return it to the oven and continue baking until golden brown. Save the rice or beans- they aren't any good to eat after this roasting, but can do the same job for many pies.
  • Before filling an unbaked pie crust, brush the bottom and sides of the unbaked pie crust with lightly beaten egg white or melted jelly. This will help to keep the crust crisp by preventing liquid from the filling from wetting the crust as it bakes. For a one crust pie, you can get an even better effect by partially baking the pie crust (10 minutes) before adding the filling to be baked.
  • To keep the little frill on the edge of the pie from burning, don't pinch it too thin and do cover it with strips of foil.
  • Preheat the oven. Place the pie in the center of the oven. When ready to bake, adjust two oven racks with one in the lowest position and the other in the center position. For a juicy filling, place a heavy baking sheet on the lower rack and preheat the oven to 450F. 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 350F (175C), 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. (235C).
  • Use a pie pan that absorbs heat such as glass, dull aluminum, or dark finished metal. These pans will help your pie crusts bake to a nice golden brown color.
  • The top crust of a two crust pie MUST have holes cut or poked in it so that steam can escape while baking. Otherwise it will be soggy and the steam may even lift the lid off the pie. Cut the holes or slits in a decorative pattern.
  • For a richer color to your pie crust, brush or "wash" the exposed dough with milk or lightly beaten egg before baking. You can also sprinkle a thin coating of cinnamon sugar or superfine sugar onto the wash of a fruit pie.
  • What I know about apple pie

    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 Pie

    One beautiful 9" pie

    Pastry:
    2-1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (scooped into the cups and leveled)
    3/4 teaspoon salt
    10 tablespoons (1-1/4 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-sized pieces
    1/2 cup chilled vegetable shortening
    2 teaspoons cider vinegar

    Filling:
    3/4 cup sugar
    1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
    2 to 3 tablespoons tapioca flour or cornstarch
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    3 pounds apples (about 7 large), quartered, cored, peeled, and sliced into 1/4-inch-thick even slices, NOT wedges
    1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
    1/4 teaspoon Fruit Fresh, optional
    2 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
    cold water for brushing the top crust
    1 tablespoon sugar for dusting the top crust

    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 450F (235C).

    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 350F (175C), 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.
    Refrigerate any leftovers.

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