I am very worried, friends – worried that the fear of pie crusts may keep many of you from making your own pies at home.
Well, take a deep breath and grab your notebook. Today, we’re going to go over how to make a pie, one step at a time.
Here’s your first lesson: Homemade pies do not have to be perfect. This is a hard lesson, because we want that perfectly crimped, beautifully burnished pie crust so badly. But if your pie crust rips while you’re transferring it to the pan or you don’t have quite enough dough to make tall, crimped edges, it’s OK. At the end of the day you will still have pie, and that’s all that matters.
Next lesson: The more you make pies, the better you’ll be. Making pie crust is like riding a bike. It takes practice before you can pull it off every time. I really do feel that each pie I’ve made has been better than the last.
Here are a few more things to think about before you head into the recipe:
• Butter vs. lard vs. mixed crusts. Pie crusts are made by working fat into flour. But which fat is a matter of debate. All-butter crusts have a lovely, rich flavor, but because butter is brittle when cold and softens quickly, it can be difficult to handle. Lard and shortening are easier to work with and may make flakier crusts, but can taste bland. A good solution is to use a mix.
• Flaky vs. tender crusts. Flakiness is a result of the fat you use and how much you work the fat into the flour before adding the water. Because of their higher melting temperature and unique structures, lard and shortening make the flakiest crusts. But you can make a flaky crust using butter by not overmixing the butter into the flour. Cut it into the flour just until you see pieces no larger than peas. For a tender crust, work the butter or lard into the flour until it resembles bread crumbs.
• Keep cool. You need to keep everything cool, particularly the fat. Warm butter will be absorbed by the flour instead of coating it, resulting in a tougher crust.
• Making it pretty. I brush the tops of pies with a simple glaze of egg yolk thinned with a little water. This makes a burnished, glowing crust. You can also brush the crust with cream or sprinkle it with large-grain sugar for extra sparkle.
Emma Christensen is recipe editor at TheKitchn.com, a website for home cooking.