Making pastry for a pie crust is easier than you think. It may take a bit of practice, but once you learn the basics, you’ll be able to produce wonderful, sweet and savoury dishes that will be welcomed at any table. Here are some pastry basics to get you started:
Flour, fat and liquid are the basis for any pie crust. Recipes may call for eggs, vinegar, sour cream and cream cheese; these different forms of fat and liquid create different textures and flavours.
While the ingredients may vary, they must be measured accurately to produce light, flaky pie crusts.
Flour: You can use all-purpose flour or cake-and-pastry flour. More important, for the success of your pie crust, is to measure the flour properly. Too much flour toughens pastry. Measure it by spooning (not scooping) the flour into a dry measuring cup. Level it off with a straightedge, such as the back of a knife, without tapping or shaking the cup.
Fat: Shortening, lard, butter or a combination of these fats produce pie crusts that are both tender and flaky. Again, accurate measurements are important. Too much fat in pastry makes a pie crust greasy and crumbly. Shortening and lard are the easiest to work with and are interchangeable in most recipes. Shortening produces a more tender pastry; lard a flakier one. Pastry made with butter, although flavourful, tends to be not as flaky as one made with shortening or lard. However, when a buttery flavour is desired, use butter in combination with shortening or lard.
Liquid: Water is the standard choice of liquid when making pie pastry. The liquid must be ice cold when added to the flour-and-fat mixture to achieve a flaky pastry. The volume of liquid needed can be influenced by many factors: the temperature and humidity of the day, the temperature of the fat and the type of flour. Add the liquid gradually and add only enough to barely hold the dough together. Too much liquid will make the pastry soggy and tough. For this reason, a range of liquid is usually given in a recipe.
How to Roll out Pie Pastry
Developing good technique is the key to making tender, flaky pastry. These tips will help you perfect your pastry-making technique:
Make sure the liquid is ice cold. If you’re using water, an easy way to do this is to set it in the freezer with ice cubes for 10 minutes. Remove the ice cubes before using.
Keep the fat refrigerated until you begin.
Do not overwork the dough. It should be handled as little as possible. Mix lightly and quickly so as not to toughen it.
Gather the dough into a ball, divide it in half and flatten each half into a disc. Wrap them with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before rolling them out. This resting time lets the liquid permeate the dough and allows the fat to firm up, making the dough easier to handle.
Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface such as a pastry cloth. A floured rolling pin cover helps prevent the pastry from sticking. Alternatively, the dough can be rolled out between two sheets of wax paper.
Always roll the dough from the centre out, not back and forth. Turn the dough occasionally as you roll to keep an even thickness and round shape.
A gentle touch is important. Roll it out as lightly and as little as possible so as not to overwork the dough.
For a shiny, golden top crust, brush the unbaked top with cream or milk. You can also beat an egg yolk or egg white with 1 tbsp (15 mL) cream, milk or water and apply this with a pastry brush. Follow by sprinkling with granulated or coarse sugar.
Before baking a double-crust pie, cut steam vents in the top crust. If there are no vents, the filling will seep out and may boil over.
If the edges are browning too quickly during baking, cover them with strips of foil.
How to Prebake or Blind Bake Pie Pastry
Baking blind means to partially or completely bake a pie crust before it’s filled.
To prebake an unfilled pie crust, first prick it all over with a fork. Then line the crust with parchment paper or foil and fill it with pie weights, raw rice or dried beans.
This helps prevent the crust from shrinking or puffing up during baking.
Bake the crust at 375ºF (190ºC) for 8 - 10 minutes.
Remove the pan from the oven and carefully remove the parchment paper and pie weights. Prick the crust again, if necessary.
Continue baking for another 6 - 7 minutes or until pastry is set and golden brown around edges.