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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.
Developing good technique is the key to making tender, flaky pastry. These tips will help you perfect your pastry-making technique:
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.