Ahhh…pie crust. One of those things that your mom or grandma either made look easy or just didn’t go near. I have to admit there was a period of time when my kids were little that a good ole frozen Marie Callender crust from the grocery store was the play of the day. But really, a good homemade pie crust is super satisfying, not only to eat but to watch others enjoy!
Good pie crust is the right combination of sugar, salt and fat—and how they interplay with flour. Notice the absence of one usually-important ingredient in bread making: water. It turns out that water, while necessary, actually works against our objective of a flakey, tender pie crust, which is why I use vodka as a binding liquid. The other key to a good crust, IMHO, is fat selection. I like to use a good-quality butter (like Kerrygold Irish butter) and lard. Yes, lard; millions of southern and midwestern cooks aren’t wrong.
The pro move:
Temperature is also key. We want our fat to stay intact and actually layer itself between the dough. This is what creates the flakiness. To accomplish this, we start with very cold (if not frozen) fats and we use cold water and vodka.
The final key is to avoid working the dough once we have hydrated the flour. Unlike most bread recipes, and with pie crust specifically, gluten is our enemy. We need the dough to just barely come together with little chunks of fat nestled throughout.
The pièce de résistance:
Grandma (the one who made good crust) didn’t have a food processor. If you’re going to take the time and effort to do homemade crust, do this shit by hand! Use a hand held pastry blender. I use this one, but a cheap one from the grocery store will work well (once or twice!).
- 2 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour (12 1/2 ounces)
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 12 tablespoons cold unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), cut into 1/4-inch slices
- ½ cup chilled lard, cut into 4 pieces
- ¼ cup vodka, cold
- ¼ cup water, cold
Combine flour, salt, and sugar in bowl with whisk. Add butter and shortening and get after it with your pastry blender until fat is in small, pea-sized chunks throughout the dry ingredients. Scrape bowl with rubber spatula to redistribute dough evenly.
Sprinkle vodka and water over mixture. With rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix, pressing down on dough until it is slightly tacky and sticks together. Divide dough into two even balls and flatten each into 4-inch disks. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes and up to 2 days.
The refrigeration part is very important—as is working the dough quickly without letting the heat of your hands or kitchen melt the butter and lard.
Roll the dough into 14-inch rounds just less than a ¼ inch thick, flouring your surface and roller as necessary to keep the dough from sticking to board or roller.
Gently fold the round into quarters to transfer it into pie dish and then unfold and trim the edges with kitchen sheers or a sharp knife.
Bake a MF pie, baby!