Perfect Pie Crust

I always used to buy the refrigerated pie crusts and thought I could never, ever make a homemade version. But I don’t know why I was so intimidated; it’s really not difficult to make a pie crust. It’s just one of those things that you need to get the hang of, but once you do, it’s as easy as . . . well, pie.

This recipe started with a recipe from the book Baking with Julia, but then I changed the fat mix a bit over time, including adding lard. A little bit of lard is a fabulous thing and worth adding. (Too much, though, is bad news bears, as my friend Brooke would say. I tried that once and my pie smelled like a pork rind. Horrible!)

This recipe makes two crusts, enough for one double crust pie or two single crust pies. Happy baking!

Perfect Pie Crust

2½ cup + 2 tablespoons flour
1½ teaspoons salt
½ cup butter (unsalted, chilled)
½ cup shortening (a.k.a. Crisco, but NOT the gross butter flavored version; also chilled)
¼ cup lard (chilled)
½ cup ice water

When making pie dough, it’s important to have everything prepped and waiting in the refrigerator before you start. Cut the stick of butter into small cubes and put back in the refrigerator. Do the same with the shortening. I don’t cut the lard ahead of time, as the kind I buy does not come in stick form, so I have to scoop it out in a measuring cup. Just make sure the lard is cold as well. Put more water than you’ll need in a large cup (I use a 2 cup measuring cup) filled with ice.

Mix the flour and salt in a large, heavy bowl. Take the butter cubes out of the refrigerator, dump them in the bowl, and use a pastry blender to slice through the butter over and over again (a process called “cutting in”). You are cutting the butter into smaller and smaller pieces, which are then being coated in the flour mixture. Keep doing this until the whole thing looks like coarse crumbs.

Take the shortening cubes out of the refrigerator and dump them in the bowl. Measure out the ¼ cup of lard, and use a knife to scoop up bits of lard from your measuring cup and drop them into the bowl. Once you have all the lard in the bowl, cut in the shortening and lard until the mixture has small clumps and curds. If you are like me, your arm will be tired at this point.

Put aside your pastry blender and get a wooden spoon. Scoop out a ½ cup of cold water from your ice water, and drizzle some the water over your dough a little at a time, stopping periodically to stir lightly with your wooden spoon. Depending on the temperature and humidity in your kitchen, you may not need the entire ½ cup, or you may even need a bit more. You are trying to sprinkle the water equally over the dough, not dump a bunch of it in one spot so that the dough becomes saturated. When you stir, you are trying to turn the dough and incorporate the water gently, not stir it vigorously.

Stop adding water when it will hold together (for the most part) in a ball. Push some of the dough together. If it crumbles and falls to pieces, it needs more water. If it sticks together like paste, you’ve added too much. Next time add less. If it mostly holds together, but a few crumbs sit at the bottom of the bowl, you’re done.

Take out two pieces of plastic wrap and set them on the counter. Using your hands, turn the dough over on itself in the bowl a few times, a light knead,  just to help it become more dough-like. (Even now it will not look like a uniform dough, like bread dough or cookie dough. It will look mottled and bumpy, but it should hold together.) Use a knife to cut the dough into two equal pieces. Shape each piece into a ball in your hands and place on the plastic wrap. Press into a disc shape and wrap in plastic.

Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 5 days, or wrap again in another layer and freeze for 1 month.

Notes:

  • Everyone says you can make pie dough beautifully with a food processor. I will try this if I ever I get one!
  • Doubling this recipe seems like a good idea, but you need a big bowl and a strong arm. You’ll also need to work quickly during the cutting in phase so that the fats don’t get too warm.

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