I have been baking apple pies for over forty-five years, learning and practicing various techniques to make flaky and tasty pie crusts. A flavorful crust is the foundation to a tasty pie, and for me that is apple. As a child I watched our housekeeper make apple pie for our Thanksgiving meal. I never took notes, or was serious about learning any particular methods. However, once married years later, an interest flared up and I began experimenting in the kitchen, wanting to produce an apple pie as tasty as I remembered from my youth. Occasionally I called our housekeeper Ann, asking her a question or two when I wasn’t sure about a step in the process. Overtime as my passion for baking and cooking skyrocketed, I found great pleasure making pie down, keeping freshly made discs in my freezer, on hand when I wanted to share a pie with my family and friends.
There are a multitude of techniques in cookbooks and on the internet, and I’ve tried many of them, some successfully, others not so. For me, using a food processor to combine the flour mixture and fat is too quick, and when I turn the dough out on the counter it’s fussy and doesn’t come together well or easily. Debates go on and on about the correct amounts of butter, (or lard!), flour, salt and sugar. And too, is it best to use a pastry blender, or food processor or a stand mixer? In the 1970s I began using the pastry blender and using Crisco, the iconic ingredient of fat at the time. I would always receive rave reviews of my apple pie, but, over the last decade or so I’ve switched to using butter, but at the same time I sometimes use lard, which brings in a bit more of a flakier crust, more texture and more of a crumble. However, you may sacrifice some flavor since butter is tastier than all fat! But experts say that the butter flavor may dominate the pie, so the flavor is still great. To confess, I have not done a comparison test.
And water too is another tricky ingredient to learn how to add it successfully. Practice may not make perfect, but overtime it improves on what your doing. Keep at it, try and try again.
And time is a factor too, how long to mash the butter and flour? Practice and more practice makes your product turn out better.
Sometimes I go half and half, half lard and half butter. I can’t really speak to the difference, but on my most recent experiment I’ll share a report about the results. I have practiced pie making, both sweet and savory for many years and really enjoy it. it’s terribly satisfying to make your own dough for pizza or a homemade dessert. For the time being, I have come upon a method that delivers a delicious crust. I seem to flow with this recipe and it feels easy. Let me know, if you wish, what recipe you use for crust for a yummy fruit pie?
I am not too strict with the salt and sugar additions, just tossing them in, but not forgetting the salt, which enhances pie flavor. A lot of my baking and cooking flows out of me more loosely of late. I’m not as rigid or strict as I was years ago. I don’t have to be as exact as I thought. Formerly I never added sugar to my pie crust since the maid never did. I kept her directions for nearly 30 years until the index card which I had written it down on had nearly fallen apart and was not readable! And now I have my own tradition which I’m pleased with. I love sharing my baking ideas with others who are passionate about their love of kitchen work and play!
I recently read a quote from a cook who says that a recipe is nothing until a person puts their hands, eyes and love into what they’re doing. This process creates something which truly makes the recipe bloom, come to life! I totally agree. I smile as my family and friends enjoy my fruits of fun and labor!
This recipe makes 2 pie crusts, one for the bottom, one for the top of the pie
I’m using a stand mixer, but use what items you have available. For years I used a pastry cutter, which worked fine. Please contact me if you have questions, or want to chat about baking. Go slowly and enjoy the process!
3 cups flour
2 4 oz. pkgs. butter or half butter and half lard, or Crisco, keep items very cold before using
3/4 cup cold water, divided
1 Tsp salt
1 Tbsp sugar
1 In a stand mixer, add the flour, salt and sugar. Combine for ten seconds.
2 Add the butter and fat mixture, which have been cut in hazelnut-size pieces. Turn the machine on low and mix for about 1-2 minutes. Do not over-process. As you touch the butter/flour hunks, you want to feel the chilled butter pieces with the flour, as they gently squish between your fingers. You do not want too many very small pieces, but just a few and many larger ones, a mixture of both. This method of cold butter and flour mixes and then once put in a hot oven, helps create layers and pockets of fluffiness, so your crust is flaky.
3 All at once to the machine, add a half cup of ice cold water, but without the ice! Pulse it on and off, for about one minute. Again, do not over-process. Now, if necessary add about a one eighth cup more water, and process a little more. Feel the dough carefully as you bring the dough out on a well-floured counter or wooden board. You want to push it around a little as you bring it together nicely in a roundish ball. Work it briefly for about one minute as you fold the dough upon itself several times, adding a little flour if needed. If you look closely at your disk you can see several buttery hunks in the ball that is good! Check out my picture above. This method will create the flaky crust so tasty and a bit crumbly in a pie!
4 With a knife or a bench scraper, cut the dough in two even pieces, and form a low round disk. Wrap each half separately in wax paper or plastic wrap. Save for use later in the refrigerator for a few days or in the freezer for up to three months. If baking the same day, still let your dough rest for twenty minutes in the refrigerator before using.
Tips and Tweaks
- Sugar is optional, but stick with the salt, it helps enhance the flavor of the crust. Leave out sugar totally if making a savory pie.
- If you feel comfortable with it, use the food processor.
- Some people turn the fresh dough out on plastic wrap and push it together, always using the plastic between the dough and your hands, so as not to touch the dough with warm hands.
- Another alternative is to add one teaspoon of lemon juice or cider vinegar to the cold water for a slight zing and a tad different taste, however, that method, according to my expert pie maker, is not worth the extra step.
- Many chefs have a major rule with baking, and that is to use only unsalted butter. But I and many other bakers ignore that rule. This non-rule has worked perfectly for me for nearly 50 years, without any dire effects. My crusts are flaky and pies yummy!