Choosing a favorite food is like choosing a favorite child. It’s impossible. My favorite food is pizza, or roast chicken, or a summer tomato sandwich, or Burmese tea leaf salad (a new obsession!), or etc., etc., depending on my mood and appetite.
But I can say that my favorite dessert is pie. Of course I love cookies and ice cream- who doesn’t? Custards and cheesecakes are always good, and although I’m a little tired of cake I do still enjoy a slice now and then. But pie (or a tart) is my favorite. If I order a dessert when we’re out to dinner it’s almost always some form of pie or tart. Bake a sweet filling into a crust and I’m happy.
Despite the old saying “easy as pie” many people are reluctant to make their own pie crust. Even people who do lots of baking often buy premade dough. I have no idea which packaged pie doughs are good and which are not, but I know that a good homemade crust is really not too hard. It just takes a little finesse and, most of all, patience.
This is my go-to pie crust recipe. I use it for both sweet and savory pies. It’s as good a base for chicken pot pie as it is for apple pie.
I had been making pie dough for years and was moderately happy with the results. I used all butter or a mixture of butter and shortening until I discovered leaf lard.
Leaf lard is the highest grade lard and makes the nicest pie crust. I have a good friend who gets lard from her cousin’s butcher shop so I always keep a container in the freezer. You probably won’t find it in the regular grocery store, but if you have an independent butcher shop or farmer’s market in your area you might find it there. You can buy it on-line.
I think it’s worth seeking out leaf lard, but if you can’t find it you can substitute regular lard, vegetable shortening or butter. If you’re vegetarian or vegan you can use all vegetable shortening. Whichever mix of fats you use, add them in two stages, as is described below.
I call this a recipe, but really it’s just proportions; 1/2 the weight of fat to flour, with just enough water to bind the dough. I add salt and sugar for flavor and a little cider vinegar to help keep the dough tender, but at the most basic level it’s just 2x flour to 1x fat.
The mixture of all purpose and cake flour is used to mimic pastry flour, which is not readily available in the grocery store. All purpose flour will give the dough enough structure so it can hold the flaky texture and the small proportion of cake flour will help keep it tender.
Mix the lard into the flour first. This coats the flour proteins and prevents the gluten from developing and making a tough crust. After the lard is mixed in I add the butter, leaving large flakes that will help the final dough achieve a flaky texture.
Along with very cold water I add just the tiniest bit of cider vinegar. The acidic vinegar will help keep the dough tender. Mix in the water just until the dough comes together. Don’t worry if it looks a little shaggy and there are some dry bits. Gather up the dry bits and wrap them up with the dough. The water will redistribute while the dough rests in the refrigerator.
Speaking of the dough resting, this is one of the most important steps in making a good pie dough. I can’t stress enough that you’ve got to have patience! You must be patient and let the dough rest before you roll it and you must be patient and let the dough rest after you roll it. There is no way around it.
I’ve been a baker my whole life, but I don’t think I really became a good baker until I learned to have patience. There are some things that just can’t be rushed. If you learn to let that dough rest, or let that bread dough rise slowly and fully, or let the butter come to room temperature before making cookies, you’ll transform the way you bake. Relax, have patience and enjoy the process.