Pie is one of my favourite things to bake, so it always surprises me a little when I hear that people are afraid to take the plunge and try making their own pies from scratch. Crust seems to be the main sticking point, and many otherwise capable bakers will succumb to evil temptations and use (shudder) store-bought pie crusts for their creations. Besides being more expensive than scratch-made pie crusts, store-bought pastry tends to come out heavier and less flaky than the real thing. It also tends to be loaded up with preservatives and other unnecessary nonsense.
So cast aside your fears, I’ve prepared for you a little step-by-step tutorial on making an easy, delicious pie crust … from scratch. I even took pictures along the way.
Preparing the Crust
This particular pie crust recipe is the first one that I ever attempted on my own (many, many years ago when I still had to stand on a stool to reach the counter), and I find that it’s a really good standby for most sweet pies. It’s not my favourite for savoury pies, but it does get the job done in a pinch. Best of all, it only uses a few ingredients, and takes very few steps to prepare.
To begin, measure out 1 cup vegetable shortening and 2 and 2/3rds cups all purpose flour into a large mixing bowl. Add to this a pinch of salt, then grab two butterknives. Holding one knife in each hand, cut repeatedly in opposite directions across the bowl. Your objective is to cut the shortening into the flour (rather than stirring) — this is what will provide that lovely, flaky texture at the end of things.
You’re finished cutting when the largest chunks of shortening are about pea-sized, and the whole mixture looks crumbly, like so:
At this point it’s time to start adding water. You want to use cold water, so the shortening doesn’t melt, and add it a tablespoon at a time. Depending on the temperature and humidity in your kitchen, you’ll probably end up using 6-8 tablespoons of water in total. Use a fork to lightly “toss” the water in, rather than mushing everything together with a spoon. You’ve got enough water when the mixture looks kind of raggedy, and there aren’t any dry crumbs floating around the bottom of the bowl, like so:
Now all that’s left to do is to gather your dough into a ball (handle it as little as possible to prevent melting the shortening), cover, and pop it into the refrigerator for 20 minutes or so while you prepare the filling. Cold pie crust is easier to roll out later.
Preparing the Strawberry Rhubarb Filling
This is my grandmother’s recipe, so none of the measurements are particularly exact. You can use equal amounts strawberry and rhubarb, or more of one and less of the other. You can add more or less sugar to get a sweeter or more tart pie. You can even use different berries besides strawberries (raspberry rhubarb is pretty darn delicious), or simply do a 100% rhubarb pie. It’s all up to you.
In general, here’s what I use:
- 4 cups rhubarb, washed and chopped into bite-sized pieces
- 2 cups strawberries, washed and chopped
- 3 eggs
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup flour
- pinch of cinnamon
Mix this all together in a large bowl, and let sit for 5-10 minutes. This lets some of the juice come out of the fruit, so that you can judge how juicy your pie is going to be. If you wind up with a lot of juice sloshing around in your mixing bowl, you can leave some of it out when you add the filling to the crust — this will prevent the pie spilling over and making a mess of your oven.
Putting it All Together
Take your dough ball out of the fridge and divide it in half. Return half to the fridge so that it can stay cool for now. On a well-floured surface (I like to use my large wooden cutting board, but you can just use the counter if you prefer), roll out the bottom crust of the pie to about 1/4″ thick. Make sure it’s about 1″ wider than your pie plate on all sides.
Getting your pie crust into the pie plate without tearing it can be a bit of a tricky business. Having your crust well-chilled before rolling it out definitely helps. If you rolled your crust out on a cutting board or pastry board, you can simply set your pie plate on top of the crust, upside-down, then flip the whole thing (board and all) right-side-up in one smooth, swift motion. If you don’t have a large cutting board, the easiest method I’ve found is to use your rolling pin. Fold the crust gently over top of the rolling pin, then lift it carefully over top of the pie plate.
If, despite your best efforts, you end up with a hole or two in your pie crust, just use a bit of milk or cream to “glue” the crust back together, and press it into place with your fingers. Once the pie is baked, nobody will be able to tell the difference.
Pour your pie filling into the bottom crust, then retrieve the remaining half of the dough from the fridge. You can just roll out a top crust the same way you did the bottom, and lift it carefully on top of the pie with your rolling pin, but I prefer to get a little bit fancy here and do a lattice crust. It’s very little extra effort, and always seems to be appreciated by the pie-eaters (especially those who aren’t aware of just how easy this is).
Before you put your top crust on, you’ll want to cut up about 2tbsp of cold butter or margarine into small chunks, and sprinkle these around the surface of the pie. This will melt and meld with the filling during baking.
To create a lattice crust, roll the dough out to about 1/4″ thick, at least as wide as the pie plate, then cut into strips 1/2″ to 1″ wide. Take the two longest strips and lay them across the top of the pie in an X, thusly:
Then add more strips in an over/under pattern. Leave little gaps between the strips so that your filling will show through and look all pretty. Here’s a few shots of my lattice crust in progress:
Once you’ve got the whole top of the pie evenly covered, tear off the excess crust from the edges. You’ll end up with a ragged looking edge:
Which I like to roll up so that it looks more clean and finished:
Finally, I like to brush the crust with a little bit of milk or egg wash, and sprinkle white sugar over the top to create a nice bit of texture and colour.
Pop your pie into a 425 degree oven for about 40 minutes, until the crust turns all nice and goldeny-brown. Let cool, and enjoy the deliciousness.
You’ll probably have a bit of leftover crust after making the lattice top. Pop this into a freezer bag and it will keep in the freezer for a couple of months. Small amounts of crust are great for making a quick batch of tarts. Or you can just roll the crust out to about 1/4″ thick, dip in egg wash, sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar, and make yourself some little cookies (they’re great with coffee).