The pie crust dough I typically turn to, the dough that kicked off my pie and tart obsession ten years ago, the dough that entices even people who don’t like pie into asking for another slice, is in all honesty a giant cookie. A lightly sweet, emblematic sugar cookie, perfumed with vanilla and fortified with an egg. It escapes all the usual pitfalls a hapless baker - or eater - can encounter while preparing, assembling, and consuming a crust: it doesn’t crumble, it doesn’t dry out, it has plenty of flavor of its own.
The recipe that follows is not that crust. You can find that crust in last year’s Bourbon Pumpkin Pie, and I heartily recommend it when you’d like a sweet, crisp case for whatever filling your heart desires. However, the recipe that follows is a very good crust. It’s flaky, which the cookie crust is not, and provides a much more classic, savory contrast to a rich pie.
I wanted to try an all-shortening recipe, in the hope of broadening my dairy-free dessert repertoire, and am pleased to report that shortening makes it all easier. Much, much easier. Straight out of the freezer, it’s still more pliable than butter, mixing like a dream with flour, sugar, and salt. The chilled dough actually allows itself to be rolled into a circle without crumbling (much). While a butter crust can’t be beat for flavor, a shortening crust can’t be beat for ease.
Watch for this crust in the next post, playing a supporting role to pears and pecans!
Classic Shortening Pie Crust
Adapted from Pie by Ken Haedrich
Yield: 1 crust for a 9 1/2” deep-dish pie
Notes: Keeping your wet ingredients - shortening and water - as cold as possible will add to the flakiness of the dough. To keep your water cold until you add it, measure it into a glass measuring cup and place the cup in a bowl filled with ice and water. This crust can be made by hand or with an electric mixer. Both approaches are easy and quick. The dough may be frozen for up to a month, wrapped well in plastic wrap, before using.
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cold vegetable shortening
1/4 cup cold water
Over a large bowl, cut the vegetable shortening into pieces. Place the bowl, shortening and all, into the freezer for 10 minutes. Remove and sprinkle the flour, sugar, and salt over the shortening.
By hand: With your fingertips, a pastry blender, or two knives, rub or chop the shortening into the flour mixture until it all looks like coarse meal. You’ll see a combination of small and large clumps. Add about half of the water to the dough, stirring with a fork and tossing up the dry flour from the bottom of the bowl to incorporate it. Add the rest of the water in two stages, mixing until the dough sticks together. Add just enough water to dampen the dough; you may not need the full 1/4 cup.
With a mixer: On low speed, mix the shortening and flour until you’ve got coarse meal with both large and small clumps. Add about half the water and mix in short bursts, turning the mixer on and off. Add the rest of the water in two stages, mixing on low speed until the dough begins to form large clumps. Stop as needed to toss up the drier parts of the mixture from the bottom of the bowl.
Sprinkle a cutting board or countertop with flour, and flour your hands as well. Turn the dough onto your surface, patting it together into a lump if it wants to break apart, and flatten it into a disk about 3/4 inch thick. If the edges are crumbly (as mine always seem to be), pat them into the disk with your fingertips. Wrap the disk of dough in plastic and chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour, or overnight.
When you’re ready to assemble your pie, unwrap the dough, place it on a large piece of parchment paper, and roll out to a 13-inch circle. Invert a pie dish over the center of the dough. With one hand underneath the parchment paper, supporting the dough, and the other holding the pie dish, flip everything over so your bottom hand is now on top, pressing the dough into the pie dish. Carefully peel away the paper and trim the edges of the dough.