How I learned to stop worrying and nail the crust

Once upon a time, I couldn’t make a decent pie crust to save my life. Not having learned it at my mother’s knee (since she doesn’t like to make pastry) (hi, Mom!), I was thrust into the adult world with no more ability in this area than a baby bird. Oh, woe, alas, and alack! From time to time I would gird my loins and attempt the thing — ending up, as often as not, with gummy, under-baked, or flakeless crusts… along with the occasional surprising success that always left me wondering what I had managed to do right.

But these days, my crust woes are over. I think I can say — I hope it will not be inviting disaster to say — that I have officially nailed it. Check this puppy out:

That’s a flaky, all-butter pie crust. And while you can’t see the layers as well on the apple pie, check out the edge of the pumpkin here:

(Where do you store pies when the fridge is full? In the microwave, of course!)

Well. It would be remiss of me to keep this information to myself. Here is the Smitten Kitchen post that taught me how to make a beautiful crust, and here is the post that taught me to roll it out. Go read those, and then come back here, because I have a few extra tricks.

There are two things that have made the biggest difference for me in getting crust right: finding ways to keep it all really, really cold while working, and rolling it out properly. I like to cube the butter straight from the fridge, and then throw those cubes into the freezer for at least twenty minutes or up to a few hours before making the dough. While the butter cubes are freezing, I mix the dry ingredients in a metal bowl, and then throw that into the fridge to chill until I’m ready to mix. I will admit that it is harder to work my pastry cutter through the frozen butter — and that it requires periodic breaks to push the wires back into place — but not letting that butter melt even a little has made a tremendous difference in my bakes. And of course, it’s important to get that dough back into the fridge to get nice and cold again before rolling! Generally I try to make my pie dough the day before I’m going to make pies.

The second thing is learning how to not roll it out like a ninny. My rolling pin is made of marble, so I will throw that in the freezer as well to get good and cold before I start, which helps keep that butter solid. I don’t roll directly on my table or counter; I put down a flour sack towel and then flour that; rolling out on the towel has completely eliminated the sticking issues I used to have. And I don’t roll at first: I press. Using the rolling pin I will gently press down from the centre outwards (working around the cardinal directions) to start flattening the disc without the stress that rolling puts on it. Then I roll out from the centre, moving around in the cardinal directions: N, E, S, W, then NE, SE, SW, NW, and repeat. This has virtually eliminated my tearing issues. If you’re patient — and it takes a lot of patient, slow, small-scale rolling — you can get a beautiful thin crust that’s still full of lovely solid butter bits. The result of that you can see for yourselves!

And that’s it. Pastry crust is no longer one of my kitchen bugaboos. And now it doesn’t have to be yours, either. So go make some pies!