Yes, I’m making pie again, but this is an American-style fruit pie with two crusts, not a French-style tart or something with citrus curd. Before I started trying to branch out, I made two or three of these a week, which is a lot of pie. By now I’ve had enough practice that I can make an American-style fruit pie blindfolded, in my sleep, with one hand tied behind my back.
I was hoping to get frozen blackberries at Trader Joe’s today. Frozen fruit is usually better than fresh out of season—it’s certainly more affordable—and Trader Joe’s frozen blackberries are the best ones. Alas, TJ’s didn’t have them today, so I got frozen blueberries instead.
My go-to crust recipe is from King Arthur Flour (quelle surprise), and it’s the one that taught me to make decent pie crust.
I’ve decided pie crust is another example of something people have trouble with because the directions could be better. Pie crust isn’t hard. Really! To make good pie crust you have to use the smallest amount of water to get the dough to hold together, you have to avoid kneading the dough, and you have to keep the fat chilled.
Flour contains two proteins, glutenin and gliadin, which combine in the presence of water to form strands of gluten. As soon as you add water, you're forming gluten, and when you manipulate the dough, you encourage those strands to form. You need some gluten in the dough, but not a lot, so you use the least amount of water and you avoid working the dough too much.
The fat is what makes the crust flake, but only if it stays cold. So you keep the butter chilled until you're ready to use it, and you avoid touching the dough with your hands if your hands are warm.
Many recipes tell you to add ice water by the tablespoon, and don’t add too much! So you add the smallest amount given in the recipe and the dough is dry and crumbly, and in your desperation to get the dough to hold together you mash it and knead it until you’ve developed a lot of gluten and melted the fat. Instead of tender, flaky crust you get something tough, dense, and inedible.
For me, the breakthrough came when I saw the amount of water listed in this recipe: 4½ to 5 ounces. That’s more than half a cup! And think about it: When the recipe says something like 6 to 8 tablespoons, well, 8 tablespoons is half a cup, which is quite a bit of water.
So here’s what you do:
- Put a couple of ice cubes in a liquid-measuring cup, fill the cup with water, and put that in the refrigerator.
- Cut up a stick of butter into small cubes and put that into the refrigerator.
- In a large, shallow bowl, measure the flour* (I weigh it), then add the salt (I use 1½ tsp of Diamond Crystal kosher salt) and whisk them together.
- Measure the shortening into the flour and cut it in with a pastry blender. (I weigh this, too—nothing to clean except a spoon.)
- Dump in the butter and cut that in with the pastry blender.
- Pour in the water right from the measuring cup, a little at a time, stirring after each addition, until the dough forms clumps and holds together when you press it
- Chill the dough.
- Roll out the dough, then put it back in the refrigerator while you preheat the oven and make the pie filling.
You know the rest: Fit one crust into the pie plate, spoon in the filling, fit the top crust on, trim and crimp the dough, cut slits in the top, and bake. I find 45 minutes at 400℉ works well for most two-crust fruit pies.
*If you don’t have a scale, measure the flour by spooning it into the dry-measure cup and then leveling the flour with a knife. The bakers at King Arthur want you to use the spoon to sprinkle the flour into the measuring cup; this gives about 4¼ oz of all-purpose flour per cup, which is what they’re looking for in this recipe.