What’s in a pie?

My favourite dessert to bake is an apple pie! However, my big dilemma always is whether to make my own crust or to seek help from Mr. Pillsbury!

Gently  ease the pastry into the pan

Gently ease the pastry into the pan

My favourite dessert to bake is an apple pie! However, my big dilemma always is whether to make my own crust or to seek help from Mr. Pillsbury! Because the misconception that I am a total “from scratch cook”, most of my guests assume that my crusts are home made. But, I must confess, starting a pie from scratch was a rarity for me. More often than not, my crusts have been store bought.

Truthfully, I have always viewed making pie pastry to be tedious and a step not necessary for great pies. But this all changed when I went on a “pie tour” through Alberta and sampled some of the best tasting prairie pies.

Though the fillings were all different, all the pies that I tasted shared one similarity; they all were made with an in-house made crust.

I experienced an epiphany of sorts. A beam of light was shining down on me, harps were playing and angels were singing! I heard the pastry gods saying “Madhu, the difference between pie and heavenly pie is a homemade crust!” Okay, the voice was actually a pastry chef explaining the merits of good pie pastry. This moment, however, did inspire me to reconsider the art of making pie crusts.

There are only four ingredients when it comes to making pie crust; flour, fat, water and salt. It should be simple, and yet flaky pie crust is elusive to so many.

Before looking into technique, the fat used in the flour must be considered. With choices from butter, shortening and lard, the type of fat you use will determine the outcome of your crust.

On my pie tour, no two chefs had the same opinion. Some claimed they always used butter because it adds flavour to the crust. Traditionalist, chose shortening because it always created flaky pastry. But they all agreed that real lard did produce the flakiest pastries. Real lard however, is hard to come by.

Whether you choose shortening or butter, it’s really a matter of preference and taste. Both have the same amount of fat and calories. Personally my preference is to use a combination of the two for the best flavour and flakiness.

When making pie dough, keeping the fat and the water cold is essential. Both help to keep distinct fat globules in the pastry. When the cold pockets of fat between the layers of dough hit the hot oven, they will melt to produce steam which will lift the surrounding dough apart creating flaky layers. If the fat warms up during handling, it will melt and be absorbed by the flour, creating a tough, chewy pie crust.

To ensure that the fat remains cold, it is best to place all ingredients as well as all utensils in the freezer for about thirty minutes before preparing crust.

Pastry chefs suggest cutting the cold fat into 1/2″ cubes before adding to dry ingredients and then using a pastry cutter to cut into the flour. A food processor can be used, but this is not recommended by the experts because it overworks the dough. The fat in the blended flour should be no smaller than a pea size. If you reach a coarse meal consistency, you’ve overworked the dough, and most of the pieces of fat will be too small. Therefore, no pockets will form during the baking process which in turn result in no layers and ultimately no flaky crust.

After the fat is cut into the flour, add ice water one tablespoon at a time, until the dough begins to bind together. The dough is ready, when you pinch a small piece between your finger and it sticks together.

Turn the dough out onto the counter. Using a rubber spatula or rubber dough scraper, fold the dough over onto itself 5-6 times. Do not knead the dough. Just fold and compress. This will help bring in the dry bits, and create a cohesive dough. After these few folds, the dough should look marbleized, with bits of flour and chunks of fat visible.

Finally, chill the dough. The fat needs a chance to re-solidify, and the flour needs time to absorb the liquids. Wrap the dough in plastic, flatten it into a disc, and chill at least 30 minutes.

When ready to roll out the dough, tear off two square sheets of wax paper. Lightly moisten the countertop with water and place one sheet of paper on it. This prevents the paper from slipping. Place dough ball on the waxed paper and cover it with the other sheet. Roll it from center out to the edges. Keep rolling until the pastry is larger than an upside down pie pan.

Peel off the top paper and use the bottom sheet to flip the dough into the pie pan. Gently ease the pastry into the pan, pushing down to the bottom and sides of the pan.

Trim edge, leaving about 1/2 inch overlapping pie plate. Use the flap to help create a crimped or fluted edge.

There were no harps playing or angels singing, when I served the apple pie with the home-made crust to my family. However, the rhythmic smacking of their lips as they gobbled down the pie, was nothing less than the heavenly praise.

Basic pie crust

Makes a 9 inch double crust pie

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, chilled

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup shortening, chilled

1/2cup butter, chilled

6 tablespoons ice water

Whisk the flour and salt together in a medium size bowl. With a pastry blender, cut in the cold shortening until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Drizzle ice water over flour. Toss mixture with a fork to moisten, adding more water a few drops at a time until the dough comes together.

Gently gather dough particles together into a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap, and chill for at least 30 minutes before rolling. Roll out dough, and put in a pie plate. Fill with desired filling and bake.

Apple Pie

1 recipe pastry for a 9 inch double crust pie

1/2 cup butter

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/4 cup water

1/2 cup white sugar

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon (more if you prefer)

8 Granny Smith apples – peeled, cored and sliced

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C). Melt the butter in a saucepan. Stir in flour to form a paste. Add water, white sugar and brown sugar, and bring to a boil. Reduce temperature and let simmer. .Place the bottom crust in your pan. Mix the syrup with the apples. Pour into crust. Cover with other crust. Make slits on top to let the steam through. Place pie on a cookie sheet and bake 15 minutes in the preheated oven. Reduce the temperature to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Continue baking for 35 to 45 minutes, until apples are soft.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

AstraZeneca vaccine is ready to be used at a homeless shelter in Romford, east London, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Frank Augstein
AstraZeneca-linked blood clot confirmed in Alberta

A case of an AstraZeneca-linked blood clot has been confirmed in Alberta,… Continue reading

The Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools Board of Trustees selected the name St. Lorenzo Ruiz Middle School to be built in the north end of Red Deer. (Photo Courtesy of  Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools)
Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools raises about $8,720 for Terry Fox Foundation

Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools raised about $8,720 for the Terry Fox… Continue reading

A nurse gets a swab ready at a temporary COVID-19 test clinic in Montreal, on Friday, May 15, 2020. Health Canada has reversed course on home test kits for COVID-19, saying it will now review applications for such devices. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Alberta declines Ontario’s request to send health-care workers

Alberta is “not in a position” to send health-care workers out of… Continue reading

The Red Deer Rebels allowed four straight goals from the Medicine Hat Tigers Friday night on the road. (Photo by Rob Wallator/ Red Deer Rebels)
Tigers hand Red Deer Rebels 10th straight loss

Tigers 4 Rebels 2 Through 17 games in the shortened WHL season,… Continue reading

Meghan Huizing has been selected by Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools as a finalist for the Alberta School Boards Association (ASBA) 2021 Edwin Parr Award. (Photo courtesy of Red Deer Regional Catholic Schools)
Red Deer Catholic names finalist for Edwin Parr Award

Meghan Huizing from St. Gregory the Great Catholic School in Blackfalds has… Continue reading

Red Deer Public Schools will not pilot the new draft curriculum at its elementary schools. (File photo contributed by Red Deer Public Schools)
UPDATED: Red Deer Public Schools says no to piloting new curriculum

Alberta Teachers’ Association support school boards

Brad Dahr, 53, is facing numerous charges. (Photo contributed by Alberta RCMP)
Alberta man charged for alleged sexual offences against children

An Edmonton man has been charged for alleged sexual offences against children… Continue reading

A person walks past a COVID-19 mural designed by artist Emily May Rose on a rainy day during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Monday, April 12, 2021. Employment lawyers say flouting COVID-19 public health orders when off the job or coming into work while knowingly sick could warrant discipline in the workplace. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Risky pandemic behaviour off the clock could mean workplace discipline: lawyers

CALGARY — Employment lawyers say flouting COVID-19 public health orders when off… Continue reading

Vials containing Russia's Sputnik V vaccine for COVID-19 are seen at the San Marino State Hospital, in San Marino, Friday, April 9, 2021.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Antonio Calanni
China, Russia using their COVID-19 vaccines to gain political influence

OTTAWA — China and Russia have been using their locally produced COVID-19… Continue reading

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference in Ottawa Tuesday, March 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau announces donation to Duke of Edinburgh’s award ahead of funeral

Canada will donate $200,000 to the Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award as… Continue reading

Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry (Science) Will Amos responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, Dec. 11, 2020. The Liberal MP who inadvertently flashed his parliamentary colleagues says the fact that a screenshot of him in the nude was leaked to the media sends a troubling message about the corrosive state of politics in Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle
Canada’s naked MP speaks out: leaked photo sends message ‘anything goes’ in politics

OTTAWA — The Liberal MP who inadvertently flashed his parliamentary colleagues says… Continue reading

In this file photo, a lotto Max ticket is shown in Toronto on Monday Feb. 26, 2018. (By THE CANADIAN PRESS)
No winning ticket for Friday night’s $10 million Lotto Max jackpot

TORONTO — No winning ticket was sold for the $10 million jackpot… Continue reading

Opinion: Canada’s self-esteem needs Trump

Well, it was fun while it lasted. For four years, with Donald… Continue reading

Harley Hay
Harley Hay: Shenanigans on the links

It must be something about my Scottish heritage but I seem to… Continue reading

Most Read