I was shocked to look back over the first seven months of this blog and find not one single mention of pie crust. Pie crust happens to be my specialty— I've tried more recipes for pie crust than for any other single dish. I've used butter, lard, shortening, oil, and duck fat. I've cut the fat in, blended it in, rubbed it in and rolled it. I've chilled water, bowls, fats, the table and my hands. I doubt I'll ever stop experimenting, but I'm currently working with a recipe I'm pretty happy with.

My best tips for pie crust: No shortening or oil. Stick to all-butter or half-butter, half-lard (or other rendered animal fat - the duck fat was pretty sublime). Don't forget the salt or sugar: I use a teaspoon of salt and a tablespoon of sugar for a double-crust, but you may like more or less. Chill everything, all the time, as much as possible, including your hands if they touch the dough. Food processors aren't worth the time it takes to clean them.

Two tricks that I am currently using with my crusts: vodka and a rolling pin. Increasing the amount of water in the recipe and replacing about half of it with vodka, a tip I first picked up at Smitten Kitchen (and here's an update), makes your dough more pliable, and since the vodka evaporates in the oven, you don't sacrifice crispness. My doughs tend to be a little crumbly, so I really love the vodka trick, which means I never have to see a sheet of pie crust crack on the way into the dish. I've noticed that the ease of working with this dough means that overworking it is tempting, so it can get tough, but overall it's improved my crusts.

The second trick I'm into right now is using a rolling pin to integrate the fat. I cut up the fat into smallish chunks, toss it into the dry ingredients, and then run over it with the rolling pin, pressing the fat into sheets. After a few rolls, I toss the mixture and roll again, repeating the process until all of the fat has been squashed out, and it looks like the photo above. Then it can be scraped into a bowl and the water (and maybe vodka) can be added as usual. The rolling makes lots of little layers of flour and fat, and produces excellent flakiness.

How do you chill your hands?

Ice water!

Hi Erika,
Your crusts were great this year! I've never understood the mystique of pie crusts. Pastry dough is one of easiest things to bake. But, that is coming from someone who finds cooking a simple chicken breast elusive, so I guess baking and cooking are seperate entities.

I agree about the use of butter and/or lard - critical! The better/fresher the butter, the better.
Salt is also key, but I'm not a fan of sweet crusts, so no sugar for me, unless is large granuals sprinkled on a double crust.
I'm very intrigued by the vodka! Sounds like a great solution. The other benefit is that it can be chilled colder than water without freezing. Can't wait to try it!

Now that you've discussed crusts, let's talk fillings! So many fillings, so little time! What are your favorites?

Thanks!! I promise a filling feature soon. I can appreciate the no-sugar platform, too - I think I grew up on no-sugar crusts, so i was really into the difference that just a tablespoon could make.

Aside from the ones we made at Thanksgiving, my favorite fillings are pear mixes, like pear-raspberry or spiced pear-apple. Oh, and homemade lemon-meringue. mmm, now I want a slice of pie!

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