Guest Writer: Teeny Morris, Author of Teeny’s Tour of Pie: A Cookbook
One of my most vivid childhood memories is of perching on a tall kitchen stool next to my mom, wielding a miniature rolling pin in an entirely sincere attempt to imitate her fluid crust-rolling movements. My mom’s knack for making a good pie crust seemed truly magical and makes the idea of anything not homemade seem a bit silly. She would roll out the crust with ease, letting me help by using my little fingers to crimp the edges and would always press the leftover dough into the tiniest of tins, sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, and bake off for snacking later. My mom is the reason I never felt any trepidation when endeavoring to make my own dough or roll out a homemade pie crust.
In pie, everything starts with the crust. It is the foundation, the base, and can make all the difference between a mediocre, slightly soggy, or surprisingly chewy slice of pie and one with a light and flaky crust that’s still sturdy enough to envelop a decadent filling. When you start with a good pie crust, everything else seems to fall into place. Had I not grown up baking alongside my mom, I imagine I would have had a healthy dose of fear when it came time to attempt my first pie crust. Instead, I just did it, and then kept on doing it until I got good at it. It took time and patience, and I threw away plenty of overworked dough, but in the end, I learned how to make a crust I could proudly call my own.
Pie Crust Pride
Having spent the last six years or so in pursuit of pie, I’ve met countless bakers with their own individual ways of doing things, whether it was using a very specific type of flour; vinegar instead of ice water; all butter, all shortening, or some combination of the two. No matter what ingredients or methods they chose, they all shared an unwavering pride in their crusts. Which is the way it should be: there is something undeniably rewarding about mixing together a batch of crust from scratch.
At least, it’s undeniably rewarding until it doesn’t work; dealing with temperamental dough is just the worst. After spending a year apprenticing at different pie shops across the country, I moved with my husband to Washington, D.C., and during my first few weeks of living there, every batch of dough I made was incredibly difficult to roll out. Each one fell apart before I could even get it into the pie plate, and soon I was banging my head against my new cupboards in frustration. My husband gently suggested I change a single variable at a time and drew up a pie crust chart to help me figure out what the problem was. I tried combining flours. I tried using different mixing methods. I tried different water temperatures. It turns out that because my D.C. kitchen was smaller than my previous one in Chicago, it tended to retain any and all excess heat and humidity in the air, making for some very melty crust dough. The solution was to start refrigerating my shortening and letting my dough rest in the fridge overnight. With those few changes, my crusts began to roll out beautifully.
Pie Crust Making Tips
I was surprised that such a small detail, like the few degrees difference of my tiny kitchen, could make such a huge difference in my dough. But I learned a valuable lesson about the importance of trial and error and how rewarding the end result could be if I stuck with it. Making a homemade crust is something I got better at and more confident about over time, and I’m sure the same will be true of you. To give you a head start, here are a few things that I learned that will help you turn out a perfect crust every time:
1. Start with ingredients that you love.
I got weak in the knees for the slightly nutty flavor of whole wheat flour, however because of its gluten content it can be hard to work with so I like to tame it with a little all-purpose flour. My mom loves flaky layers that only shortening can provide, so she skips the butter and goes straight for the crisco.
2. Give yourself enough time.
I find that when I rush, I end up adding too much flour or too little fat and in the end am left with a stubbornly unworkable lump of dough. Most crust recipes call for a chilled resting period for your completed dough as well, and I’ve found that this step is essential. Once I’ve made my dough I let it sit in the refrigerator overnight before attempting to roll it out. The longer the dough rests, the easier it becomes to work with. If you try to roll out a crust when it’s too warm, it will fall apart or stick and you’ll end up getting frustrated. Baking should be fun, so take any potential frustration out of the process and make your pie dough a day ahead of time!
3. Chilly Ingredients.
Cold ingredients make the dough easier to work with, but they also don’t have to be absolutely frigid to work. It’s a balance when you’re working with pastry. I don’t like to fist-fight with frozen fats in order to obtain those perfect pea-sized pieces, but cold fats maintain their shape better, which leads to those flaky layers we all adore. So, I like to split the difference and refrigerate my fats rather than freeze them so they’re not stubbornly stiff when I go to cut them into the flour.
4. Don’t overwork your dough.
Pie dough is rather squishy when you mix it up and I’m all for using your hands to work everything together, but resist the temptation to knead the dough. It’s not that kind of dough, so the more you touch it, squish it, squash it, and roll it around the stronger the gluten binds together and the tougher your pie crust will be.
5. Know when to throw in the towel.
Sometimes you just need to dump the whole mess and start fresh. One of the most valuable lessons my mom ever taught me was that if you’ve reached a breaking point because your dough is still too sticky or overly crumbly and you’re considering brandishing a rolling pin at the next person who walks into the kitchen, put the pin down, take a deep breath, and know that it’s ok to scrap it and begin again.
About the Author: Teeny Morris
Teeny has been a professional baker for the last six years, with three of those years spent exclusively owning and operating her own business, Teeny Pies! She began selling pies at farmer’s markets in D.C. and has just moved to Cincinnati to continue to grow the business and open a storefront. She is an expert in the field of pie and pastries, and is well known for her cookbook, Teeny’s Tour of Pie, published in 2014 by Workman Publishing Company and named one of the best cookbooks of 2014 by Food and Wine. She loves all things pie and can be found online at teenypies.com.
Create Your Own Unique Pie!
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