“I can’t make much, but I can make pie crust,” said my mother. A few days ago, as we discussed Thanksgiving plans, I expressed my concern at making a homemade crust for the pies Genny requested. I’ve never found a recipe that worked well, and so for years I’ve resorted to (dramatic pause) store-bought crust. But not this year! One cannot use store-bought crust if she wishes to be taken seriously as a baker. And so, I wrote down Genny’s recipe and hoped for the best.
My mom swears that the vinegar in her recipe makes the crust flaky. During the past week, as I scoured the internet in an attempt to earn a doctorate in pie crust, I learned that the acid in the vinegar breaks down the gluten in the flour just enough to make the dough more pliable. And because flakiness tends to result from bits of fat (butter, shortening, or lard) melting between layers of flour to create pockets, I don’t know if we can credit the vinegar for contributing to flakiness here. Although, more pliable dough means less rolling and easier handling, and we know well that over-handling dough can make it tough. Perhaps the vinegar can take some credit for flakiness.
This recipe is large enough to make three 9-inch pie crusts; you can always freeze what you don’t use.
- 4 cups flour
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 3/4 cups shortening
- 1 tablespoon white vinegar
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup cold water
In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, and salt.
Measure out the shortening and break it up into tablespoon-sized lumps; add to the flour mixture and cut in using a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
In a small bowl, combine egg, vinegar, and water; whisk together and add to the flour/shortening mix.
Using a fork, blend together until a soft dough forms; gently combine with your hands if necessary.
Divide dough into three even portions and roll into balls, then flatten slightly into discs.
Place each disc in its own large Ziploc bag and roll out to flatten slightly.
Freeze crusts for 20 minutes before baking; crusts can be stored in the fridge or freezer until they are ready to use.
Pie Crust Tips
- Coarse crumbs are very subjective; you just want to be sure the shortening is well-incorporated, with no large pieces remaining.
- When cutting in the shortening and later incorporating the egg mixture, use your hands if necessary, but be very, very gentle. Overworked dough = tough dough.
- I use ice water when working with pastry; just fill a large measuring cup with ice and water, then pour it into a smaller measuring cup when you need to combine it with the egg.
- Make sure your egg is cold, too. Pastry likes cold.