How to Make Perfect Pie Crust

by Ann Marie Michaels on January 20, 2009

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lard-pie-crust

Who doesn’t love pie? Apple pie, pecan pie, coconut cream pie… mmm! A savory pie makes a wonderful dinner, especially on a cold winter night.

Be honest. Are you intimidated at the thought of trying to make pie crust from scratch? If so, you’re not alone. Most people think making pie crust is hard. But it’s actually quite easy. You’ll be astonished at how simple it is to make the most delicious, flaky, perfect pie crust.

Recipe Notes

This recipe for pie crust is tried and true. I swear, it comes out perfect every time. It comes from Marion Cunningham. (No not the mom on “Happy Days”. This Marion Cunningham — the baker.) Her recipe was meticulously transcribed and published by the inimitable Jeffrey Steingarten, Vogue magazine food writer (and my very favorite food critic), in his book, “The Man Who Ate Everything”.

Jeffrey writes:

“I have also developed a never-fail American pie crust for the most inexperienced baker. The secret is extra fat.”

The detailed instructions are in the chapter, ”Pies from Paradise,” in Mr. Steingarten’s book.

“Most Americans use Crisco, but I discovered that the best pie crust uses some lard,” he said.

“Lard actually has less saturated fat than butter; it’s better for you than Crisco because it contains no trans-fatty acids,” Mr. Steingarten said. Source: New York Times

If you have not read Steingarten’s book, The Man Who Ate Everything, pick up a copy immediately. If you love food like I do, you will relish and devour every sentence of this delicious book.

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As you will see if you read the The Man Who Ate Everything, I have vastly simplified Steingarten’s recipe. If you want more detailed instructions, read the book (or at least the chapter).

I also adapted it slightly. I use sea salt instead of table salt, and sucanat instead of refined sugar. Sea salt and sucanat are unrefined and they are better for you. You could also use coconut or palm sugar instead of sucanat.

If you don’t have sprouted flour, you can use regular white (unbleached all-purpose) flour. I usually use 1/2 white flour and 1/2 sprouted whole wheat flour.

Where to Find Lard or Tallow

I always make my pie crust with beef tallow or lard and grass-fed butter. Never shortening. Tallow, lard and butter are healthy traditional fats. Shortening is a fake food and it’s not good for you.

Do not buy lard at the supermarket. It’s full of pesticides, antibiotics, hormones, and it’s almost always partially hydrogenated. Avoid!

Make sure you get good quality lard or tallow, from a farmer who raises animals on pasture and does not feed them genetically modified corn and soy — any grain they are fed should be organic.

Most grass farmers will sell you pig or beef fat, or suet, which you can render into lard or tallow (beef tallow is also the very best fat for French fries). The best, most flakiest pie crusts I’ve ever made are with beef tallow. If you use beef tallow, you will need to cut it up smaller (see below in the recipe).

Talk to the farmers at your local farmer’s market and ask them if they have pig or beef fat. In Los Angeles, I buy my pig fat from Jimenez Farm and I get beef fat from Rocky Canyon or Lindner Bison. You can also look up farms online on LocalHarvest.com.

If you can get leaf lard (this is the lard from around the kidneys of the pig), that is the very best.

If you can’t find good lard or tallow, you can make your pie crust with 100% butter. It’s still very good.

How to Render Lard or Tallow

Here’s my recipe for how to render lard or tallow — it’s easy! I like to render lard and tallow in my crockpot.

How to Make Perfect Pie Crust

Makes enough for two open-faced pie crusts (or one pie crust with a crust top).

Equipment:

Rolling pin (you can use a wine bottle in a pinch)
Pie weights (for blind baking; you can find these at a restaurant supply store or cooking store; you can also use dried beans or rice)
Aluminum foil

Ingredients

Unbleached flour, or a combination of 1/2 unbleached flour and 1/2 sprouted flour (3 cups total) — where to buy sprouted flour
Very cold lard or beef tallow — if using beef tallow, chop it up or grate it (1 cup or 8 ounces)
Very cold butter, straight from the fridge or frozen; grass-fed if possible (10 tablespoons, or about 5 ounces)
Sea salt (1 tsp) — where to buy sea salt
Sucanat, or palm sugar or maple sugar (2 tsp) — where to buy sucanat
Ice water (3/4 cup)

IMG_4206

Directions:

1. Add sprouted flour, sea salt & sugar to a large mixing bowl.
2. Cut butter and lard up into large chunks and add to the bowl.
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3. Slowly add cold filtered water, a little at a time, as you mix the pie dough with your (clean) hands until the lard and butter hunks are no smaller than the size of peas. Better yet, the size of olives.
DO NOT OVERMIX! This is the most important part of making a good pie crust. You must have little blobs of fat — this is what will make the pie crust flaky and light, not dense and hard like a rock.
This is what good pie dough looks like with the hunks of fat:
Pie Crust
NOTE: If you are using tallow, you will need to cut it up smaller because it will not roll out as it stays hard at room temperature. If you like, you can grate the tallow with a box grater. If you are using lard, leave it in big pea- to olive-sized blobs just like the butter.
4. Pat the dough into two large balls, wrap in plastic wrap and put in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
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5. Set an oven rack at the lowest level and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
6. Lightly grease a tart pan with butter.
7. Roll out one of the balls of dough on a floured surface. You should clearly see the blobs of butter and lard in the dough.
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8. Transfer the dough to pie or tart pan, and trim the edges. An easy way to do this is to simply roll your rolling pin over the tart pan (as shown).
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9. Poke holes in the pie crust with a fork.
10. If your recipe calls for “blind baking” (this means you bake the crust first without the filling — refer to your recipe), line with foil or parchment paper and fill with pie weights.
pie weights
You can use dried beans or rice if you don’t have any pie weights. If your recipe does not call for blind baking, go ahead and fill it with whatever you are filling it with.
11. For blind baking, bake for 15-20 minutes and remove from oven; let cool for at least 15 minutes before filling.

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