Making a piecrust that’s tender and flaky can be challenging for those of us who aren’t accomplished pastry chefs. But that doesn’t have to be the case. Piecrust is made from a few basic ingredients—flour, fat, water, salt and sugar—and choosing the right flour and fat and practicing techniques can make a big difference in the taste, tenderness and flakiness of the final product.
Lattice-Topped Cherry-Blackberry Pie
(Double-crust 9-inch pie)
- 2¾ cups all-purpose flour
- ½ cup (4 ounces) unsalted butter, cold,
- cut into ½-inch pieces
- ½ cup vegetable shortening, cold, cut into
- ½-inch pieces
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ to 2/3 cup of ice water
- Dough for double-crust pie
- 2 cups blackberries
- 3 cups pitted sweet cherries
- ¾ cup sugar
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- Milk and sugar for brushing the piecrust
Making the Right Choice
Choosing Flour: Flour provides the structure that holds the crust together. Since pie dough requires relatively little water, the flour’s protein content is the most important factor for the piecrust. All-purpose flour and pastry flour make the best dough and are readily available from most area supermarkets. Generally, the higher the protein content, the more gluten that will form and the firmer the dough will be. Bread flour has too much protein to make a tender crust, and cake flour has too little to work effectively.
Choosing Fat: Fat provides flavor and can minimize gluten development, creating a more tender dough. It’s best to use solid fats—shortening, butter or lard—to attain the flaky, tender texture that makes the best pies.
- Butter adds good flavor and melts at body temperature, providing a great mouth feel when we eat it. But it’s more difficult to work with because it warms up quickly. For best results, keep butter and other ingredients cold when mixing your dough. Butter contains more water than shortening and lard. That creates extra steam—and flakiness—when the crust bakes. But it also means you may need to use more butter and less water if you’re substituting butter for lard or vegetable shortening.
- Lard—rendered pork fat—makes for an exceptionally flaky piecrust. Since lard is softer than butter when it’s cold, it better inhibits gluten development, making for a very tender crust. At the same time, its higher melting point helps produce a flaky crust. Leaf lard—the fat surrounding a pig’s kidneys—is the highest grade of lard and is preferred for pastry work.
- Vegetable shortening is similar to lard and also produces a flaky, tender crust, but lacks flavor. That’s why many piecrust recipes call for both butter and shortening.
Techniques for Making Pie Dough
- Combine flour, butter, shortening, sugar and salt in a mixing bowl.
- Using a paddle attachment on a mixer, slowly mix until butter and shortening is pea-size or slightly smaller and mixture resembles coarse meal. Alternatively, cut the butter and shortening into the flour and sugar using your fingertips, two knives or a pastry cutter.
- Add ice water 1 tablespoon at a time while blending, using a fork if mixing by hand. Mix gently until the dough holds together.Add more ice water, 1 teaspoon at a time, if necessary. Once dough forms, split it into two rounds and then wrap and chill for at least 1 hour.
- Roll out the dough into one round measuring 12 inches in diameter and another measuring 14 inches. Line a 9-inch pie pan with the smaller round and cut the overhanging dough flush with the pan. Place the lined pan and remaining dough in the refrigerator.
- Mix berries, sugar, salt and cornstarch in a bowl. Let the mixture stand for 15 to 30 minutes.
- Remove prepared pie pan and dough from the refrigerator and pour the berry mixture into the pan.
- Cut the butter into small pieces and dot the mixture.
- Make lattice top (see below)
- Trim the lattice strips and press against the bottom crust. Brush the lattice with milk and sprinkle with sugar.
- Bake at 425 degrees for 20 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees, and bake until the crust is brown and thick juices are bubbling out of the pie, about 1 hour.
- Remove from the oven and cool completely before serving.
- Cut the larger round into ½-inch-wide strips. Place half of the strips parallel to each other, about ½ inch apart, on top of the pie.
- Fold every other strip halfway back (use a wooden spoon or dowel to hold the strips). Place a strip of dough over the remaining strips, perpendicular to them. Unfold the folded strips over the perpendicular strip.
- Next, fold back the parallel strips that are under the perpendicular strip. Lay down a second perpendicular strip ½ inch from the first one and unfold the folded strips over it. Repeat on both halves until the pie is covered with a lattice top.