Tips for making “from scratch” crusts:
- If using solid fats, the colder the better: Put your butter and/or shortening into the freezer for ten minutes before cutting it into your flour. This is especially good for dairy free versions of butter which tend to be softer in texture. You want the fats to slowly melt in the oven while cooking, not become soft while you’re still preparing the crust.
- If using oil, the milder the better: Plant oils are great for crusts because they have healthy fats and you don’t have to cut the fat into the flour. You can simply stir the fat into the flour. You want, however, to use mild tasting oils like safflower, sunflower, canola, etc… because otherwise the oil flavor overpowers everything else. If you are using an oil for the fat, be sure to decrease the amount of water because you only want enough liquid to moisten the crust enough to hold together.
- The colder the better for the water: Recipes for crusts will call for ice water. This means literally putting ice into the water, because you want to prohibit gluten development. Now, if you’re making a gluten free crust, that isn’t an issue but if you’re using solid fats, the cold water will help keep the fats cold until the pie goes into the oven. Use just enough water, though, to moisten the flour enough to hold together.
- If you want tender, flakier crusts, use acids or alcohol: Acids like lemon juice or vinegar or an alcohol like vodka cook off in the baking process but react with the other ingredients to make for a flakier crust by tenderizing the dough. You only need to replace one to two tablespoons of the ice water.
- If want tender, flakier crusts, use lower protein flours: The lower the protein, the flakier the crust, but of course, that makes for a more delicate crust and one which is more carb intense. Find a balance. For example, use a whole wheat pastry flour which has less protein than 100% whole wheat flour but which is a sturdier flour than all purpose white flour. If using gluten free blends, choose a combination of brown rice flour and sorghum or oat which combines a lighter flour with a protein flour.
- If you want a crust that is easier to handle: Adding an egg yolks makes for a more pliable, sturdier dough to work with. It also makes for a richer tasting crust.
- For easier rolling and handling, cold is better: It is a good rule of thumb to put your crust into the fridge for half an hour to an hour because rolling soft dough makes it more likely that the dough will stick, causes the fats to melt before their time, and will be harder to transfer to the pie plate.
- For easier rolling and handling, paper is better: When rolling out the dough, if you don’t want the crust to stick and want an easier way to transfer the crust, use wax paper or parchment paper which you sprinkle flour onto. After putting the dough down, sprinkle it with flour and top with a second piece of wax or parchment paper. Then roll. The papers prevent sticking, and when you’re ready to transfer the crust, you can just pick up the paper and flip it onto the pie plate.