OK, my turn on the demo! I'm a bit nervous because I am a newly minted pro, and I don't make much dough at work. But I have always loved pie, and ever since I started out on my own after college, some 15+ years ago, I've striven to perfect my pie crust recipe and technique.
I started out with the recipe my mom's always used. I made a lot of tough crusts initially because I was overworking the dough, mixing too much. This was in the days when, like Anne, I used a pastry blender. Then I read somewhere about the problems of overmixing, and for a while I was terrified that any mixing I did would make my crust tough. So then I had problems with undermixed doughs that leaked, or cracked, or were almost impossible to roll out. My mom had always been more or less adamant about following the recipe exactly, so for a long time, I would stick to the amount of water in the recipe, which sometimes gave me soggy crusts, and sometimes I'd have a pile of flour/fat crumbs that I was trying to roll into a cohesive dough.
Somewhere in there, things started to click, and I started to get a better sense of how to do this. One year, when I was making pies for Thanksgiving, I decided to try two things: using my food processor and changing out half the shortening for butter. From that point on, my pie crusts have gotten consistently better. But as a point of reference, I still use the proportions in my 1963 edition of the Good Housekeeping cookbook.
You can't see it very well, but the recipe I use is Flaky Pastry II, located on the right-hand page, with the asterisk by it. The recipe itself (with my variations) is here
Good Housekeeping doesn't want you using butter, but doesn't specify the type of fat used in the recipe (or its temperature). They suggest lard, shortening, oil, or margarine. Obviously, using all of one type will change the flavor and even the texture of this dough. My mom swears by all shortening, but I prefer a mix of 2/3 butter, 1/3 shortening.
Gather your ingredients together. If you look carefully, you can see a date on the lid of my shortening can. After discovering one Wednesday night before Thanksgiving that my can had gone off, I now use a marker to keep track of how old the can is. I haven't measure the water yet, but as I'll be taking it tablespoon by tablespoon it doesn't really matter. Contrary to many pie pastry recipes, this one does not include any acid (lemon juice, vinegar, what have you). It also doesn't have any sugar in the crust. Personally, I like the slightly salty taste this crust has and find that it's a nice counterpoint to the sweet filling.
If you're new to baking, one of the first and most important things I learned about pie dough particularly is how important it is to measure ingredients exactly. Level off your cups of flour, the shortening, etc. While experience has taught me how to fiddle with a recipe, if I'd been lackadaisical when I first started, my pie crusts would likely have been even worse than they were already!
Pulse the flour and salt briefly together in your food processor, then add the shortening. Pulse briefly (one-second pulses) about 10 times, or until the shortening is combined with the flour, and you can't see any pieces.
Next, add the butter, and pulse just until the butter chunks are about the size of large peas. Because I do the whole dough in my f.p., I leave the chunks slightly larger than I would if I were going to add the water by hand. But I'm lazy and don't want to wash another bowl (I usually dump the flour straight into the f.p.).
Time to add the water. Remove the lid of your food processor and sprinkle half of the water over the flour/fat mixture. I find this to be more effective than trying to pour it though the feed tube. You want to distribute your water over the greatest area, as evenly as possible. Pulse once or twice, and then add the rest of the water. Pulse until the dough almost starts to hang on to the side of the workbowl, and when you pick up a handful of it and squeeze, it will hold together. When I made this batch, I needed two more tablespoons of water before it did this.
It's important not to process the dough until it forms a ball. If you do that, you've overworked your pastry, and it will likely be tough (ask me how I know).
If you're intimidated by this method, I'd recommend dumping the dough out before you add the water and doing it by hand, tossing the water in with a fork, tablespoon by tablespoon. You have much more control this way. But, like I said, I'm lazy about washing dishes.
Dump the contents of your food processor out onto a work surface. It will look like this:
Don't worry. If you start pressing all those crumbs together, you will wind up with a ball of dough, like this. See the pieces of butter? That's good. They're about the size of small peas at this point.
Cut the ball in half, shape into a ball and flatten to a thick disk, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least an hour. This will give the flour bits time to hydrate so that the dough will be more cohesive when you start rolling it out. In my case, I waited two days before rolling. Any longer, and I would have frozen the dough and thawed it in the fridge.
When you're ready to roll out your dough, get one packet out 5-10 minutes before you're ready to give it time to warm up just a bit. This will help minimize cracking. Once you start rolling out the first packet, get the second one out.
For a long, long time, I rolled out my dough between sheets of waxed paper. This kept the dough from sticking to the counter, but as my technique's improved, I've been able to dispense with this and just go with a floured board. They key is to keep turning the dough to help keep it round and from sticking. I flour the top lightly, too.
Roll out the dough, easing up before you get to the edge. This will help keep the edges from getting too thin. You want it about an inch or more larger than your pie plate. I use mine to measure my progress. See all the lovely buttery streaks? Yum!
Use a pastry brush to dust off the excess flour and roll the dough onto your pin. There are a variety of ways to get your dough into the pan. This one works for me. If another one works for you, great!
I have a little crack on the left side there, which I press together. Unlike Wendy, I'm too impatient or disorganized to fill and freeze my pie ahead of time, so I stick the empty crust into the fridge while I roll out the top crust. Using a ruler, make sure it's a couple of inches larger than your pie plate so there's room to crimp and for the crust to fit over the mound of filling. (I've highlighted the measurement on the ruler for you).
Slide the crust onto a cookie sheet and into the fridge while you prep your filling. Today's pie is apple, due to my continuing bounty of apples. The recipe comes from the same cookbook - old-fashioned, no pre-cooking of the apples. Just layer in fruit and the sugar/flour/seasoning mixture, dot with butter, and you're good to go.
After shooting and reviewing these photos, I realize how difficult/unattractive it is to have a beige object (pie crust) on a beige background (ugly, nasty tile).
Trim the bottom crust (I agree with Wendy that scissors work best) to the edge of the pie pan. Moisten with water or egg wash, and add the top crust. Trim to about half an inch overhang from the edge of the pan. Press gently to seal and fold the top crust over the bottom. Crimp as desired. Add a glaze (milk, egg, egg white) and top with sugar if desired (I did), and cut slits to vent. If you're Martha Stewart, you have cute, tiny, apple-shaped cutters, and you can cut out apple shapes and apply the cut outs to the top of the pie.
I'm not her.
And onto the lowest rack of a preheated 425ºF oven. I have a pizza stone and use that, with some foil on it to catch any drips. My stone's stained enough as it is.
Some 45 minutes later:
And 10 minutes after that:
And, finally, here's a slice:
The crust is perfectly done - brown and crisp on top, flaky underneath. I wish the juices had thickened just a little bit more. There's some in the pan after cutting and serving half of the pie. You can see that there's a small gap from the reduced apples, but it's not appreciable.
I hope I've been helpful!