|Photo by DailyInvention, Flickr|
But even the best fillings are diminished if the crust isn't perfection. Here in South Africa I have found that dessert pies (called "tarts" here, no matter their size) are made on what is called a "short crust" base, something I have found at best to be crumbly and messy, at worst to be hard as a stone and impenetrable even with fork and knife (no kidding here!). Nobody, it seems, has even a passing acquaintance with traditional American pie crusts, those lovely, flaky, tender morsels of deliciousness that define a "good pie."
Herewith, my grandmother's recipe (which she got from her mother, making this more than 100 years old!) for the flakiest, most tender pie crust you will ever taste!
CAVEAT: you absolutely must use lard to make this come out right. If, for whatever reason, you cannot use lard, you can substitute vegetable shortening, but nothing else. Even with shortening, it doesn't come out quite right, but pretty close.
Gramma’s Pie Crust
2 ¼ cups sifted flour
1 tsp salt
¾ cup lard
5 tbsp ice water
Mix flour with salt. Cut lard into flour using a pastry blender or two knives cutting in opposite directions, scissor-fashion. Do not use a food processor or other electric appliance as this pastry must be handled as little as possible to retain its flaky texture and prevent toughening.
When flour/lard mixture is the texture of coarse meal with lumps no bigger than peas, sprinkle with 3 tbsp of the water and pull together with fork. Add more water as needed until the mixture holds together (use fingers if fork is not doing the trick). It should not be sticky and all of the flour mixture should be rounded up from the bottom of the bowl.
Shape into a flattened ball. If the day or kitchen is particularly warm, allow dough to rest, wrapped in foil or plastic, in the fridge for up to 30 mins.
On floured pastry board, cut dough in half. Shape each half into a ball. Starting centre, roll first ball out into a circle with a well-floured rolling pin. If dough cracks, seal cracks with a dab of ice water. Lay first circle of dough into a slope-sided pie dish.
Baked pastry shell:
If you are making a baked pastry shell for a pie that will not require baking (like a slipped custard or pudding/mousse pie), trim the edges of the crust, then prick all over with a fork and bake for 10 minutes at 450F (230C) for 12 to 15 minutes. Check after 5 minutes and if the crust has bubbles, prick them with a fork. Makes two pies.
Cool pastry shell on a wire rack before adding filling.
One crust pie:
If you are making a one crust pie that requires a baked filling (such as Dutch apple, pumpkin, or melktert), do not prick the crust. Trim the edges, add filling, and bake according to directions for baking the filling. To prevent the crust edges from over cooking, lay strips of foil over them, removing during last 5 to 7 minutes of baking. Cool on wire rack. Makes two pies.
Two crust pie:
For a two crust pie, such as a traditional fruit pie, set the pie dish aside and roll out the second ball of dough until its diameter is at least 1 inch (2.5 cms) larger than the top diameter of the pie dish.
Fit the bottom crust into the pie dish and do not prick it. Fill with desired filling, heaping it if using fresh fruits, such as sliced apples, as they will compact as they cook. Moisten the top edges of the crust with ice water. Carefully lay the top crust over the filling (folding it into half or even quarters makes handling easier) and press the edges together to seal the top pastry to the bottom. Trim edges. Cut vent holes into the top of the pie with a sharp knife. Bake according to instructions for the filling. Cool on wire rack. Makes 1 pie.