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Pie crust

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Pastry Crust/Pie Crust

Good pie crust is simple to make, they do though tend to frustrate some people and pie crust is one place I do tend to measure rather than guess like most dishes I cook.   I can make a pie crust by guessing, but it is better to measure when making them.   

Recipes for the crust vary, but just like many of the baking recipes of mine; it can be built off of a basic recipe.  Pie crust does not do well making it in the heat, you can make a fair pie on a hot day in camp, but the quality will not be as good.   I use lard in my pie crusts, butter can be used also as the whole shortening or as part of it, one should use ? to ? more butter than lard when making pie crust.  The advantage of the butter besides the butter taste is the water that is in the butter turns to steam when baking and puffs the crust up more, the disadvantage is the lower melting point over lard, the melting point of butter is right at 97F, the melting point of lard is 10-20 degrees higher depending on the type of lard (see lard) this gives the cook a bit of an edge on a warmer day.    How the butter or lard is cut in makes a difference in the texture of the crust also, for a flakier crust cut it in with a pastry cutter till it is about the size of peas, for less flaky cut it in till the mixture is like coarse cornmeal.   

The type of flour used will also make a difference, lower protein pastry flour will make a flakier crust, and all-purpose flour will be a little less flaky, but this can be controlled by working the dough no more than needed.   Some recipes call for a little vinegar added to the mix, this is not to give the crust a tang, but it helps prevent the gluten from making long matrixes that toughen the crust giving it a flakier crust.   Adding egg will give a more tender crust and will also promote browning, plus give the crust a bit of an egg flavor.   Adding a small amount of baking powder will also help make a flakier pie crust as well as lightly brushing cold water on top just before baking.

Basic crust for 2 crust 10 inch pie
2 1/4 cups of flour
2/3rd cup lard
1 teaspoon salt
5-7 tablespoons cold water
Mix salt in with flour, cut lard into flour with 2 knives or a pastry cutter, sprinkle with cold water and toss with a fork one tablespoon at a time until mixture slightly sticks to the side of the bowl.  Roll dough into a ball working it no more than is necessary, cover and let rest a 1/2 hour, place in a cool place if possible.   

When using vinegar, just replace 2 tablespoons of water with 2 of vinegar, either distilled or apple cider, cider type being the most common in the 19th Century.

For adding baking powder use 1/4th to 1 teaspoon per cup of flour, this will fluff the crust slightly.

If the butter used for the crust is salted butter, omit the salt in the basic recipe or reduce it by half if using a lard butter mixture.

For adding egg, one large egg is too much for the 2 crust recipe, before adding, beat the egg and remove 1/3 of the beaten egg, then adjust the water to give the same results.    For a shiny crust you can add the excess egg to a little milk and brush the crust just before baking..

When rolling the pastry, a muslin cloth lightly floured lain out on the rolling surface will help keep the dough from sticking without adding much extra flour that will toughen the crust, a floured rolling pin sock will help also and these can be found in kitchenware stores.   Baking the pastry at a higher temperature will give a flakier and tenderer crust; this should be a hot (around 425F oven)  if the filling will need cooked longer than normal, then reduce the heat after 10-15 minutes to keep from burning the pastry, do not just bake it at a lower temperature.   

OK after these instructions it would seem that making a decent pie on the trail without refrigeration or even an ice chest would be an impossible task on a hot day, yet we read accounts of pies being made on the overland trails and the cattle trails in summer.   The solution is simple, but not one you will find in a modern cookbook, instead of lard or butter the shortening used in the crust was chopped suet, true suet being the fat found in the body cavity of a beef, not the fat attached to the muscles, like on a good T Bone.   

Suet from modern grain fed beef has a melting point similar to lard,  from strictly grass fed beef is higher about 122F and suet being the fat with the tissue in it, it holds together well when mixing the pastry.   The beef of the overland and cattle trails was grass fed and even if they meat sold in butcher shops and butchered for home use on the farm was finished with grain, it was not as grain finished as most today.   

Most of us know, suet was a common fat for use in boiled and steamed puddings that were popular at Christmas time, such as fig and plum puddings as well as others.  The tissue helps keep the fat where you want it at the lower temperatures these are cooked at; lard would toughen the pudding by allowing the fat to flow freer.

If one wants to duplicate this, then today it is easier than it has been in the recent past, contact a supplier of grass fed beef about buying suet.  Remove any connecting tissue and blood vessels and chop fine, then using the same or a slightly higher volume (1 extra teaspoon per cup or lard called for) compared to the volume of lard.    This will allow you to make a very decent quality pie without the bother of having to keep the ingredients as cool as possible. 

Professor Marvel:
Thanks Del, I will experiment with rice flour and get back to you.

Since it doesnt need to rise, and no egg is required, your recipe ought to translate well
To gluten free flours.

Prof Marvel

This is nearly identical to the pie crust recipes from both my grandmothers (savory version).   My grandmothers were born in 1886 and 1905, so they learned on limited refrigeration as well.   My paternal grandmother, the older of the two used lard exclusively, regardless of what the final product was.  My maternal grandmother would often use a 50-50 butter/lard for most of hers and all butter if it was a sweet dessert pie.   It still bugs me finding good suet is so hard here.  There is a similar version in lard called leaf lard.  It is specifically the fat from around the kidneys and like true suet, is a better grade than just rendered fat.   It too is difficult to come by, as the majority of it goes to commercial bakers.    I love some Christmas puddings as well. 

Man, now I am hungry!

My family on both sides is primarily German from the Wurttemburg region.  Lots of similar recipes on both sides.   Funny the strudel both grandmothers made used this same crust recipe.   They both had the knack, as did my mother to roll it out really thin, on a nice floured piece of linen.  That was used to roll it after it was filled, it was usually shaped into a crescent moon shape to fit on the baking sheet.   You never knew what would be placed into the strudel.   If fruit was scarce, it was spread with jam.  For dinner, it could be ground meat with onions, tomatoes and cooked cabbage.  I usually make them at the holidays with mince meat and cranberry jam.   now I am super hungry.   I remember my maternal grandmother eating a strudel made with phyllo dough.  She had a look and said the Greeks can keep that.


Capt Quirk:
Now, you take that pie crust, chop up some ham, cheese, mushrooms, broccoli, onion, beat 8-10 eggs with a little milk and flour, mix it all up, and bake it.

Oh, I've been trying lately to cook the perfect pie crust that won't turn into a gooey mess. The main problem is I never get it to fold over again without it breaking apart. I tried to add an egg to the pie crust recipe to make the dough tougher. However, any of my attempts worked out well. I decided to see more recipes for achieving the perfect pie crust, and yours popped up in a Google search. I will try it soon and hopefully come up with feedback.


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