You’ll often read that making pie crust is easy. Trying to keep all the bits and pieces of advice straight likely scare you right out of the kitchen, especially after your first try. You may have read that too much water is bad for your crust’s consistency or that you should measure carefully or that one ingredient is better than the other. Here’s what you really need to know: the fat substance in your crust needs to fully cover the dry ingredients in your crust. If it fully covers the dry ingredients, you will need less water to bind the dough together, and when you cook it to a nicely toasted color, it will flake easily with a fork. You also need to have plenty of time your first few attempts so you can learn how to roll it out properly.
To start off, to make a double crust (or enough for 2 single crust pies) a few ingredients: 2 ¼ cups flour, a handful of granulated sugar, and a ½ teaspoon salt. With either a sifter or wisk (I use a wisk), thoroughly mix and fluff these 3 dry ingredients. You are trying to ensure that every ingredient is without clumps and is evenly dispersed.
Next, place ¾ cup of a soft vegetable shortening on top of the dry ingredients. I find that a soft vegetable shortening works better than a stiff one. I buy the less expensive, store brand shortenings. With a pastry blender, mix the shortening in thoroughly so that the dough pushes up through the pastry blender in the shape of the blades, like little buildings. I have never overworked the dough at this point. You want to make sure that the dry ingredients are thoroughly coated with the fat, to lessen their contact with water.
The dough does needs to be bound together, so water is necessary, but if the dry ingredients are thoroughly coated, you should only need 4 tablespoons of very cold water. It will appear that not all the water is soaking into the dough. This is good, it’s a sign that you have coated the dry ingredients very well. You may find that you won’t need this much water on later attempts.
On a well floured surface, roll out ½ the dough as follows: place ball of very wet dough down and pat it flat, just a little. Turn it over and pat it out a little flatter. Make sure it keeps the round shape. Once you have done this 3 times, with reflouring your surface each time, you can start rolling. Roll from the middle of the circle to the outside, using only the weight of the rolling pin, not your weight. Turn the roller so that you roll it out to the edges of the circle in all directions. After 3 times or so, roll the crust onto the rolling pin and reflour surface. Unroll the dough off the pin and spread it out some more. When the circle of dough is approximately 2 inches bigger than the diameter of the top of the pie dish, roll the dough up onto the rolling pin, and unroll it onto the dish and place the crust. Repeat the whole procedure with the second ½ of dough and place over pie filling. If the dough breaks, pinch it back together. If your crust is really fragile and keeps splitting, you may need to decrease the fat the next time you make pie, or try flouring the surface a bit more.
Assemble your pie according to the type of pie you are making. For a double crust, I like to add a crusty sugar glaze to the top. To do this, place only a teaspoon or two of water into a cup of sugar. You want it thick, but be able to spread it over the crust of the pie before you bake it. I use a pastry brush to “paint” the top with the slushy sugar mixture. After baking, your pie should have a toasty crust glistening with sparkly sugar crystals, and should flake with a fork and melt in your mouth. Enjoy.