So many great home cooks are intimidated by pie crust or pastry recipes, or just think there is no reason to bother with making it when the refrigerated stuff is 'just as good'. Now, I'm not going to lie to you- I've used Pillsbury crust on many occasions. Can it compare to a well-done crust made at home? No. Most pie crust recipes are pretty simple- flour, water or milk, and some kind of solid fat (butter, shortening, lard). The absolute key is to mix them properly, and you'll never go back. Make a double or triple batch and keep them frozen until you need them. It's worth the effort.
In case you don't know them, here are the tricks I use. (My recipe is at the bottom). If you have your own recipe, try these notes anyway...you may be surprised at the difference in your crusts.
1. Meet your new best friend: the freezer. Whisk together your dry ingredients in a conductive bowl (metal is best, glass is second best. Plastic will be ineffective) and place the whole bowl in the freezer for at least 30 minutes. You want it COLD. Dice your butter (or scoop out your shortening) and place that in the freezer too. Finally, take your liquid measure and-you guessed it- pop that in the freezer for about 10-15 minutes. Once everything is properly chilled, you can begin your recipe- but leave each item in the freezer until you need it. Heck, if I remember, I even freeze my pastry cutter.
2. Don't overmix it. When I have taught pastry classes in the past, the overwhelming majority of home cooks are afraid of UNDER-mixing and they end up with tough, doughy crust. You want to cut your butter in juuuust until it crumbles. When you're rolling out your dough, there should be large flecks of butter still visible in the pastry. These pockets of fat are what gives a truly scrumptious crust it's crisp flakiness. As my mom always says- don't be afraid of the butter.
3. If you -eek!- make your crust too wet or dry, don't panic! You are resolute. You are a pastry chef. Think of it like overcorrecting on the highway- you should add your liquid to your dry mix with great prejudice, and only add more when absolutely necessary. No need to cut all the way over five lanes of traffic. If things get a little too wet, that's okay. Let your dough rest, and then when you are rolling it out, add flour to your rolling surface. The dough will absorb it but not get super tough.
Okay, now you are ready to make the best pie crust ever! We all have different tastes, but I personally love an all-butter crust. If shortening is your thing, go for it. There are tons of great recipes out there. Just don't forget the tricks!
Pie Crust Recipe:
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 T sugar
1 t salt
12 T butter, cubed
3 T water + 3 T vodka, chilled well
Whisk together the flour, salt, and sugar in a medium mixing bowl. Chill.
Cut in chilled butter with a pastry cutter (or food processor, but beware- this can heat your ingredients and then all your preparations are for naught) until it is the size of small peas. This is a workout with the pastry cutter, especially if your butter is well chilled. Think of it as paying calories forward for the pie you'll soon be eating.
Once your butter is cut in, add the liquid mixture 1 tablespoon at a time. Cut in well after each addition.
Pat into two disks and wrap tightly with plastic wrap. Chill at least 1 hour before using.
Roll out between two sheets of parchment paper to desired thickness. It's going to seem too thin- don't be afraid to get it nice and thin. You don't want it to be doughy. Imagine the thickness of a Pillsbury pie crust when you are rolling it out, for a frame of reference.
Flour the parchment sheets as needed if your dough is sticky- no more than a few tablespoons.
Make pies to your hearts content!