There’s no one way to make a perfect pie crust.
Some people use butter, others use lard, and other still use shortening. Some people add eggs to their crust, some add vinegar, and some bakers add vodka.
Andrea Ballard said there dozens of ways to make a delicious base for one of America’s favorite pastries — but she said that many people are intimidated by the idea of making their own crusts, for they opt for the store-bought version instead.
She and Anne Fritzel tried to abolish that fear for a group of bakers Saturday morning at a pie making class held in the basement of the United Churches of Olympia.
Keep everything chilled, even yourself. In other words, don’t stress out.
Andrea Ballard, Olympia Pie Bakers Guild
About 15 people attended the class, with some hoping to learn how to make pies for Thanksgiving, and others hoping to better execute old family recipes.
Ballard, a member of the Olympia Pie Bakers Guild, said people often refrain from entering pie contests because they’re worried they don’t know how to make a pie. The United Churches of Olympia held a pie fundraiser on Saturday night, and many of the bakers from the class planned to bring their pastries. The guild hosts a pie contest every February.
Greg Tudor, of Olympia, said he grew up watching his grandmothers and great aunts making pies. He’s interested in learning to make crusts for savory pies.
He attended the class with his wife, Kate Tudor, and their 6-year-old son, Colin Tudor.
“Colin and Greg bake a fair amount at home,” Kate Tudor said. “Greg’s the baker, and I’m the one who figures out what we’re having for dinner every night.”
Colin insured that the pie crust recipes stayed on track by having a taste every once-in-awhile.
Ballard and Fritzel taught the group two different crust recipes: one mixed in a large bowl, and the other combined in a food processor.
“I included two recipes so you know there’s no perfect way to make a pie crust,” Ballard said.
She started with a basic-but-helpful tip: keep everything chilled. Ballard said she stores her flour in the freezer before making pies, she keeps her butter and lard in the fridge, she uses ice-cold water in her dough, and she even holds ice cubes in her hands before rolling out the dough.
“Keep everything chilled, even yourself,” Ballard said. “In other words, don’t stress out.”
It’s also important to use the correct ingredients, she said. Ballard uses leaf lard, a product she purchases from a store called Lardist on Etsy, so that her crust doesn’t end up with a pork-like flavor. She uses Kerrygold butter, which gives pies a rich flavor.
The butter, she explained, adds flavor. Lard makes crusts flaky. It’s important to make sure the crust isn’t too smooth, Ballard said. Pea-sized lumps of fat are important to a flaky crust.
Water is also a key ingredient, she said. Depending on the weather, the type of flour you use and the temperature of the ingredients, a good crust may need more or less water than what the recipe calls for.
“I think that’s the part that frustrates people the most,” Ballard said. “People like to follow an exact recipe.”
If the dough falls apart, it probably needs an extra tablespoon or two of water. If it holds together in a shaggy ball, it’s perfect, she said.
But the most important rule of pie crust making is to stay calm, Ballard said. Most mistakes can be fixed, and bakers can always start over.
“When I’m teaching people, I always like it when things go wrong, or it doesn’t do what it’s supposed to,” Ballard said. “Then you see it isn’t a big deal.”
Basic pie dough, by Kate McDermott
- 2 1/2 cups unbleached flour
- 8 tablespoons butter
- 8 tablespoons leaf lard
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 6 to 8 tablespoons ice water
Combine all ingredients except ice water in a large bowl. Using a pastry cutter, mix the ingredients until it looks like a coarse meal, with some crumbs and pea-sized lumps. Add water and mix with a fork. Divide the dough in half, and form into chubby disks. Chill in the fridge before rolling and baking.
Food processor pie crust, by Mary Beth Ricks
- 2 cups flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup butter (or 1/2 cup butter and 8 tablespoons leaf lard)
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon vinegar
In a food processor, cut flour and butter/lard together. Add salt. Break one egg into a measuring cup, and add water to the 1/2 cup mark. Add vinegar to the water and egg, and mix with a fork. Pour mixture into the flour mixture and combine into two balls. Chill in the fridge before rolling and baking.