How to prepare the best fruit pies? It all begins with the crust. The proper crust makes all the difference. If you’re going to make a sweet pie, use ingredients meant for making sweet pie crust. And for a savory pie, ingredients meant for a savory pie crust. Sweet (sugary) savory (salty).
So I start with the flour. You can use bleached all-purpose flour but I prefer pastry flour. Pastry flour produces the tenderest crust. The difference is the amount of gluten found in the all-purpose flour. Gluten is a protein that acts like a glue holding food together. Great if you’re making bread because the gluten level is at 12%. Pastry flour is 9 to 10% making for a more tender crust.
Next, I use a combination of unsalted butter and cream cheese. The reason for unsalted butter versus salted. You don’t know how much salt is in the salted. But your recipe needs salt if it is to turn out. You just don’t want too much salt. Some people use lard, but that’s good for a savory pie like quiche or a chicken or beef pot pie. When discussing this with those who are using lard for their fruit pie crust I like to put it this way. If I have a spoon with a combination of butter and cream cheese on it and another spoon with lard, which would you put in your mouth if I offered you $5.00. Who wants to eat lard, right.
Next, come the salt, baking powder, ice water and cider vinegar. You can prepare the dough by hand but I prefer to use a food processor. The crust can be a little tenderer if you prepare it by hand but the food processor method is a lot faster and after you’ve done it a few times with the processor you can make the crust just as tender. The next most important thing is to keep your ingredients as cold as possible.
So, for a two-crust 9 inch pie I get the following ingredients together;
12 Tbs. unsalted butter, or 6 ounces scaled
Pastry flour, 2 cups + 3 tablespoons (dip and sweep method – dip your measuring cup in the flour and use a butter knife to sweep off the top to level, or 10 ounces scaled
Salt, 1/4 teaspoon
Baking powder, 1/4 teaspoon
Cream cheese, 1 1/2 3 -ounce packages, or 4.5 ounces scaled
Ice water, 2 tablespoon
Cider vinegar, 1 tablespoon
Cut the butter into small cubes and put into a reclosable sandwich baggy and freeze for at least 30 minutes. Sift the flour with the salt and baking powder and put into a one gallon reclosable freezer bag and freeze for at least 30 minutes. Cut the cream cheese into 4 or 5 pieces put into a reclosable sandwich baggy and place in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. Mix the ice water and vinegar together and place in the refrigerator.
Place the flour mixture in food processor and set the bag aside. Then, pulse the flour mixture for a few seconds to combine. I count to 4 as I push the pulse button as many times. Holding for just a moment each time you press the button. Do the same with the cream cheese counting to 4 as you push the pulse button. The mixture should resemble coarse meal. Next, add the frozen butter and pulse using the same method. Use a fork to see if the butter is larger then pea size. If it is, pulse again. If not, move on to next step. Add the ice water, vinegar mixture all at once and pulse again. The butter should be the size of small peas. Now place the mixture back into the gallon freezer bag. Holding the bag open with your thumbs and index fingers press down on the mixture with the heels of your hands and knuckles, like make a fist, keeping the plastic between your hands and the dough, rock back and forth kneading the dough. Do this until the mixture holds together in one piece. Hold the bag up and shake it a couple of times trying to get it to come together, continue to knead because there will be some loose flour mixture. Don’t over knead but the mixture should finally all come together. The dough will be slightly sticky. You don’t want it dry and you don’t want it too moist. Divide in two and flatten into discs. Wrap each disc tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes, over night if you can. I like to place the discs in sandwich baggies as well. Air is an enemy of the dough.
Prepare your favorite fruit filling, set aside. Remove dough from refrigerator and leaving wrapped set aside for about 10 minutes or until it is soft enough to work. On a lightly floured surface or between two pieces of lightly floured plastic wrap roll out the bottom crust to 1/8 in thickness and about 12 inches in diameter. When rolling out dough, work from the center out. Don’t roll back and forth. Don’t whack the dough. Whacking the dough presses the layers together. When you get to the desired diameter turn a pie plate over on top of dough as a guide and using a pastry wheel or knife cut around the plate about 2 inches wider then the plate. At any time, if you think the dough is getting too soft, place back in refrigerator covered with plastic wrap to chill . ( It’s important to keep the ingredients/dough cold). Place the dough in the pie plate. Cover with plastic wrap and place back in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. Remove from refrigerator and fill with fruit mixture. Roll out top crust to 12 inch diameter. Brush edges of bottom crust with water and place top crust over fruit. Tuck the top crust over-hang under the edge of the bottom crust and crimp together. Use any method you want to crimp. Cut steam vents in the top. If you want, cut the vents before placing dough on top of fruit but be careful when handling. Wrap pie with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. This allows the dough to rest to avoid shrinking.
Preheat oven to 425 F. Oven should be at 425 F for at least 25 minutes. Remove the pie from refrigerator and prepare to place in oven. You can brush with water, or milk, or egg but just as a note; when you do, the moisture works as a seal and will make for a tougher crust. So use lightly. If you’re making a lattice crust, use egg yolk and cream mixture. On the home page of my website is a picture of a cherry lattice pie I made brushed with egg yolk and heavy cream mixture. In addition to tasting fantastic, it made a great presentation.
Now, place on a sheet pan covered with greased foil to collect juices, or on a baking stone covered with greased foil on the bottom rack of the oven. Bake for 15 minutes at 425 F. Turn oven down to 370 F and continue to bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until juices bubble. Pie is done when juices bubble. If edges brown too soon, cover with a metal pie ring.You can also cover the entire pie with foil if it gets too brown.
Remove from oven and let rest for at least 4 hours.
Enjoy, you did a good job.