Why we don't make pie all the time is a shame. It's the best dish for tight budgets, for people who love to eat, for picky eaters, and for using up whatever you've got around.
Cooked vegetables, ends of cheeses, bits of meat, even leftover pasta bake into super main dish pies; never mind the fruits, dried and fresh, nuts, spices and such for dessert.
Your crust could be waiting in the freezer or fridge, rolled out and ready for a quick supper.
I know, blithely saying "your crust" is the hitch; it assumes you make your own. That's where you think, "No way! I'll do store bought." That's fine, but good ones are pricey, and sometimes have ingredients you don't want to eat.
Trust me: Homemade pie crust is really slick when you know the formula. (That is all it is -- a formula with a few tricks). Food writer Michael Ruhlman shared a formula most chefs use in his cookbook, Ruhlman's Twenty. This is my take on it.
3 parts flour (mix it up with whole wheat and white, or some ground nuts instead of flour)
2 parts fat (I like butter, lard and/or olive oil; other cooks like shortening mixed in)
1 part liquid - water, wine, or juices
Flavorings as you please
Professional bakers measure these parts by weight. You can too, and you don't need a scale. These measurements are for a 9- to 10-inch single-crusted pie with extra pastry leftover. For a double-crusted pie, double the recipe and freeze any extra pastry.
Flour: When you dip a solid 1 cup measure into a sack of flour and level it (no tamping or tapping), that is about 5 ounces of flour. So 2 cups of flour is 10 ounces, or your three parts flour. Up to half of this could be whole-wheat flour, and one-fourth of it could be ground nuts or seeds such as flax.
Fat: Two tablespoons of fat make 1 ounce. So 12 tablespoons of butter or other fat is 6 ounces, or close to the 2 parts fat in relationship to the flour. For a richer dough, increase the fat by 2 tablespoons.
Liquid: One-third of a cup (about 3 ounces) of liquid is your one part liquid. Vanilla and/or citrus juice can be part of this.
Seasonings: Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, 3 tablespoons sugar for sweet pies, spices, or herbs and/or citrus rinds.
The only other thing you need to know is to freeze in a bag the dry ingredients and the fat cut into 1-inch chunks. This is insurance against a tough crust, and makes it easier to control the kinds of crust you want.
When ready to bake, pulse everything, still frozen, in a food processor. For a flakey crust, pulse until the fat is in 3/4-inch pieces. For a cookie-like crust, pulse until the fat is in pea-size pieces.
Add the chilled liquid and pulse until barely blended. The dough will be lumpy and shaggy. Shape into a patty and chill 30 minutes or more. (You can freeze the dough up to 6 months now.)
From then on, each time you handle the dough, chill it at least 30 minutes.
Roll it out to about 1/8-inch thick on a floured surface, line your pie plate or cookie sheet for a free-form pie. Chill again and the dough it ready to become a filled pie.
Try this twice, and you won't hesitate to make pie again.
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