Secrets to Delicious Pie Crusts

Flaky pie crust needs a proper balance of flour, shortening and liquid so the first important step is to measure your ingredients accurately. When you're ready to begin, follow these steps to make a perfect pastry.

1. Mixing: Combine the flour and salt in a mixing bowl. Then cut the shortening with a pastry blender until the moisture forms coarse crumbs.

Be sure that the shortening is distributed evenly throughout the flour--this is what produces a flaky crust. Do not over handle the dough at this stage, because the particles of shortening may melt and blend with the flour into a solid mass, making the baked crust hard and tough.

2. Adding Water: Always use iced water because it helps to keep the shortening cold. Sprinkle the water over the crumb mixture a tablespoon at a time, tossing quickly with a fork. Mix lightly; a strong stirring or mixing motion will blend the shortening and the flour into a solid mass.

For a softer pie crust, add sour cream to your pie crust dough. The acid in the sour cream inhibits the formation of gluten which toughens the dough. Use approximately 6 tablespoons of sour cream to 2-1/2 cups flour and 1 cup of butter/shortening blend.

Push the moistened portion to one side of the bowl before adding more water. You'll need to add a little more or a little less water to the flour mixture, depending upon the humidity; on a humid day, the flour will absorb moisture from the air as it's mixed, so you'll need to add less water than usual. Too much water will make the baked crust brittle; if you add too little water, the dough will crack at the edges as you roll it out.

When the mixture still looks crumbly, but is moist enough to hold together under slight pressure, stop tossing. Too much handling of the dough after the water has been added will produce a tough crust with a very pale, smooth surface. Gently gather the dough together with your hands and shape it into a ball.

If you feel that you've added too much or too little water at this stage, it's too late to remedy the mistake. Just throw away the dough and start over.

3. Rolling: To prevent sticking, place the ball of dough on a lightly floured surface; a pastry cloth rubbed with flour. Try to use as little flour as possible since the less flour on the surface, the flakier the pastry will be.

Flatten the ball of dough with your hands. Roll out the dough from center to edge, using light, even strokes with a stockingnet-covered or silicone rolling pin. As the rolling pin approaches the edge of the dough on each stroke, lift up instead of rolling over the edge to keep the edge from becoming too thin. Try to keep the dough in the shape of a circle as you roll it out.

If the dough sticks to the pastry cloth, lift up the dough with a metal spatula and sprinkle a little flour on the spot. The dough should be lifted frequently during rolling, but it should never be turned over. If bits of dough gather on the rolling pin, remove them immediately so they won't tear holes in the dough. roll out the dough to the size specified in your recipe.

4. Fitting: Run a metal spatula carefully under the circle of dough to loosen it. Be very gentle so as not to tear the dough.

To transfer the circle of dough to the pie pan, fold it in half and lift it carefully into the pie pan, placing the fold in the center; unfold it and fit loosely into the pan. Or, wrap the dough loosely around the rolling pin and then unroll it over the pie pan. Don't stretch or pull the dough because it will shrink as it bakes.

To repair tears, moisten the edges with water and press together. Pat the dough over its entire surface to ease out air pockets underneath, using your fingers.

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