How many times have you thought how neat it would be to whip up pies and tarts – but the very idea of making pie crust stops you? Maybe you’re like me, and have tried what feels like a million pie crust recipes, only to have all of them end in crumbly, ingredient-wasting disaster. Or maybe you’ve heard horror stories from those of us who’ve failed miserably at making pie crusts and don’t even want to try. Well, cast those doubts, fears, and bad-pie-crust-flashbacks aside. I’m about to share a recipe for The Easiest Pie Crust Ever, and I’m not kidding. It is really and truly a no-fail pie crust – and it’s delicious, too. Even I, ruiner of countless pie crusts, have never had this one come out badly. Bookmark this recipe for real, ’cause it’s your ticket to making pies and tarts like a boss – just in time for Thanksgiving, no less!
Mad Women to the Rescue
This recipe is not an original creation. Oh hell no, in fact. I’m a pie crust fool, but the authors of the Better Homes & Gardens Dessert Cook Book, circa 1960, were not. They were mad pie crust geniuses, as you might expect.
In the “Pies out of this world!” section, they provide a confoundingly simple recipe for Plain Pastry – no chilled butter, no ice water, no endless kneading, and no letting the dough rest ’cause it’s tired of your foolishness. Just basic ingredients, a little mixing and rolling, and BAM! You just made yourself a tender, flaky, melt-in-your-mouth pie crust that’s easy to handle – that’s right, I said EASY to handle. Soft, pliable, and unless you roll it freakishly thin, totally tear-resistant. And even if you do tear it a little, it’s super easy to patch up. Now, how different is that from every other pie crust recipe you’ve tried?
In Praise of Vintage Cookbooks
I would have never known about this crazy-good pie crust recipe were I not an old cookbook addict. I picked up the BH&G Dessert Cook Bookat a thrift store many moons ago, and to this day it remains one of the most useful cookbooks I own. When I bought it, it was in excellent condition; it’s now hanging together by a thread, and many of the pages are splattered with the actual desserts in various stages of preparation. It’s dear to my heart, and I couldn’t be without it.
Just because you’re vegetarian or vegan, or committed to healthy eating, or prefer sugar free desserts – don’t let that dissuade you from snapping up vintage cookbooks. They’re usually well sprinkled with awesomely simple, delicious recipes you can easily tailor to meet your needs. Using fairly obvious substitutions, you can make many of their recipes vegan, low sugar, low fat, and generally healthier. Plus, they’re fabulously entertaining! Just look at this vintage cookbook family, leering maniacally at mom’s culinary creation.
Sugar Free Desserts, Easy As Pie
If high-quality sugar free desserts are what you want, pies and tarts are among the best ways to go. Why is that? Well, sugar can play many roles in the cooking process, but sometimes, it only plays one. Cakes and cookies rely on sugar for lots of what we love about them, like tenderness, chewiness or moistness, a certain lovely texture, and of course sweetness. Sugar is somewhat integral to their very being, so if you eliminate all of the sugar from a cake or cookie recipe, it’s going to come out quite a bit different from what Grandma used to make, unless Grandma was a sugar-free pioneer.
In pie and tart recipes, sugar does one thing: make the filling sweet. It’s not essential to the texture in any way, so you can replace every bit of it with an alternative, and the pie or tart will taste basically the same. Last Thanksgiving, I made both pumpkin and apple pies using standard recipes (guess which book they came from), stealthily replacing the sugar with sucralose. No one in my family knew the difference, and both pies were gone in a whirlwind of munching and compliments. I’ve since discovered Stevia In The Raw, which substitutes the same as sucralose but I feel has a more authentically sugar-esque flavor.
And now, for the recipe. Be warned that except for the whole wheat flour, it isn’t very healthy in and of itself – but dessert, like life, is about balance. This crust, cradling a reasonably healthy filling, is a better option than a good many desserts we can both think of right now but won’t mention.
The Easiest Pie Crust Ever
for a generously crusted 9″ – 10″ single-crust pie or about 30 tiny tarts:
1 1/2 cups whole wheat or all-purpose flour, OR
1 cup all-purpose and 1/2 cup whole wheat flour, or some combination thereof (I find combining the two makes the tastiest crust…play around and find your personal happy places)
1/2 teaspoon salt or salt substitute
a dash of nutmeg (optional)
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
4 to 5 tablespoons cold water (the coldest your tap has to offer is fine)
for an amply crusted 9″ – 10″ double-crust pie:
2 cups whole wheat or all-purpose flour, or a combination of the two
1 teaspoon salt or salt substitute
a dash of nutmeg (optional)
2/3 cup vegetable shortening
5 to 7 tablespoons cold water
Whisk all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Add half of the shortening to the dry ingredients, using your fingers to begin working it in. Once there’s shortening throughout the flour, use a pastry cutter or a sturdy whisk to work it in thoroughly, until the mixture begins to resemble corn meal. Now add the second half of the shortening, and continue to work it in with your implement of choice until the mixture is a collection of teeny little chunks.
Sprinkle a tablespoon of water over a little section of the mixture. Use a fork to gently toss that section around until it’s well moistened. Once it’s moist, push that section to the side of the bowl. Repeat until the entire mixture is moistened – you now have dough. Gather up the dough and form it into a ball.
Cover your rolling surface with waxed paper and sprinkle it with flour. If you’re making a one-crust pie, place the ball of dough on the waxed paper, sprinkle more flour on top, and cover it with another sheet of waxed paper; this makes the dough easier to roll and transfer to your pie pan. If you’re making a double-crust pie, split the dough in half first. Roll out the dough, working from the center and using light strokes, until it’s roughly circular and spans 10″ – 12″, whatever size you need to fit your pie pan. If you’re making tarts, roll it a shade thicker than 1/8″.
Peel off the top layer of paper. Use the bottom layer of paper to pick the dough up and fit it loosely into the pie pan, paper-side up. Once you have it positioned, peel off the remaining paper and trim the dough to about 1/2″ – 1″ sticking out from the edge of the pan.
If your recipe calls for a double-crust pie, go ahead and put the filling in, then roll out the remaining ball of dough as you did the first one. Position the top crust, cut a few vents in the top, trim if you need to, and turn its edges under so it’s enveloping the first crust. Seal the edges using one of these nifty edging methods. They’re shown for a single-crust pie, but you can use them for double-crust, too.
If you’re making a single-crust pie and need a pre-baked shell, roll your dough and get it into the pan, make the edges pretty, and prick the bottom and sides of the dough all over with a fork. This will keep the dough from puffing up as it bakes. Heat the oven to 450 degrees, and once it’s hot, bake the shell for 10-12 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown.
If you notice your pie crust is browning too fast, just cover it with foil and let it continue baking. If the edges are the only part browning too fast, which usually happens to me, carefully wrap foil around the edges.
If you’re making tarts, just roll out the dough and use something circular (a cookie cutter, the rim of a glass, whatever) to cut it to fit inside your tart or muffin tins. Fit the circles of dough into the tins, and trim away any excess. Gather up the dough scraps, roll it again, and repeat. Fill the tarts and bake according to your recipe.
So, are you wondering what’s up with all the pics of these delicious-looking tiny tarts? They’re Naturally Sweet Rum Raisin Mini Tarts, and they’re perfect for fall and the coming holidays. And yes, they’re made using The Easiest Pie Crust Ever. Come on over to Eat Healthy Holidays for the recipe!