Baking has always seemed like the practice of perfectionism to me. Baking is all chemistry and precision…and I’m a handful-of-this and a squeeze-of-that kind of person. I don’t own a food scale. Cooking, on the other hand, which is all tasting and adjusting and easy personalization, is totally my jam. Cooking feels like a form of expression, where baking, for the most part, feels like compliance with the precise recipe (or rules of chemistry if you’re smarter than me).
Every pie starts with pastry. And pastry is baking right? I mean, the title of all those perfectionists who bake for a living is pastry chef. So you might wonder why an imperfectionist would develop a love affair with pie-making.
Here’s the secret to pie from scratch that everyone who makes it knows, and everyone who is intimidated by it doesn’t know: it doesn’t really matter all that much how your dough turns out.
Okay, so maybe I am overstating it a bit, but really just a bit! In all of my years of making pie, I have only scrapped my dough one time (and I was trying to make 1 ½ times my recipe and didn’t get the math right in my head). So 499 out of 500 times (give or take a batch), I have gone ahead and made the pie using the dough that I created.
Sometimes the dough is too dry and cracks while I roll it out, requiring me to force and pinch it together in the pie dish. Sometimes it is wet and sticky so that it sticks to my fingers or the rolling pin, creating holes when I roll out rounds. When it’s hot and humid, it rolls so thin that I’m certain my finished pie will have a thin crust completely lack flakiness.
But the thing is, people. It just doesn’t matter. Even the worst pastry dough you’ll ever make will result in a finished product more delicious than the dough you would otherwise buy in a red box from the supermarket. And once you have the hang of making pastry dough from scratch, it takes no time at all to pull together. Plus, you’ll impress the heck out of everyone!
This isn’t really “my” pastry recipe. This is a basic all butter pastry recipe that follows the rules of proportion. I don’t use any sugar in my crust. I like the contrast between the almost savory crust and the sweet filling. This pastry can be used for savory pies (mmm, tomato pie!) as well as sweet pies.
For many years I used a combination of butter and shortening, but then I read something a couple of years ago about our inability to digest shortening and decided it was time to cut it out. It took some practice to get it right. I kept trying with all butter until it resulted in an acceptably flaky crust. It’s not quite as flaky as it was with the shortening, but I am okay with the trade-off. If you want a flakier, less temperamental crust, you can substitute as much as half of the butter with shortening.