Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Guest Post from Mr. FC&G: Pie Crust

Editor's Note: I have been begging Mr. FC&G for a while now to share his flaky pie crust recipe with the blogosphere.  Being an engineer, this resulted in his conducting many tests (yum!) and getting the recipe perfect for you before he would share it.  This morning, I woke up to discover him authoring a blog post.  This is almost as good as the days I wake up to a mug of hot coffee that he has prepared!

One of the many advantages of being Mr. FC&G is that I get to eat my share of the vegetables that come in from the garden. This has been a good year for zucchini so we have been enjoying lots of one of my favorite recipes, zucchini pie. Something I figured out about zucchini pies is that I can have them more often if I help out by making the crusts.

Our recipe is adapted from the one in Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book. We have a facsimile edition of the 1950 original. Zucchini pie wants a thick crust, so I have scaled up the ingredient quantities by 150 percent. Also, we switched to using lard instead of shortening about a year ago.

When I first started using lard, the dough became too fragile to roll out and transfer to the pie pan. Naturally the first thing to try was putting in more lard, but that just made the problem worse. It was taking three or four tries to get a salvageable crust (and I’m not too proud to piece a broken one together in the pan). It turns out the way to go was to use less lard. This made sense once I thought about it. It must be the lard or shortening that turns a glue recipe into a dough recipe.

We buy our lard at a local farmer’s market. The tub we have now came from Morning Sun Farm in West Alexandria, Ohio and the lard just melts in your hand, even coming straight from the refrigerator. That seems like a good thing to me (someone will have to comment if that’s not what it’s supposed to do). During the winter we can also run up to Landes Meats in Englewood, Ohio.

This makes enough dough for a two-crust pie, using an eight or nine inch pan.

3 cups flour (or 2-1/2 cups flour plus ½ cup whole-wheat flour)
1-1/2 tsp. salt
2/3 cup rendered lard (or 1 cup shortening)
6 tbsp. water (to start with)
Optional for dessert pies: 1 cup sugar

1. Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl.
2. Cut in the lard.
3. Add the water a little at a time. Mix it in lightly until all the flour is moist.
4. Form the dough in to a ball using your hands.
5. Take about 2/3 of the dough and roll it out to form a thick bottom crust.
6. Transfer to pie pan, then trim.
7. Ball up remaining dough and roll it out to form the top crust. (Ed. Note:  Feed a scrap to your wife, because the dough is yummy too.  I don't care if I'm eating raw lard -- just yum, especially if it is for a dessert pie!)

I use unbleached flour because that’s the FC&G way. Recently I came up a little short of flour and had to throw in a half a cup of whole-wheat flour. The crust turned out really yummy, so I have kept on doing that for zucchini pie. (I doubt this would be so good in a dessert pie).

I used to just mash the lard together with the dry ingredients using my fingers. Recently I re-read the Betty Crocker recipe and realized they have some tricks for making the crust tender and flaky. Betty recommends cutting in half the shortening with a pastry blender to make a fine mixture that looks like meal. This makes the crust tender. Then she says to cut in the rest of the shortening coarsely so that you get particles the size of “giant peas”. This is supposed to make the pastry flaky. I don’t own a pastry blender, so I’ve been using a fork for this. I also haven’t been getting the giant-peas thing working, so maybe I should get the pastry blender after all. From the pictures it looks like a pastry blender is one of those “D” shaped tools where the handle is the straight side, and the curved side is formed from loops of wire.

Measuring out the water for this recipe is probably a waste of time. I always seem to wind up adding a little more or less to get the consistency I want. Mix the water in a little at a time with a fork.
Rolling out the dough is the messy part of the process. I lay down a couple sheets of wax paper and spread some flour on them. Next take about 2/3 of the dough and mash it out in to a thick patty on the wax paper. Dust the top with flour, then turn the patty over and dust it with flour again. Use a rolling pin to roll the dough out in to a sheet a little larger than the pie pan. I like a thick crust for zucchini pie, so I roll it out just a little thicker than I might for a dessert pie.

To transfer the pastry to the pie pan I like the trick of rolling it up loosely on the rolling pin, then unrolling it over the pan.

Trim the extra dough off. Use scrap pieces to repair any rips in the pastry. Throw the left over scraps back in the bowl and ball them up with the dough for the top crust.

Make the top crust the same way.

Once the pie is assembled, cutting the vent holes is an important step. If you are making the pie for company then you might want to use something traditional like lots of perfectly cut slits. Otherwise, the vent is a perfect opportunity to tease your loved ones by cutting in a picture based on an inside joke. I have a design that makes sense to Jennifer that would take way too much effort to explain to anyone else!
There is also a sweet trick for dessert pies that someone showed me long ago. Along with the other dry ingredients; mix in one cup of sugar.

The Analysis (by Jennifer)
Fast:  I hate making pie crusts, so the only way pie is going to happen around here is if Mr. FC&G makes the crust while I make the filling.
Cheap:  Flour, lard, and salt.  Not that expensive. 
Good:  Flakey and yummy, Mr. FC&G's crusts are the highlight of any pie.  Combine with homegrown zucchini or farmers' market berries, and you have a real sustainable treat!

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