Crafting crust

Cooking 101

October 26, 2005

The apples, pumpkins and pecans are ready and pie-making season is upon us. But even cooks who are fearless in the face of a 20-pound turkey can be intimidated by the prospect of making pie dough.

It isn't really that difficult. A basic pie dough has just four ingredients: flour, fat (butter,margarine, shortening,lard or oil),water and a pinch of salt. Some folks like to add a bit of sugar or corn syrup as well.

The ideal crust is tender and flaky and tastes good. How you achieve that depends on which ingredients you use. Most basic piecrust recipes call for all-purpose, unbleached flour. Chef Jan Bandula, master pastry chef at Baltimore International College, prefers to use pastry flour, which he says makes a bit more tender crust.

As for the fat, there are advantages and disadvantages to each kind:

BUTTER -- This has the best flavor of the baking fats, but it contains cholesterol, which can be a health concern.

MARGARINE -- Flavor isn't as good as butter, but it contains little or no cholesterol. It can produce a crust that is too oily.

SHORTENING -- Because of its high melting point,it will create a flaky crust,but it has no flavor. Some shortenings contain transfat, a health concern, but there are versions without it.

LARD -- Almost 100 percent animal fat, it creates the flakiest piecrust of all fats, but lard can turn rancid. Contains cholesterol.

OIL -- Can be more healthful than other fats, but makes the least flaky crust.

Bandula and many bakers like to use a combination of butter and a shortening, such as Crisco. That way their crusts have the flakiness from the shortening and the flavor from the butter.

Whatever ingredients you use, Bandula and pie experts suggest that beginning cooks mix the ingredients by hand rather than using a mixer or food processor. Simply using forks or a hand-held pastry blender will let the cook get a better feel for the texture and avoid overworking the dough.

With the exception of crust made with oil, the dough should be chilled for a half-hour or so before rolling out. That will make the crust easier to handle and more flaky.

Some bakers like to roll the dough between sheets of waxed paper to keep it from sticking to the counter. Bandula advises using a wellfloured surface instead.

But one point bakers can agree on: Learning to make a piecrust takes practice. "Pie-making mastery does not visit you overnight," Annapolis cookbook author Ken Haedrich points out in his book Pie.

But what delicious lessons you'll have as you learn.

liz.atwood@baltsun.com

COMMON PITFALLS To avoid soggy crusts, preheat oven to correct temperature before putting pie in the oven and add filling just before baking.

To prevent piecrust from shrinking, roll the dough large enough to fit comfortably into the pan and chill crust before baking.

To keep crust from becoming too tough, do not overhandle the dough. Follow recipe proportions carefully.

--The Perfect Pie by Susan G. Purdy

THE TECHNIQUE

Jan Bandula, master pastry chef at Baltimore International College, shows how to roll out a piecrust.

Begin by placing the mound of dough on a floured surface.

Keep the thumb above the handle of the rolling pin to avoid fatigue and prevent the fingers from scraping against the dough.

Roll out the dough in strokes away from the body. Check periodically to see that the dough isn't sticking to the surface.

Roll the dough up onto the rolling pin to prepare to put it in the pan.

Roll dough out onto the pan.

Cut away excess crust and shape the edge with fingertips.

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