Perfect Pie Crust
When I was a child, we lived with my grandparents. For most of that time, my grandmother was the chief cook, preparing nearly every meal. She had a limited range, but the dishes and desserts she prepared, she did very well. One of them was pie.
It was a Sunday tradition. She would rise early and by the time I hit the breakfast table, there would be at least two pies in the oven. Every Sunday without fail. Some Sundays, if I was up early, I’d watch her make them. It was all from memory and feel. I swear I never saw a measuring cup or recipe anywhere. But reliably, she produced beautiful pies with a crust that was thin and flaky and yet somehow, not fragile. The variety was incredible. Peach, apple, pineapple, raisin, coconut cream, lemon meringue, blueberry, strawberry, rhubarb, you name it, we ate it. Regardless of the kind of pie she made, the fillings were perfect — not runny, not stiff like overdone gelatin. Amazing.
When I got serious about cooking and baking, of course, I set out to make a pie like my grandmother’s. And while I knew how they should be, I could never quite make that perfect crust. At a family gathering long after my grandmother passed, I was complaining about how I could never get pie crust to work the way she had. A week or so later, I got a hand written pie crust recipe from my cousin Denise in the mail. I’ve never used another recipe since. It is flat-out the best, most reliable pastry crust recipe I’ve ever come across.
The recipe below makes enough crust for at least two large double-crust fruit pies or three 9-inch pies. If you’re making a single pie, the remaining dough can be frozen and lasts 2-3 weeks that way, though it needs to thaw slowly in the fridge for a day before using.
You can use any filling recipe you like. This crust works well no matter the filling.
Note: I have no idea where this recipe originated, though I doubt it was original to my cousin. I got it more than 25 years ago, so it could have come from anywhere.
2 cups vegetable shortening
5-6 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp salt
1 cup water
1 Tbsp cider vinegar or white vinegar
Cut 5 cups flour, salt and shortening together in a large bowl until it has the consistency of coarse meal. I use a pastry cutter for this, but you can do as well by using a fork or a couple of knives. If the mixture has a really greasy feel, add a bit more flour, a little at a time, until it feels dry, but smears like shortening if you pinch it.
Beat the egg lightly in a 2-cup measuring cup and add water to make a full cup of water/egg mixture.
Add the vinegar to the water
Using a wooden spoon, slowly stir the water/egg mixture into the flour/shortening mixture. Stop when the dough is holding together and just barely sticky. You may end up using the full cup of water/egg, but more likely, depending on humidty, you'll use less than that.
Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or until you're ready to roll it out. It will keep in the fridge for a day or two this way.