by Stef Jantz, Food Columnist

It’s that time of year again and what’s better than a warm pie with a buttery, flakey crust? You see pictures, commercials, and pre-made pies every- where and think “oh, I should make a pie.”

To some of us, baking comes natu- rally or tends to be easier. Then there’s those who can’t bake if their life depended on it. I haven’t forgotten those in between bakers out there!

Those that make the effort but just can’t quite get there, I feel you. Even though I’ve been baking for over 25 years and teaching myself everything, I still screw up big time! When it comes to pie crust, this was something I did over and over to under- stand the chemistry and technique to achieve that perfect flavor and crisp.

It started in my tiny kitchen, in my little apartment when I was serving in the Navy. No matter where the Navy took me, I found a way to bake. Even when I was in the desert, I fed my fel- low troops to help keep the morale going through the suck. Anyways, I wanted to tackle something new and pie crust was it.

The idea of having my own bakery was on the precipice of my mind and I knew pie would be a great addition to the menu, even though it didn’t make it. Nonetheless, I researched, watched videos, and absorbed the information on tips and tricks. Here’s the main trick! Keep everything cold. Once that butter or shortening starts melting under your hands it’s less of a chance for that beautiful crispy, flakey goodness. Also, freeze your butter. Not margarine of low-fat stuff, THE REAL STUFF!

When your butter is frozen, you can grate it into your flour mix for a more even blend or you can cut it into chunks. Now, if you’re more of a corner cut kind of person, a food processor is your best friend. Throw in your flour, sugar, and salt, pulse to mix, then throw that grated or chunked butter in there and pulse in bursts until you start seeing a crumb or pea sized bits. If you’re more traditional like me, I love creating it by hand.

Same concept but in a bowl and you must handle it as least as possible or use a utensil.

At this point, I put it in the freezer for about 10-15 minutes to keep it cold. At the same time, you want some ice cold water. Not ice chunks or a glaze of ice obviously but some cold water. You know how when it’s winter, you get in the shower and it’s so cold you jump around and shriek until it warms up?

Yeah, that cold. Take your butter and flour mix out of the freezer and add that cold water. Mix that up with something other than your hands, or if using the processor, pulse it until it starts to bind or stick together. It’s ok if it’s a tiny bit crumbly. Slap it on a clean, cold counter, shape the dough into two discs, then wrap each of them up in plastic wrap and put them in the fridge for about four hours before you use them. You can handle them briefly to form an inch thick disc.

Now, rolling them out. Unwrap a dough and place it on a clean counter or cutting board. Using a rolling pin, make a cross indentation so press your rolling pin into the dough vertically and horizontally to create a cross pattern.

This is almost like a guide to start rolling so at a 45-degree angle, start rolling out your dough a few times on each section and then you can start rolling all around to create about a 12 inch diameter circle. It’s okay if the edges are crumbly because you can manipulate it when you form your edges. When it’s all rolled out, you can roll the dough over the roll- ing pin to transfer it into your pie pan then simply unrolling it.

Fun part, crimping the edges. Make sure your crust is resting on the bottom and sides of your pie pan and if it’s hanging over the edge, which it more than likely will, tuck it under itself so it’s even with the edge of the pan. You can use a fork to crimp the edge or using your thumb and index finger, pinch the crust around your other index finger, if you can imagine that. Poke around the bottom of the pie pan with a fork allowing the pastry to “breath” while baking.

Now, if you already have a filling that doesn’t need baked, then you need to blind bake it. This means just baking an empty shell. You must put weight on the crust to allow this. Weight? What do you mean weight? Do you have a bag of dry beans laying around? There’s your weight!

Place parchment paper or foil in your pie crust and dump those dry beans into the shell. This will keep the crust in shape instead of puffing up and distorting. I have to say this, parchment paper is NOT the same as wax paper. Parchment paper you can bake, wax paper you cannot.

Pop it into the preheated oven at 375 and bake it for about 15-20 minutes or until it’s a beautiful golden brown.

If you have a filling that needs baked, then dump that goodness in there and be sure to cover your pie crust edges with foil to prevent burning, or there’s a cool silicone pie crust protector you can get for any size pie.

Before you cover the edges though, baste some egg white on it. Same if you put crust over the top too. If you bake crust on top of the filling, make sure there’s some place for heat and steam to escape during the baking process.

So, there you have it in a nutshell. Every baker does crust differently, but I tried to make it as easy as possible or at least I hope I did. There’s always different techniques so find what’s best for you and have fun, get creative, and be brave!

RECIPE:

2 1⁄2 c. flour
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1⁄2 c. ice cold water
2 sticks unsalted butter, frozen
*1. Grate butter and place in fridge

*2. Mix flour, sugar, and salt. Place in fridge for 10 min
*3. Add butter to flour mix then cold water. Combine lightly and make sure not to melt the butter with your hands

*4. Cut dough in half and create two separate disc shapes.

*5. Wrap with plastic wrap and re- frigerate for 4 hours before use

About Stef (aka Ms. Foodini):  Stef was born and raised in the corn-fed heartland of Iowa and the youngest of five, by a minute.  Jantz has an awesome twin brother that’s a foot taller than me and is a disabled veteran.  She is a Proud Seabee, Petty Officer 2nd Class, Construction Mechanic.  She is still teaching myself and learning even after owning and operated a bakery in Long Beach.  According to Stef, “I still consider myself an amateur, but friends and family say otherwise.  I’ll never agree because I know I can continue to improve my knowledge and skill, and completely screw up recipes.  I understand that every baker has their own recipe and their own way, so I try to make things easier for beginners.  For me, it’s more of a common sense thing that comes naturally and my only hope is to motivate and instill confidence in those who shy away from something that’s easier than they thought.  “For now, Jantz thoroughly enjoys writing, bake for those I love, continue to support our vets and community, irritate my old man some more, and spread some cheer in your bellies.