Easy Whole Grain, Shortening-Free Pie Crust, Version One

Did you know that February is National Pie Month? According to people who seem to be able to predict food trends, pies are supposed to de-throne cupcakes this year. Wouldn’t that be a good fight to watch? Any thoughts on that?

Pie crust, it seems, is a very personal thing. I’ve heard people swear by their grandmother’s recipe and won’t try anything else. Pie crust recipes can be finicky, temperamental, and cause emotional breakdowns. Pie crust also has the reputation for being extremely unhealthy. Today I hope to ease some fears and tension surrounding pie crust, but if you still need a shoulder to cry one, I’m here.

My two biggest beefs with pie crust are…

1) The shortening. I hate shortening, and this probably stems from two places. First, I avoid all types of hydrogenated oils and fats in our diet.  

**They make “trans-fat free” shortening now, which I SO do not understand. Making liquid vegetable oil (which isn’t good for you in the first place) into a solid results in trans-fats. Whatever chemical alterations they made to get around that probably isn’t good for us anyway. Or they manipulated the labeling standards. (If a food has less than .5 gram of something per serving, they can claim 0 on the nutrition label. That’s why non-stick sprays, which contain only oil are “miraculously” fat-free. Lower the serving size enough, and . . .it’s fat-free! )

The other reason why I have an aversion to shortening is because I took a Wilton cake decorating class while I was pregnant with my second child. The smell alone of shortening-laden frosting makes the hair on the back of my neck stick up. Since then I said good-bye to shortening and haven’t bought any since.

2) The white flour. Enriched white flour is basically garbage, but it sure makes things taste good, doesn’t it? I don’t usually replace the white flour in dessert recipes because desserts are meant to be special, extremely tasty, and (for us at least) not an everyday thing. Because pie crusts can be used both for desserts and savory dishes, I thought I’d give it a shot and see if any flavor was sacrificed.

Grandma Inez's Pineapple Pie

My grandma has the best pie crust recipe I’ve ever tried, so I took hers as a jump-off point to reconcile our relationship. (Between the crust and me, not my grandma and me. Actually, if she knew I changed her recipe, she’d give me that look….and probably get all huffy. I love you, Grandma. I do.)

I swapped out the shortening for a lesser amount of butter (a natural source of fat and not as bad for you as you probably think) and started replacing, a little at a time, the white flour for whole wheat pastry flour. Shortening affects the pie crust’s texture, but I think that using all butter only alters it slightly. And it’s a trade-off I’m willing to make. Using whole wheat pastry flour didn’t make it taste like cardboard, either (why I love the stuff).  My last test run was 3/4 whole wheat and 1/4 white flour. I believe you can go all the way with this, though. The end result was flaky and tasted great.

So now my ranting and explaining is over, let’s get to work. I added the full ingredients list and instructions at the bottom of the post, but wanted to give you more detailed photos. By the way, this recipe makes two crusts (enough for one double-crusted pie or two single-crusted pies).

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1. No, that is not cheese. It’s butter, actually. Frozen butter. I learned a trick from Joy the Baker which eliminates the need to cut the butter/shortening into the flour. Just grate frozen butter onto a plate and stick it in the freezer until you’re ready to use it. (**Avoid using a box grater as the butter will stick to the inside!**) You’ll also need to fill a cup with water and put a few ice cubes in it. It needs to get nice and cold.

2. Whisk together the flour and salt in a medium-sized bowl.

3. Take the ice water and measure out 1/4 cup water.

4. Crack the egg into the measured ice water and beat with a fork.

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5. Grab the grated butter from the freezer and dump it into the dry ingredients.

6. Using your fingers, break up the butter if it clumps together to thoroughly combine everything.

7. Pour in the egg-water mixture and stir with a hefty spoon. Add a tablespoon or two of water if it seems dry.

8. Gather all the dough into one lump. Divide it in half. If you’re not using both crusts, wrap one half in plastic wrap, place it in a freezer bag and freeze it. Or put it in the fridge if you plan on using it within a couple of days.

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9. Using a wet washrag or your wet hands, moisten the counter top and place a piece of wax paper over top. It shouldn’t slide anywhere. (And it makes clean-up a breeze!) Sprinkle flour over the wax paper and place your dough ball in the center, flattening it like a disk. Start rolling it out, working from the center to the outsides.

10. Turn your pie plate upside down on the dough and cut dough with a sharp knife about an inch larger than the pie plate.

11. Remove the dough from the wax paper by rolling the dough up onto the rolling pin (thanks Alton Brown!) while peeling away the paper underneath.

12. Gently lift the dough up and over to the pie plate, centering it as you unroll it from the rolling pin.

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13. Press the dough into the pie plate, but don’t stretch it. (I’ll shrink when it bakes.) Fold the ragged edges of the pie crust under itself.

14. If you want, you can flute the edges. Since I haven’t mastered the art of pressing my camera’s shutter button via telepathy, I had to show you with one hand. It’s easy to do, really. Just use the thumb and forefinger of one hand and the knuckle of the forefinger of your other hand to form the dough. (Does that make sense?)

15. If you’re making an apple pie or something where the crust isn’t pre-baked, it’s ready to use.

If you’re baking the crust by itself, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F and poke a lot of holes in the bottom of the crust with a fork to keep it from bubbling up. You can also use pie weights, but fork holes work just as well. (In my not-so-professional pie-making opinion….) Bake for 10-12 minutes or until the edges just barely start to turn brown. (Don’t let the raw dough sit out for too long before you bake it. Stick it in the fridge if you need to wait for the oven to heat up.)

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And. . . voila. A pie crust. Not the prettiest pie crust on the blog. Luckily rustic and misshapen things are all the rage right now. It’s ready to be filled with. . .

Grandma Inez's Pineapple Pie

Cool, creamy pineapple filling. Did you catch the updated Pineapple Pie post? It didn’t show up on feed readers last Saturday, and I don’t know if I did a good job getting the word out.

Next time I’ll have an even easier pie crust for you. Also whole-grain and shortening-free. AND you don’t have to roll it out. (Are you excited? You should be.)

Easy Whole Grain, Shortening-Free Pie Crust

Yield: Makes 2 single crusts

Ingredients:

1/4 cup ice water

1 egg

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour

1/2 tsp salt

12 T butter (1 1/2 sticks), frozen


Directions:

Fill a drinking glass with water and stick a few ice cubes in it while you grate the frozen butter. (Avoid using a box grater as the butter will stick to the inside.) Place butter in the freezer until you're ready to use it.


Whisk together the flour and salt in a medium-sized bowl. Take the ice water and measure out 1/4 cup into a 1-cup measuring cup. Crack the egg into the measured ice water and beat with a fork.


Grab the grated butter from the freezer and dump it into the dry ingredients. Using your fingers, break up the butter if it clumps together to thoroughly combine everything. Pour in the egg-water mixture and stir with a hefty spoon. Add a tablespoon or two of water if it seems dry.


Gather all the dough into one lump. Divide it in half. If you're not using both crusts, wrap one half in plastic wrap, place it in a freezer bag and freeze it. Or put it in the fridge if you plan on using it within a couple of days.


Using a wet washrag or your wet hands, moisten the countertop and place a piece of wax paper over top. It shouldn't slide anywhere. Sprinkle flour over the wax paper and place your dough ball in the center, flattening it like a disk. Start rolling it out, working from the center to the outsides. Turn your pie plate upside down on the dough and cut dough with a sharp knife about an inch larger than the pie plate.


Remove the dough from the wax paper by rolling the dough up onto the rolling pin while peeling away the paper underneath. Gently lift the dough up and over to the pie plate, centering it as you unroll it from the rolling pin.


Press the dough into the pie plate, but don't stretch it. (I'll shrink when it bakes.) Fold the ragged edges of the pie crust under the side of the plate. If you want, you can flute the edges. If you're making an apple pie or something where the crust isn't pre-baked, it's ready to use.


If you're baking the crust by itself, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F and poke a lot of holes in the bottom of the crust with a fork to keep it from bubbling up. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until the edges just barely start to turn brown. (Don't let the raw dough sit out for too long before you bake it. Stick it in the fridge if you need to wait for the oven to heat up.)


Nat's Notes:

1. Wow, this ended up being a longer recipe than I though. It really is easy, though, and only takes about 15 minutes to do. (Not including baking.)

2. You can find whole wheat pastry flour in the bulk section or in the baking section of well-stocked grocery stores. Or online. You can buy anything online.


adapted from my grandma (Inez Henderson)