Darn Good Whole Wheat Pie Crust
Whenever I leave this world, I hope that my friends and family will think of me fondly and say, “That Erin. She baked a serious pie.”
Hopefully, they’ll also mention something about my being a good person—while eating slices of pie.
I have a fierce, somewhat inexplicable desire to be a great pie baker. The only rational interpretation I’ve found for this compulsion is that I consider pie to be the dessert translation of love. It’s messy, it’s intentional, and it doesn’t have to be perfect to be magnificent. In fact, I consider “pie” and “love” so synonymous, I once baked heart-shaped pies. Totally rational.
While I have many, many pies to bring into the world before I consider myself a “serious” pie baker, judging by the number of empty plates I’ve left in my wake thus far, I’m at least “respectable,” an honor I attribute to the fact that I finally broke down and started making my pie crust from scratch.
Homemade pie crust intimidated me. I believed it to be hard, time consuming, and a feat that could only be achieved by professional bakers and seasoned grandmothers (often one in the same). I was convinced that, if my pie crust wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t worth making.
It doesn’t have to be perfect to be magnificent.
As it turns out, pie crust is neither time consuming, nor the baking equivalent of Mt. Everest. In fact, if you use a food processor, it takes a grand total of 10 minutes. Silence the voices that tell you pie crust is hard, that flakey is impossible, that homemade isn’t worth it.
While I do think that making a perfect pie crust from scratch requires long practice, fortunately for us, the distinction between “perfect” pie crust and “darn good” pie crust is a minute one, and darn-good pie crust can be made by just about anyone with a positive attitude and a willingness to embrace butter.
In my quest to leave a positive pie legacy, I’ve tried a plethora of different pie crust recipes and techniques. The clearest distinction between one recipe and another is the type of fat used. My Grammy uses 100% shortening, while some of my favorite bakers like Deb and Joy swear by all-butter. Between the two, I find that shortening is indisputably flakier, but butter wins for best flavor, so I opt not to choose and use a combination of both. The butter/shortening ratio in this recipe from Ina Garten (mostly butter, some shortening) nails both flakey and flavor, and the final version of today’s whole wheat pie crust recipe is closely based on it.
Forever dedicated to lightening up my favorite comfort foods, I conducted a series of healthier pie crust recipe experiments. I swapped part of the butter for oil. I tried Greek yogurt. I even browned the butter to see if the stronger flavor would allow me to use less. The results: only butter and shortening will do. (To the person silently insisting, “lard!” I’m sure it would work famously—I just didn’t go there.) Pie crust is worth doing properly. Embrace the butter and shortening.
Fortunately, my attempts to sneak whole-wheat flour into the pie crust were roaringly successful. A blend of half all-purpose, half whole-wheat pastry flour still gives a tender, flakey texture, and the whole wheat adds a light, nutty flavor that’s delightful combined with any pie or quiche filling.
Overall, the most critical success factor to pie crust making I’ve found is restraint (in all things but butter anyway). When working in the butter and shortening, do not over do it. The butter/shortening chunks should remain large, nearly the size of your thumbnail. When adding the water, stop just as soon as the dough is moist enough to hold together when pinched.
The second critical success factor: keep it cold. The colder you can keep the ingredients (and the less you handle the dough), the flakier your crust will be.
Once the ingredients are combined, pop the dough into the fridge for some extra chill time, then we are ready to roll.
Now, I’m not going to pretend that I am an expert pie-crust crimper. In fact, I rewatch this MarthaStewart.com video every time I bake a pie. Then, I remind myself that a beautiful crimp and a mediocre crimp taste identical. My edges might never be Martha-perfect, but remember, perfect isn’t what we’re after.
We’re after darn good, and this whole wheat pie crust is all of that and more.
It doesn’t have to be perfect to be magnificent.
Whole Wheat Pie Crust
- Cut the butter and shortening into a small dice, then place them in the freezer while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. Place the all purpose flour, whole wheat pastry flour, salt, and sugar in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, then pulse a few times to combin. Scatter the butter and shortening pieces over the top. Pulse 8 to 12 times, until the butter is the size of chickpeas. Some of the pieces will be small and others will be larger (about the size of a thumnail).
- With the machine running, add 4 tablespoons ice water to feed tube. Add the remaining water one tablespoon at a time, just until the dough is moist enough to hold together with a small portion is pinched between your fingers. Pulse the machine until the dough forms a shaggy ball. Place the dough on a lightly floured board and pat into a disk. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
- Once chilled, divide the dough in two. Use both immediately or wrap and refrigerate for up to two days or freeze for up to two months.
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