What do classic desserts like summer berry pies, apple dumplings, savory turnovers, and elegant fruit tarts have in common? All can be made with this simple pie pastry. Regardless of the form it takes, whether pie, tart, dumpling or turnover, pie pastry begins with a simple dough made from just a few ingredients: flour, fat, and liquid. Shortening is a popular choice for this type of pastry because it produces the flakiest result, although it adds no flavor of its own. Butter has a delicate taste that some bakers prefer, but it makes the crust more firm-textured. The addition of liquid not only binds the mixture, it also contributes moisture that converts to steam in the oven, helping to create flaky layers.
For any pastry dough, accurate measurement ensures consistent, foolproof results. Use dry measuring cups for flour, shortening, and butter not already packaged in premeasured sticks (soften first to room temperature, then rechill before using in pastry). For liquids, use a cup with a lip, a comfortable handle, and markings that are easy to read. To measure, fill the cup, set it on a flat surface, and check at eye level. When using a measuring spoon, fill just to its rim. Blend the ingredients either by hand or in a food processor.
Before measuring, lighten the flour by stirring it with a spoon or fork. Gently spoon the flour into a dry measuring cup (donít pack down). Level off the top by sweeping across the rim with a metal icing spatula or the straight edge of a knife.
Cutting in Shortening
With a pastry blender, fork, or two knives, cut in the shortening or butter until the pieces are the size of small peas. Use a light touch; if the mixture is overworked, the crust wonít be flaky.
Sprinkle water, 1 tablespoon at a time, over part of the flour and shortening or butter mixture, while gently tossing with a fork to combine. Push moistened dough to one side of the bowl; repeat until all the dough is moistened (you may not use all of the water).
Forming into a Ball
After the shortening or butter, water, and dry ingredients are combined, gather the dough into a ball by scooping up and compressing the mixture with your hands or by pulling it together with a fork.