My Gammer Gillen passed this recipe to me. When I became a ranch wife, I needed to bake pies in quantity. Even if you do not bake many pies at once, the dough holds well in the freezer. This dough works well for quiche, galettes, shallow, free-form tarts, and savory pies.
I started with a five-pound bag of unbleached flour and built the recipe from there. By providence, the proportions worked out to include a full can of Crisco, as well. Both ingredients take time to measure, life is much easier when the recipe calls for a whole bag of flour and a whole can of Crisco.
Into a very large bowl sift flour, and stir in the dry ingredients…sift again. (At this point, you may turn the dry ingredients out onto a marble slab and complete the dough there.) Using your “cool” fingers work the Crisco into the dry ingredients. The “proper” method is to add half of the Crisco until coarse meal forms then add the remainder and flatten the pieces with your thumb and fingers, leaving swirls of visible Crisco. I add it all at once, but I work it with my fingers, making little flat discs the size of quarters…swirls of Crisco visible. Keep it cool at all times…if it is summer…put it in the fridge until cold. Do not allow the Crisco to melt into the flour; a flaky crust depends on the two remaining separate.
To empty a large can of Crisco easily, flip the can over, bottom side up. Open the can with a can opener, reserve lid. Take the plastic lid and place over the open end. With a hair dryer, warm the sides of the can while turning to heat evenly, helping the Crisco slide more easily from the can Usually, you will need to use the tin lid to push the contents out. Once out of the can, take a knife and cut the Crisco into manageable pieces. Proceed with the blending process of choice.
Using a 4-cup glass-measuring cup for the water, you may add the vinegar and then the eggs. Beat the eggs well. (I use the 4 cup glass measure for two reasons…I get the right amount of water, and it is useful as a mixing bowl.)
If making dough on the marble slab, make a tall mound of dry ingredients; make a large well in the center. Have a bench scraper handy in case you “spring” a leak when you add all of the liquid. If using a bowl, add the liquid all at once and gently pull the dough together. This dough should be on the wet side…learn to work with it! If you have a flexible bench scraper, this is the perfect tool at this point. You want to pick pieces of dough up and layer them on top of each other. Once all is incorporated, knead a few times. Fold the dough over, and turn. Flatten it out, fold it over and turn….if you have made Croissants or Puff Pastry, you know this technique well. You are layering the dough, keeping the fat separate and thus making a flaky crust and not leaving it to chance.
Note: You can weigh and then divide accordingly or gently pat the dough into a long, “square brick”. (A long brick about 5x5x18?) I did not measure when I made it.) First, cut the brick in half and place both pieces next to each other. Then, cut those in half and you will have 4 quarters. From each quarter, cut 4 pieces. Shape pieces into flat, round discs about 5 inches in diameter. Wrap each piece of dough tightly in saran wrap. Place them into a large Cambro or Tupperware container, date, and freeze. If it has been stored properly, you can make a great pie from dough up to a year old. I have done it! Also, remember that unbleached flour will turn dark as it ages. This is not a problem; it will turn “white” when it baked off.
When you roll the dough, put down plenty of flour, whack the dough with a French rolling pin a few times and rotate; whack again and then flip it over. Use plenty of flour and rotate your dough with each stroke of the rolling pin. Flip the dough over once or twice before it gets too thin to do so. Do not roll back and forth; it is easy to tear the dough if it sticks to the rolling pin. Instead, roll one direction, lay the pin down, turn the dough one quarter of a turn, and roll again. Repeat until you have reached the desired thickness. I use a tapered French rolling pin; you can more easily control the shape and thickness of your dough with one of these. To transfer the bottom crust to the plate or pan, roll it up on your rolling pin, brushing off any excess flour with a clean, dry pastry brush, line the crust up and unroll. Gently ease the dough into the plate; never stretch it, it will shrink.
A few tips…I use flour to thicken a fruit pie. Always “dot” the top of fruit with about 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter before you add the top crust. When assembling a double crust pie, cut the bottom crust to the edge of the pan/plate with a sharp knife. When you are ready for the top crust, brush the edge of the bottom piecrust with cream or Carnation evaporated milk. Take care to keep the milk off the pie plate; the pie will stick once baked. To transfer the top crust to the pie, roll it up on your rolling pin, brushing off any excess flour with a clean, dry pastry brush. Line up top and bottom and carefully unroll the top over the filling. Depending on your preference, evenly cut the top crust about 1”- 1 ½” from the edge of the pie pan and fold the top crust under the bottom crust. Press to form the lip evenly and make the fluted edge. I use the index finger and thumb of my left hand and my index finger on the right hand. I have found it helpful to have the side of the pie just off the edge off the counter to allow room for my left hand. Once fluted, brush the top and flutes with cream or Carnation evaporated milk. In the fall, I will cut various leaf shapes out of left over dough. Place leaves or other designs in a decorative pattern and brush with milk. Cut the vent slits to allow steam to escape. Sprinkle top of pie liberally with sugar and bake.
If the outer edge of the crust is browning too quickly, cut a piece of foil large enough to cover the pie. Fold the piece into quarters and cut a quarter-circle from the folded corner. Open the foil up and place over the pie. If the circle is too large, you may adjust it with some pinch-pleats to take up the slack. Tuck the foil around the edges of the pie and continue baking. If the center starts to brown too much, place the foil circle over it to keep from burning. Lastly, a glass pie plate bakes hotter than a tin pie pan, and if you have an oven with a convection fan, use it! They are ideal for pastry projects!
My favorite pie? I like Blueberry pie with cinnamon and orange zest. Add the juice of the orange as well. I use flour to thicken fruit pies and mix it with the sugar to keep lumps from forming. Remember, once the filling is in the shell, and BEFORE adding the top crust, dot it with sweet butter, once baked, it helps keep the top crust crispy after the pie has cooled. Seal, flute, and proceed as directed above.
Pictured is a new pie recipe I created for Thanksgiving; Cranberry, Orange pie with fresh ginger. Instead of a full top crust, this pie has a figural scene, a tree with falling leaves. In this photo, the pie is ready for the oven.