I love eating a perfectly tart slice of fruit pie on a warm summer evening. If there’s a scoop of vanilla ice cream with it, all the better. Fresh fruit pies are a delicious way to make use of the season’s newly picked strawberries, raspberries, peaches, plums, blueberries or nectarines, but the crust needs to shine just as much as that amazing summer fruit.
Because of this, I was excited to watch EatingWell’s expert Test Kitchen staff develop 6 essential tips and techniques for making perfect, healthier pie crust for our July/August issue. Whether you’re a pie novice or seasoned pro, keep these ideas in mind when you’re making your next pie to help your crust come out fresh, flaky and delicious—ice cream optional.
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1. Use the Right Flour. At EatingWell, we recommend using a mix of whole-wheat pastry flour and all-purpose flour in our crust. Why? The pastry flour has less gluten-forming potential and therefore keeps baked goods tender. Also you get a boost of fiber from the whole-wheat. Some people like the nutty flavor of whole-wheat flour. Others don’t. So we use a mix of all-purpose and whole-wheat pastry flour to tone down the wholesomeness of the whole-wheat.
If you’re using a recipe that calls for all-purpose flour, you can replace half of it with whole-wheat flour, which adds fiber (12 more grams per cup) and boosts essential B vitamins, zinc and magnesium.
2. Be sure to measure the flour accurately. Keep in mind that for any baking it’s important to measure your flour properly. Don’t just scoop into the flour with the measuring cup. That technique adds a lot of extra flour to the measure and can result in dry baked goods. EatingWell’s technique for properly measuring flour is to spoon the flour into your measuring cup, then scrape across the top with a knife to level it off.
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3. Swap good fats for bad fats. I love the taste of butter and know it can’t always be replaced completely, especially in baked goods, but to keep saturated fat in check, use canola oil instead of butter as much as possible. Tablespoon for tablespoon, butter has seven times more saturated fat than oil. Experiment with your favorite recipe by replacing half of the butter with a heart-healthy oil like canola or walnut oil.
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4. Make sure your water is ice-cold. The colder the water, the less likely your butter is to melt while you knead your dough. And, believe me, you don’t want your butter to melt. By keeping it solid until the pie is cooking in the oven, you will create a much flakier pie crust.
5. Don’t overwork the pie dough. Some people see the small bits of butter in the dough and try to knead it until they have disappeared. This hurts the flakiness factor, but overkneading the pie dough also forms gluten, making the dough tough. Work it too much and you might as well put your pie filling inside a piece of cardboard. Instead, cut your butter into small pieces and, with your fingers, quickly rub them into the dry ingredients until the pieces are smaller but still visible. It should only take a few quick kneads to bring the dough together. And it’s less work on your part.
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6. Plan enough time to refrigerate the pie crust before rolling it out. Pie dough likes to be cold from the beginning. By chilling your pie dough for an hour or more before rolling it out, you are more likely to keep the butter solid, so that it melts more slowly as your pie bakes. This in turn will make for a flakier pie crust. And that will make for a pie to remember.
What’s your favorite fruit pie to make? Tell us what you think below.