I spend a lot of my life feeling generally unsettled and uncomfortable — I have my share fair of social anxiety, just like the next person, and it doesn’t help that I dislike my school because I don’t feel like I fit in. Like a lot of people, I can get self-conscious at the gym, irritated on crowded buses (hello, elbow in the collarbone, smelly person who has to lean on me, self-important moron screaming into their cell phone), and impatient waiting in line for coffee. Minor irritation and daily uneasiness seems to be a veritable way of life in Western society.
At the end of the day, it’s nice to be able to settle into the kitchen and not have to deal with any of that.
But guess what else makes me feel anxious and uncomfortable?
It’s something in the kitchen; it’s the thought of making pie crust.
Something about it destroys my confidence and takes me way out of my comfort zone. It’s so hard to get it right, to get it perfect: buttery, flakey, a little sweet, a little salty, and delicious. But that’s okay — I’m working on it, and I’ve definitely progressed to a point that I’d deem more than adequate. In fact, I’ve accumulated a fair number of recipes for pastry crust, all of varying purpose and difficulty. First, though, we’ll start out easy with a simple shortcrust that can be used for both sweet and savory pies and tarts.
- 3/4 cups cold butter, softened
- 3/4 cups cream cheese, softened
- 1 & 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon sugar
Now, although most bakers and pastry chefs would consider this blasphemous when it comes to making crust, but we’re not all experts here, and there’s nothing wrong with a short-cut every once in a while — that said: let your butter and cream cheese warm to room temperature. Once they’re both soft, beat them together until well incorporated, as in: no streaks of unblended butter or cream cheese in the mixture. Sift your salt, sugar, and flour together, then use a wooden spoon to blend the flour mixture into the butter+cream cheese mixture until well blended. Collect all the dough up into a lump, press into a flat-ish disk shape, wrap in plastic, and leave in the fridge for at least 2 hours (this dough can be kept for up to a day before use).
When ready to use, preheat your oven to 350°F (or 175°C). Drop the shortcrust dough into a greased pie or tart plate and use your fingers to work it into shape. No need to roll — just press it and prod it and spread out it to cover your baking dish.
Now stop! Put the shortcrust-ed baking dish into the freezer for 30 minutes, so it gets nice and cold again. Take it out, don’t put any filling into it, and pop it into the oven and pre-bake for 20 minutes.
After 20 minutes, remove it from the oven and see if its held its shape or not. If the shortcrust isn’t really cold before going into the oven, the edges might sink a little — that’s okay — just take the other end of a wooden spoon and use the handle to gently press the edges back up into place. Press down the bottom of the tart shell if its puffed up a little. You can see the indentations where I’ve done that to the tart shell in the photo below.
Let the crust cool for a couple minutes.
Now, if you’re making a no-bake type of recipe or filling, put the shortcrust shell back into the oven for another 20 minutes or so, until the crust is nice and golden.
If you’re making a baked pie, tart, or quiche recipe, fill the shortcrust shell with whatever your heart desires, reset your oven to the appropriate temperature, and follow your next recipe accordingly! Yum!
This shortcrust recipe can take a lot of abuse; I’ve baked it at 400°F, I’ve baked it for an hour and twenty minutes, I’ve smacked it around with the end of a wooden spoon, and it always turns out delicious. You can make it look nice and professional by being careful with it and trimming the rough edges with a knife, or you can leave the rough edges the way they are for a nice “rustic” look. You can even press it into muffin cups to make mini pies, tarts, and quiches, so have fun!