Let’s just say you have some leftovers — perhaps a beef stew, perhaps some chicken in, oh, I don’t know, cider gravy — and you’re thinking, "Boring! I can’t possibly eat that again." Well, my friend, should this happen to you, simply whip up a savory pie crust. In about a half an hour, you will be placing into your oven a dish worthy of company. If you happen to be a guest at my house during the winter months, you need not worry about being gauche by asking if the meat and gravy part of the pie are leftovers. They most assuredly are. And yet, you will be overwhelmed with the transcendent buttery flakiness of the crust, and will not care that I am serving you leftovers, my dear guest.
The number of dishes that can be fancied up with this dough is practically limitless. OK, so you’re a vegetarian. How about a vegetable stew, or a lentil and carrot stew? You there, Ms. Carnivore, let’s make a chili con carne and top it off with a layer of shredded pepper jack cheese and then the crust. Or maybe a lamb and carrot stew would be more to your liking. Why not add a bit of goat cheese under the crust for that dish? You see what I mean? Practically limitless.
So, now, just forget that you’ve ever read anything that implies pie dough is challenging to craft. Get thee to thy pantry and gather up the flour and butter and vegetable shortening. We’re going to make a meal-saving, savory pie crust.
Try it with this Tomato Tart recipe.
NOTE: When making pot pies, be certain that there is some liquid in those leftovers you’re transforming. Don’t go putting meatloaf slices sans gravy in a pie dish and topping it with pie crust. No. In fact, you should wrap the meatloaf slices in this pie crust as though you’re mailing them off in savory little envelopes and call it pain de viande en croute. Now, that’s fancy.
Estimated cost for one pie crust: $2.60. The flour is $0.71 for 3 cups from a bag that costs $4.49 for 19 cups. The baking powder costs $0.01. The vegetable shortening is $0.90 for our 8 tablespoons at $5.49 for 49 tablespoons. The butter used is 8 of 32 tablespoons at $2.79, so that’s $0.70. The egg yolk is from 1 egg, which is $0.26, and the milk for the wash is $0.03, 1/64 of $1.99.
Now, you do not need a food processor for this, but I will provide instruction for both the by-hand method and the food processor method. It must be due to the fact that I have to handwash my dishes (that’s right, I have no newfangled dishwashing machine) that I’m not fully embracing the food processor method, but in the interest of full disclosure, I thoroughly enjoy working with dough by hand, or a mano. It’s soothing and also gratifying to know your two warm palms and 10 cold fingers put it all together.
To make the dough by hand, mix together the flour, salt, and baking powder in a large mixing bowl. Now, not to scare you about the dough, because we all know now that the dough is your friend and is infinitely useful, but the reason why the very cold items must be very cold is because you want a flaky crust, and that can’t happen if the fats blend into the dough completely. It is the little bits of fat that create flakiness and give you that buttery crust we all hold so dear. This is also why you should use your fingers, the cold part of your hands, and not your palms, which are the warm part of your hands, to work the dough. If it makes your life easier, you can put the butter and shortening into the freezer for 5-10 minutes to ensure that they are both very cold for the next step.
Cut the very cold vegetable shortening and the very cold butter into approximately ½-inch cubes and add them to the flour mixture. Using the tips of your fingers, blend the butter and shortening into the flour. What this means is, you plunge your fingers into the flour, coating the fats with flour, while breaking up the fats until they are roughly pea-sized. It is perfectly OK for some of them to be larger than pea-sized, you just don’t want them to be close to the same size as the cubes you initially placed into the flour. Remove your fingers from the flour and fats mixture. Get yourself a fork. Pour ½ cup very cold ice water (yes, I know I’ve mentioned "very cold" before — I am trying to make a point) into the flour and fats mixture and blend the water into the dough with the fork. You are trying to moisten the dough just enough that it holds together, so if there are still dry spots in your bowl, and I’m pretty certain there will be, add very cold, oh, absolutely frigid, ice water to the dough, 1 tablespoon at a time, blending in gently, until the dough is just holding together. On a lightly floured surface, form the dough into a ball, wrap it in plastic wrap, and refrigerate it for 30 minutes.
And now, the food processor version: In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, add the flour, salt, and baking powder. Then add the very cold butter and the very cold shortening, and pulse for about 10 seconds until the fats are pea-sized. Pulsing the motor, add ½ cup of the ice water to the flour mixture until it begins to form small balls. If there is still a fair amount of flour laying about in the processor, add ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until dry has become moist. Turn the small balls of dough out onto a lightly floured surface, being very careful of the metal blade—that thing is sharp — and form them quickly and gently into a ball. Cover the dough completely in plastic wrap, and place it in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
So now your gravy is done; it and the chicken are in the pie pan, and you need only to get the savory pie dough out of the refrigerator and, on a lightly floured surface, roll it out to approximately ¼-inch thickness in some approximation of a circle (or a rectangle, or a square; whatever shape baking dish you’re using). As soon as the dough is rolled out, gently lift it and place it atop your baking dish. Push the dough down the sides of the dish to firmly cover the filling as though you’re tucking someone you love into a toasty bed, allowing for an inch or so of dough overhanging the edges of the baking dish. Crimp the overhanging dough over itself to create a thicker crust edge. Beat the egg yolk and milk together and brush it over the top of the crust. Cut five 1-inch slits in the dough over the filling — be decorative with it if you like — and place your masterpiece into the oven. I advise you to put the baking dish on a foil-lined baking sheet in order to prevent spillage on the bottom of the oven, which might result in copious amounts of smoke in your kitchen, and might require you to set the oven to clean the next day. Ahem. Not that this is has ever happened at my house or anything. Bake until the crust is golden brown, approximately 40 minutes.