Cooking School Secrets: As Easy as 3-2-1

Pillsbury pie crust has been a kitchen staple of mine for years. It's quick, easy to unroll and it's got a texture that works as well for quiche as it does for fruit pie. But those days are over.

I now know the formula for perfect pie dough: 3-2-1. That's 3 parts flour, 2 parts fat, 1 part liquid plus a pinch of salt. By weight, that is. The proportions stay the same regardless of how much dough you want to make -- and it works every time, whether you use butter or shortening or a mixture of both (butter tastes better; shortening gives a more tender texture; ½ and ½ is the best of both worlds).

Got the tips down too: work quickly, keep the liquid ice cold and refrigerate the dough for at least an hour before rolling. But what changed everything for me was discovering there are two types of dough: mealy and flaky.

The ingredients are the same; the difference is how much the fat is blended into the flour. Fat and flour are combined to form pea-sized pieces for flaky dough. (The flour-encased fat pieces create flakes in the crust as it bakes.) To make mealy dough, continue to blend the fat with the flour until it reaches a cornmeal-like consistency.

Mealy is great for bottom crusts since it resists soaking. Flaky works best for the top of pies. It's just a matter of using the right dough for the job.

No more generic crusts for me.

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