Where to start?
You have to start with the crust, without a proper crust the pie is going to be less the perfect no matter how good the fillings or toppings.
There are tricks to doing crusts, but once you get the hang of it, it's really not all that difficult to do.
You need only a few basic ingredients and some simple tricks and you'll be off to a gaod start.
Makes 1 Two-crusted pie, 2 - 8 or 9 inch shells or 8 tarts
If you chill all the ingredients, putting them in the fridge the night before, this becomes rather easy to do. This is a lengthy description but once you've done it a couple of times and realize that it's really just several steps done over a period of time it's really not that hard... In fact, it's as easy as pie! heheheheh
2 1/2 cups sifted flour
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 cup shortening
1/3 cup plus 1 Tbsp ice water
2 Tbsp ice water, if needed
Toss the dry ingredients around a bit to mix. Add the cup of chilled shortening. Using a pastry blender (I gave up the two knives routine LONG ago) cut the shortening into the dry ingredients. You want this to look like coarse corn meal.
I found the easiest way to do this next step is to use a spatula and clear a space in the bowl... now move a bit of your blended mixture back and just drizzle a wee bit of ice water on it. Now move some more of the cut mixture over to this spot and drizzle a little water... slowly move around the bowl until you've moved all 'sections' of the mixture and drizzled water over it... Use the spatula to see if you can press the mixture against the side of the bowl. Does it hold it's shape or crumble away in an avalanche? If it holds, don't add any more water! If it kinda crumbles a bit maybe add another tablespoon of ice water drizzled over the entire bowl... if it totally falls apart for sure add another tablespoon, and maybe a second, drizzled throughout. Ideally you want it to just barely hold together, it should be a challenge to get it to hold its shape if you try to make a ball out of half of the mixture. Forming it in your hands, like a snow ball. Work quickly through, or heat of your hands will start to warm the dough and affect the finished crust. The perfect crust will actually be a challenge to 'ball'. Too much water, working the dough too much, or letting the dough get too warm results in a tough/chewy crust.
The perfect finished crust will shatter when you cut it with the side of your fork and will be very light and flaky.
If making two regular crusts lay out a piece of plastic wrap and place your dough ball (half the dough that you made) in the center. Flatten like you would a hamburger patty, so it's an inch or inch and a half thick. Use your fingers and the palms of your hands to smooth out the sides, remove the cracks and breaks. Now gather the plastic wrap up the sides folding over the top of your flattened round so that it is fairly snug with no air... turn over so that the gathers are on the bottom. Press it a bit to flatten. Use your palms around the sides to press into the sides of the round to smooth out any cracks... flatten the round a bit more again. Set on a plate and put in the fridge.. Now do the same with the second round.
If you are making tart sized.. There are a couple of ways to do this I started out by taking the flattened round and cutting it into quarters. Take the quarters and form balls. Place each piece of dough on a piece of plastic wrap and flatten and smooth the edges just as with the larger piece, gathering the plastic up etc.... Place them on a plate and put them in the fridge. But now I've changed that. I found that as careful as I was not all the crusts came out equal. So how I quickly press the dough into a 1/3 cup dry measuring to get four equal divisions. Then wrap and form them for the chilling/resting period.
Remember this hint for flaky crust. Keep everything cold. The idea is to keep the shortening from softening and the flour absorbing the moisture. Put your rolling pin in the freezer the night before you plan to roll out your crusts. Don't let your dough warm, the pieces that you aren't working with should stay in the fridge.
Let the dough packets rest in the fridge for at least half an hour. I prefer letting them rest until the next morning. They will last this way for two days before they start drying out and you won't be able to roll them out. Put the packets in an airtight container and you can freeze them for up to six months. To use you'll want to let them thaw in the fridge for a day.
Ready to roll them out? I chill the surface that I'm working on.. either rolling out the crusts on a heavy cookie sheet that I had in the freezer OR putting a cookie sheet on the counter where I'll be working and putting ice on it for a while before I start working. Then moving the sheet out of the way to work. Chilling the surface makes the dough so much easier to work with!
Grab a roll of plastic wrap and lay out two square sheets, that will be about the right size. Lay one down on your chilled work surface, lay an unwrapped round of dough on that sheet, lay the second sheet on top of the round of dough.
Being gentle with the rolling pin, roll out from the center of the round to the edge in the same pattern as the spokes on a wagon wheel. Try to keep it evenly round using your fingers to smooth out the edges if they start to crack. Don't let the edges get thin and the center stay thicker pull up a bit on the pin to keep the thickness the same from edge to edge. Roll it into a circle that bout 3 inches larger that your regular pie pan and about 1 1/2 inches larger than your tart pan. If the crust sticks to the pin reflour the pin lightly.
To place a full size crust in the pan loosely roll the crust around the pin and then unroll over the pie pan. For the smaller crusts I think it's easier to put the tart pan upside down over the crust. Slip a spatula underneath and then flip it over. For both sizes gently ease the crust down into the tin.. jiggling it and shifting so as not to stretch or tear the crust. To top a double crusted pie, large or small. Roll the crust loosely on the rolling pin and then unroll over the filled pie. For both types fold the edges under and flute in your favorite style.
For prebaked shells use a fork to poke holes around the bottom and sides. This helps to prevent the crust from puffing up... keeping it flatter and flakier. Put the crusts in the fridge for about 1/2 hour or so. This allows the dough to relax and hold it's shape. Less likely to shrink or warp or puff when you bake.
For unbaked shells (single crust). Let rest in the fridge for 1/2 hour, fill and bake according to recipe.
For double crusted pies. Put bottom crust in pan. Put in filling according to recipe. Put on top crust. Trim excess dough to leave about 1/2 to 1 inch of crust. Fold top crust under bottom crust and flute. Let rest in fridge for about 1/2 hour and then bake according to recipe. This will let the dough relax and it will hold its shape better.