The directions for making a pie crust sound ridiculously simple: “Combine flour and salt, cut in shortening, add water, and shape into a ball.” But the reality is that making pastry can be tricky. Granted, it’s not as complicated as boning a duck or making a swan out of spun sugar, but for many home cooks, alone in their kitchens, the process of transforming flour, shortening and water into a 9-inch pie crust is a culinary nightmare.
“Experienced cooks are afraid of pastry,” says Marion Cunningham, author of many cookbooks, including The Fannie Farmer Baking Book (Knopf, 1984), which has a whole chapter on pies and tarts.
“People are so worried about adding too much water that they don’t use enough. Instead of trying to work with a bowl of crumbs that will never come together to form a dough, they should add more water,” she says. We make pies all the time and know that some days the dough seems to come together by itself and other times adding the right amount of water and flour is a juggling act. But we keep at it and do whatever it takes to get it right because nothing beats homemade pie. Without its flaky crust, buttermilk pecan pie would just be a pecan custard. Made with pecans and a small amount of buttermilk, it’s a cross between two famous Southern pies: pecan pie, invented around 1930 to promote Karo syrup, and chess pie, based on 17th-century English custard pies.
This buttermilk pecan pie is from Pearson Farm in Fort Valley, Ga., and is guaranteed to make anyone want to get the hang of making a pastry crust.