How to Make a Good Pie Crust.

Goal: a flaky pie crust

Things to note before getting your hands dirty

Grate frozen butter to get even chunks of cool butter, add as little water as possible, mix the dough as little as possible, refrigerate the dough before rolling it out, and the dough should be chilled and still have chunks of butter when the pie goes into the oven.

Grating frozen butter is a fast and easy way to make it into the usual “pea-sized pieces”, while keeping it cold. The longer you work with butter, the meltier it gets, and the less likely it is that you’ll still have chunks of butter in the crust when the pie goes into the oven.

Mixing flour and water develops the gluten in the flour, which makes the crust tough. A little sugar can help keep the crust tender, but it isn’t required.

Refrigerating the dough will allow the flour to absorb the water and bond together without mixing. If you add just enough water to make your dough crumbly, then refrigerate it for half an hour, you’ll be able to form it into a ball and roll it out.

When you roll out the dough, chunks of butter will be flattened and sandwiched between layers of flour; when the crust goes in the oven, the butter will melt and you’ll be left with flaky layers in your crust.

What you need for two crusts

  • clean hands
  • mixing bowl
  • box grater
  • freezer and fridge
  • rolling pin
  • probably an apron
  • 2 sticks of unsalted butter
  • 2 ½ cups flour + extra for rolling
  • 1 tbsp. sugar (optional)
  • two pinches of salt
  • 12 tablespoons ice water (plus up to 2 more tablespoons)

Step-by-step

Make your pie crust at least an hour before you plan to put your pie in the oven.

Put your butter in the freezer at least 30 minutes before you start making the crust.

Put 2 ½ cups of flour, 1 tablespoon of sugar, and a pinch of salt in a mixing bowl. Mix gently by fluffing with your clean hands.

Step One

Get the butter out of the freezer. Hold the box grater in the bowl of flour and grate all of the butter using the medium side of the grater … watch your knuckles. Less-frozen butter makes this easier, and not every last bit of butter needs to go into the crusts.

Step Two

Fluff the flour and butter together with your fingers so that the bits of grated butter are mixed evenly with the flour. If the grated butter is sticking together, break it apart gently with your fingers.

Step Three

Make a dent in the middle of the flour-butter mixture, pour the ice water in, and mix by fluffing.

Step Four

Keep it short: overmixing will melt the butter and make the flour tough. The flour will absorb a variable amount of water (influenced mostly by humidity); add just enough so that squeezing a fist of dough sort of forms a crumbly ball. You shouldn’t be able to form the dough into two coherent balls at this point.

Step Five

Cover your dough and put it in the fridge for half an hour. This is a good time to prepare the pie filling and preheat the oven.

When you take the dough out, you should be able to press it into two balls. If there is loose flour at this point, sprinkle it with a little water so it sticks to the balls. You can wrap and refrigerate these to use in the next week, or you can roll them out right away.

Roll out the bottom crust and put it in the pie pan; then roll out the top crust. To keep the bottom crust from getting soggy, don’t pour the filling into the pan until the top crust is ready. After the pie is assembled it should go into a hot oven immediately.

Using extra dough

Dough scraps will always make tougher crust than the first use, because the dough has been worked more. To minimize this, put them into a bowl in the fridge as soon as you cut them off, and don’t squish them together until you’re ready to re-roll them.

Advanced moves

  • Paint the top of the pie with egg white or milk for a shiny golden finish.
  • Subsitute up to ½ of the flour with whole wheat.
  • Savory crust: leave out the sugar, add more salt, black pepper, sage, and up to ½ cup parmesan cheese.
  • Pre-baked pie shell: make a single crust (half a recipe), put it in the pan, prick the bottom with a fork (and preferably coil a pie chain in the bottom) and bake at 400° F for 15 minutes.
  • Galette: lay out one crust on a cookie sheet, spread filling on top (try sautéed mushrooms and onions) and fold ¼ - ⅓ of the edges over on top of the filling.
  • Decorated top: use cookie cutters or a knife to make shapes out of extra dough, then paint the back with milk to glue them on.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user cookbookman17 under the Creative Commons Attribution license.