There are few things as intimidating as good pie crust. I’d like to say that I struggled with it for years but honestly, I had two horrible attempts that shamed me into convenient pre-made, frozen pie crusts. I looked over recipes and found that a lot of them emphasized keeping dough chilled but little else. Their beautiful smooth dough put mine to shame. Even if I got the dough pretty and smooth, never could I find the delicate flakey crust until I learned… it all comes down to butter. But doesn’t it most of the time?
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 sticks chilled butter (unsalted), cut into pieces
1/2 cup ice water
pastry blender (optional)
Combine flour, sugar and salt together until thoroughly mixed.
Take your chilled butter and blend into your flour. Cut the butter into the flour until it’s crumbly. You do not want this to be tiny pieces or totally smooth. About pea sized pieces and a little bigger is okay too. You should be able to see the butter pieces. There are two ways to do this. Take your pastry blender and use it to cut the butter into the flour mix. Or, you could use your finger tips. I do not at all recommend using your hands because it’s too warm and will melt the butter into your flour and your crust will not be so flakey. Please, just the tips of the fingers… it is more difficult but that extra effort is what makes a better pie. When using your finger tips, I like to do a sort of dip and lift to ensure that I’m not touching the same pieces of butter too much to warm them. I dip my fingers in and smash some pieces and lift out and dip into another spot. A single smashing each dip.
Chill the flour in the fridge for about 20 minutes or if you’re really careful or used your fingers to blend, chill in the freezer for about 10 minutes. Prepare your work surface and sprinkle with some flour. Get your ice water to form the dough
Remove the chilled flour mix. Begin adding the ice water just a tablespoon at a time. I live in a desert so my flour is extra dry and requires more water. It should take about 1/4 cup of water but mine is closer to 1/3. To keep from over wetting the dough, add the water, 1 Tbsp at a time. Overly wet dough will be springy… that’s not what you want. Springy means the gluten started to develop and it’ll be a less delicate texture.
Use a butter knife to incorporate your water into the dough. Once you have enough water to get the dough to just stick together (you don’t want it sticky, the dough should come together and hold when pressed but not at all sticky), turn dough onto your work surface. Carefully pressed the dough together and if it won’t hold or crumbles apart, add a little more water. Knead a couple times and divide the dough in half.
Shape each half into a ball and smash down the top a little. Wrap the entire ball in cling wrap. Smash down in the cling wrap to about 1 1/2 inch thickness. This forces the dough to hold together tighter and therefore will be easier to roll. Chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours. Overnight has best results.
Preheat oven at 425. Lightly flour your work surface and your rolling pin. Take out one disk of dough and unwrap. Here’s the fun part… smack your dough with the rolling pin! It seems somewhat violent but it makes your rolling easier. It smashes down the dough and softens the butter for rolling without heating it. Turn your dough and smack it some more to make a more uniform circle.
Roll out your crust. Lift and turn so it doesn’t stick to your surface. Dust with flour as needed. once your crust is about a 1/4 inch thick, lift gently into your pie pan. When you’re rolling, you’ll be able to see pieces of your butter that’s visible in the crust. This is desirable! If your dough is too smooth, then you won’t have a delicate, flakey crust. I think it affects the taste too but that might be from my personal dissatisfaction.
When placing your crust into the pan, gently lift and allow the crust to fall into place. Guide dough gently with your fingers. Please don’t pull or you’ll create breaks in the crust. Fill your pie then layer with your top pie crust. Seal however you like and cut vents into the top crust if you have a wet or fruit filling. Cover with aluminum foil and bake. I like to cover with foil for at least the first 30 minutes to prevent the top from over browning. Makes for a prettier top crust. I also brush with an egg wash sometimes to make an even prettier crust. Depending on the size of the dish, if it’s double layer pie, what filling you used will determine how long to leave in the oven. If you have a recipe you’re following, use their instructions. Store in the fridge for a few days or in the freezer for a couple weeks. If frozen, give it time to thaw before working the dough. Enjoy!
NOTES: The reason why it’s so important to have the larger pieces of butter is that butter has water in it. As it bakes, the water will boil out of the butter. When it does this, it escapes as it can and creates the flakey layers. If the butter is melted into the flour, instead of flakey crust, it’ll be a harder crust. Also, the butter layering between the flour and working it as little as possible helps keep the gluten (flour proteins) from working up and giving a tougher/chewier texture. That’s only good in bread.
Also! Make sure the buy regular ol’ unsalted butter. This is one of the times it’s important to NOT use European butter. European butter has a lower water content and that leads to a less flakey, delicate crust. European butter is needed though if you want to make croissants or danishes or anything like that.