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How to Make a Perfect Pie Crust

How to Make a Perfect Pie Crust
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Pie is such an evergreen, adaptable dessert, but many home cooks are put off by the prospect of making crust by hand. I used to find it intimidating, too, but over the years I’ve come up with a crust that I truly love. In my mind, it has just the right proportions of butter, water, flour and salt. And that’s all you need. Some cooks add vinegar to their crust to limit gluten development and thus produce a more tender crust. But with this method, I don’t find that I need it. I use butter and butter alone because the flavor is so much better than that of shortening. For sweet fruit and other dessert pies, I usually also add a little bit of sugar, but this is up to you.

As for technique, I think hand-mixed crusts are the best. I’ve tried making dough in my food processor, but I really believe that making it by hand is easier, both in terms of being able to know when the crust is done and in not having to clean up the equipment. And the result is wonderful: flaky and tender. They key is to keep your ingredients as cold as possible so that the butter doesn’t melt into the flour. When those little solid pieces of butter go into the oven, they melt, creating steam, which in turn creates thin, flaky layers.

It really does just take a little bit of practice to build your confidence. This dough has plenty of butter, so you’re unlikely to end up with a tough crust, even if you’re just a beginner. I photographed each step to try to help you along. So follow along. You’ll soon feel like a crust genius!

Note: When I photographed this process, I happened to be making the crust for a savory pie and therefore didn’t add sugar. However the recipe does list the correct amount of sugar and tells you when to add it.

Also, this is a recipe for a double-crust pie. To make a single-crust pie, simply cut the recipe in half and do not divide the resulting dough—just press it into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate.

 

Pastry for a Double-Crust Pie

Pie crust ingredients (minus the sugar)

 

Ingredients:

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar (optional, but recommended)
1 teaspoon kosher salt

18 tablespoons (2 1/4 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
6 to 8 tablespoons ice water

Method:

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, sugar (if using), and salt until well combined.

Whisking dry ingredients

Sprinkle butter over flour mixture.

Butter goes in

 

Use a pastry cutter, 2 knives, or a fork to break the butter into smaller pieces. This is an optional step, but I always do it because using utensils instead of your fingers keeps the butter cooler.

Breaking down the butter

Once the butter pieces are small, use your fingers to work the butter into the flour mixture: Rub your thumb against your fingertips as if you’re making the universal sign for “money,” smearing the butter as you do.

Working the butter in with your fingers

When you first start out, the flour will be white and the butter will be yellow. As you continue to work the butter in, the flour will begin to look moist and slowly turn pale yellow, too.

Early stage mixing

 

Stop when the mixture looks like cornmeal with lumps and bean-sized bits of butter remaining.

Done

Sprinkle 6 tablespoons ice water on top and stir with a fork until the dough begins to come together. If needed, add more ice water, a tablespoon at a time, but proceed cautiously.

Stirring in the cold water

Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead three times, or just enough to make a cohesive dough—do not overmix!

Briefly kneading the dough

Here’s a close-up look at the crust. See how mottled it is? That’s what you want.

A well-mixed dough

A well-mixed dough

Gather the dough into a ball and divide into two pieces, one slightly larger than the other. The larger piece will be the bottom crust.

Crust, divided

Press each piece into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Wrapped and ready to go into the refrigerator

Wrapped and ready to go into the refrigerator

Next week, I’ll talk about rolling the dough out and getting it into the pan, as well as crimping. Until then, happy baking!

Amy Traverso

Author:

Amy Traverso

Biography:

Senior lifestyle editor Amy Traverso oversees Yankee's Food and Home & Garden departments and contributes articles to the magazine. Amy book, The Apple Lover's Cookbook (W.W. Norton), won an International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) cookbook award for the category American. Follow !
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9 Responses to How to Make a Perfect Pie Crust

  1. Inez Holger September 16, 2011 at 9:35 am #

    I’ve just discovered your tips and videos and they are wonderful. The pie crust photos are quite helpful, since I usually avoid baking pies and biscuits. Have you worked with gluten
    free flours, and do you have any recommendations for those types of crusts?

    • Amy Traverso November 10, 2011 at 11:56 am #

      Hi Inez-

      Unfortunately, I have very limited experience with gluten-free flours. I’m hoping to do some experimenting with them in the coming months.

  2. don November 10, 2011 at 12:47 pm #

    did you ever use LARD in your crust?

    i do and i like it. i use 2 tablespoons in each crust.

    i would be very interested in your thought as many people are afraid of LARD.

    • Amy Traverso November 28, 2011 at 1:44 pm #

      Hi Don-

      Sorry I didn’t reply sooner. I am definitely pro-lard, but it can be hard to find the best quality stuff, called “leaf lard,” and I don’t recommend using the shelf-stable lard you can find at the supermarket, which is hydrogenated and has trans fats. That’s about as unhealthy as unhealthy can be, while leaf lard from a butcher has very little saturated fat, unlike vegetable shortening.

      In short, leaf lard makes a fantastic pie crust if you can find it. Otherwise, this butter crust is pretty spectacular.

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