It makes me sad when I see an empty wedge of pie crust on someone’s plate. Crust should be delicious in its own right, almost as satisfying as when accompanied by a mouthwatering filling. You may think of the filling first, but pie is not pie without the crust.
Pie crust has the reputation of being difficult to make, and I admit I was afraid of it for years. While putting it together requires close attention, once you know how the dough should feel at each step of the way, the process is quick and easy. I recommend making and baking 3 or 4 crusts in a row–not all on the same day, but start to finish, and close enough in time so you can remember what worked and what didn’t. Fear of pie crust is mostly psychological. Say it out loud: “I can do this!” Shout it from the roof tops. Be confident.
Another truth? Practice makes perfect.
The following recipe calls for butter. I think butter tastes best, but you can experiment with substituting some or all of the butter with shortening, lard or coconut oil. I have also successfully substituted some/all of the white flour with whole wheat pastry flour (see the note at the end of the recipe). The result will be slightly different with the substitutions.
The most important things about making pie dough are the following:
Keep your ingredients cold.
Work quickly, but don’t overwork the dough. Use a light touch.
Add just enough water—with too little the dough will be dry and hard to roll out, too much and the dough will be sticky and also hard to roll out. Either too much or too little will produce a tough crust. It may be scary at first, but using the correct amount of water will become second nature.
Press the dough gently into the shape you will be rolling out—a disk for a round pie, a square for a square or rectangular pie. Wrap the dough in plastic and gently press the dough again.
Chill the dough before rolling. This allows the moisture to migrate through the dough and relaxes the gluten so that it is easier to roll out.
Dust your counter and rolling pin with flour before rolling. Roll the dough from the center towards the edge—but don’t roll over the edge. Turn the dough an eighth of a rotation with each roll. Lift the dough up often to make sure it isn’t sticking.
Chill the dough again after it is shaped and in the pan, which will harden the butter and prevent shrinkage.
Homemade pie crust is so much better than frozen store bought. Learn how to make a good crust, make your friends smile. Eating pie should be a lick-the-plate experience!
Cut the butter into the dry ingredients with a pastry blender (seen above), with two knives, or, if you have cold hands, with your finger tips. The mixture should have irregular pea sized pieces of butter dispersed in the flour.
Toss the water and flour mixture together with a fork and mix gently with the tips of your fingers until you can’t see any completely dry patches of flour. At this point, it will only hold together if pinched.
Quickly smear some of the bigger pieces of butter away from you with the palm of your hand. Three or four times is plenty. It will still be somewhat shaggy. You aren’t fully emulsifying the butter into the flour mixture–like you do with tart dough.
Flatten the disk keeping the edges round. Notice the bits of butter that are not incorporated into the dough. As the butter melts steam is produced which causes the dough surrounding the butter to rise and separate, creating a flaky crust.
Pour pie weights into the parchment lined pan. I like to use lentils or rice. Make sure you fill the pan all the way up to the top to keep the dough from slipping down the sides while it bakes.
After 20 minutes lift the parchment paper up and peek underneath. If the bottom looks set (not wet and doughy), remove the parchment and weights by carefully picking up the four corners of the parchment and pouring the weights back into the storage container. Discard the parchment.
Bake until the crust is dry, blistered and golden brown in places. I use a glass pan so that I can lift the pan above my head and look at the bottom through the glass. It should be uniformly deep golden brown underneath.