Not Just Pie in the Sky: How to Make a Basic Pie Crust
“We must have a pie. Stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie.” – David Mamet
While most of us can thoroughly agree with Mamet, his sentiment does not always extend to the crust. For some reason, people fear pie crust.
Perhaps that’s because of how many strict rules appear in the recipes. The ingredients must be cold. You must not overwork the dough. You must not put too much water in the mix. But really, rules aside, pie crust is a fairly simple thing to make. True, to hone it to an art may take time and require some trial and error, but really, doesn’t just about anything worthwhile?
That is to say that it’s well worth the time to try this simple (and forgiving) classic pie crust recipe.
But first, a brief primer on the basics and the “rules”, so that you can confidently start rolling down a rewarding road of pastry.
Understanding the ingredients
There are four ingredients in a typical pie crust: flour, fat, liquid,and salt. But what do these ingredients all do, exactly?
- Flour (usually all-purpose) gives the crust its bulk and structure.
- Fat (usually butter, lard, shortening, or a combination) gives the aforementioned structure a flaky texture and gives it flavor.
- Liquid (usually water) binds the dough and keeps it workable.
- Salt not only enhances the flavor of both the crust and the filling, but it also helps the crust brown to a pleasing golden hue.
Note: Different crusts may call for different ingredients, but this is a fairly common roster.
1. Chill the water and fat.
Cardinal pie crust rule: Always chill the fat (butter, margarine, shortening or lard) and liquid before you begin. Why? This keeps the fat from getting creamed into the flour, which can give the dough an awkward texture.
2. Don’t overwork the dough.
You want to handle the dough as little as possible, particularly once you start adding the water. You’ll add it gradually, mixing it gently after each addition, only adding enough so that the dough will clump together into a ball in your hand. If the dough is overworked, it can make the pie crust chewy and tough, which isn’t always a kind complement to a delicate filling.
3. Split the dough and roll it into disks.
Many pie crust recipes will actually make two crusts, and therefore splitting the dough is easily explained: this is so that you’ll have a top and bottom crust separated, making for easy logistics when you’re rolling it out. If your recipe only calls for a bottom crust, then lucky you — you’ve got a pie crust all ready for next time. Why flatten the dough balls into disks? This makes it easier to roll flat once you’re ready to bake.
4. Chill the dough.
The dough needs to rest in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes, or as long as overnight. There are a few reasons: This time allows the flour to absorb all of the liquid; it lets the dough “relax” and become more pliable and elastic (and therefore easier for you to handle); and it keeps the fat sealed in specific spots rather than spreading, which will give the crust a nice, flaky and light texture when baked.
5. Flour your work surface.
Rolling the dough is quite easy. But it’s a huge bummer to roll out a perfect round of dough and realize it’s stuck to your work surface because it wasn’t properly floured. Be generous with the sprinkling of flour on your work surface. This will also help when you are pressing it into the pan and fluting the edges — it won’t stick to your hands as much.
6. Most importantly: Remain calm.
Although pie crust recipes may be rule-laden, even if you mess up something (adding too much water, overworking the dough, or accidentally adding salted instead of unsalted butter), you’ll learn from the experience. And most likely, the pie will still get eaten. So chill. And enjoy. Pie need not be a stressful food!
Pie Crust Recipe
Yield: Either two 9-inch crusts or pastry for one double crust
- 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling the pastry
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces and chilled
- 1/3 cup ice water (you may not use all of it)
Note: Although this recipe calls for butter, feel free to substitute lard or shortening or a mixture for the recipe.
In a large bowl, combine flour and salt.
Cut the chilled butter into the dry mixture using a pastry cutter or by using two forks as if they were ninja knives to “cut” the fat into the flour. You want the largest crumbs to be no larger than the size of a pea. (There will be smaller crumbs, too — that is OK).
If you have one, you can also use a food processor: pulse the flour with half the butter until it has the texture of a coarse meal. Add the remaining butter and pulse until it’s the size of small peas.
Once the butter is combined with the flour and salt, turn the mixture into a large bowl.
Stir in the water, one tablespoon at a time, stirring gently with a fork after each addition. Once the mixture clumps together into a ball with minimal dough flaking off, you’ve added enough water.
Divide the dough in half, and shape into balls. Flatten each into a disk. Wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or as long as overnight.
Note: You will want to refer to your pie recipe before proceeding with rolling out the dough. Some recipes (such as lemon meringue pie) will call for a pre-baked (or “blind baked”) crust, in which case, you will roll out a single crust and bake it before adding fillings. Other recipes (many fruit pies, for instance) will call for you to roll out a bottom crust, let it chill before adding the filling, then top with the second crust and bake. Keep in mind that the following instructions will be more appropriate for the latter type of recipe.
Flour your work surface and your rolling pin generously. You’ll flour your hands, too, but unwrap the dough first.
To roll out your bottom crust, place your dough on the floured surface. Using a rolling pin (or, if you don’t have a rolling pin, a heavy bottle such as a wine bottle or glass water bottle with smooth sides will work), begin to roll the pie dough. It will become easier to roll as you work it. Lift a corner to check that it is not sticking to the work surface.
Roll the dough so that it’s about 4 inches wider in circumference than your pie plate. You can check this out by placing your pie plate facedown on top. Try to get the crust as round as possible, but it need not be perfect.
Then, remove the pie plate and turn it right side up, and have it at the ready.
Fold the pie crust in half, then in half again, so it is in fourths. This will make it easier to transfer to the plate, where you can unfold it.
You know those raggedy edges? It’s time to either trim them, or if you would like a fluted crust or just like a really thick crust, fold them under the crust so they are hidden, but so that they bolster the edge of the crust on the pie plate, maximizing your crust pleasure.
If you’d like to flute the crust, simply pinch it in regular intervals to form a fluted shape.
If you’ve trimmed off excess pieces of crust, don’t throw them away! Make them into “pie fries” by rolling them up with butter and cinnamon sugar, and baking them in the residual heat of the oven after you bake your pie. You won’t regret it!
If you’re making a double-crusted pie, you’ll keep the top crust in the refrigerator until it’s called for in the recipe.
You can roll out the top crust in the same way you did the bottom one, but it only needs to be about 2 inches larger than the pie plate because you don’t have to account for the distance of the sides of the plate.
Transfer to the top of the pie, and be sure to cut some holes to help vent the steam that will be created once the filling gets hot in the oven.
Of course, a straightforward top crust isn’t the only thing you can do with that second crust. You can top the pie with cutouts using a cookie cutter, or even create a lattice crust. Here are some inspiring decorative pie crust ideas.
Bake according to your pie recipe. Be very proud of yourself: you’ve made a pie crust!
Just breaking the crust
This is just the beginning! If you want to really perfect your pie-making skills check out the brand new Craftsy class The Art of the Pie Crust with Evan Kleiman. Evan will walk you through making a wide range of pie crusts and their specifications (including what kinds of fats and binders to use), and provide several delicious pie recipes.
Photo via Evan Kleinman
Tomorrow on the Craftsy Blog, we’ll show you how to make delicious doughnuts at home.