Fool-Proof Pie Crust

So. Pie crust. For some reason, people seem to think that pie crust is difficult to make. You read recipes and they have all these different steps: freeze the butter, avoid humidity, procure a marble slab for rolling, sift the flour, don’t sift the flour, let the dough rest, refrigerate the dough overnight, etc. It’s crazy how complicated things get, and it really doesn’t have to be!

The great thing about pastry is that it is dead simple. It is simply flour and fat and a little water. The less you monkey with it, the better, that’s true. Which I take as license to whip out the food processor. It lets you integrate your flour and butter really quickly, which doesn’t give your butter time to warm up, which means you don’t need to let your dough rest in the fridge!

The other reason pie crust is so simple is because it is a numbers game. You need a 2:1 ratio (by weight) of flour to butter. Add a pinch of salt, a pinch of sugar (helps it get that nice golden color, but you can skip it if your pie would be awkward with a sweet undertone…you will definitely be able to tell there’s sugar in the dough), and little bit of cold water, up to about a 1/4 cup for every 8 oz. of flour you use.

The great thing about weighing your ingredients is that a pound is a pound is a pound is a pound. It doesn’t matter if it’s humid, or if you sift your flour or not, or if you can eyeball 4 tablespoons of butter or not; if you go by weight, you always get a predictable result. Simplify your life, use your kitchen scale!

One other key factor is temperature. To get a flaky crust, you need to have little pockets of butter that melt in the dough as it bakes. If your dough gets too warm, the butter becomes too well integrated, and you get a more uniform crust, which translates to less flaky, more cement-like. To keep your butter from being super well integrated, keep it cold, and be a bit lazy about cutting it in.  Coarse crumbs are good enough! Your food processor really is your friend here, because it will cut the butter into tiny, un-uniform bits, and quickly!

So now you have a little background, let’s walk through the process. Like I said, you need a food processor. Can you make pie crust without a food processor? Of course you can! But that requires a little different method, so if you don’t have a food processor (or don’t want to use one), bookmark the page for when you change your mind.

For a single crust pie, in your food processor, combine 8 ounces (by weight, remember) all-purpose flour, a pinch of salt, and a pinch of sugar. Pulse a couple of times to mix well. Add 4 ounces (by weight…yes I’m beating the dead horse, but it’s important) salted butter (cut the butter into chunks before putting it into the food processor–it makes life easier).

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Pulse 7 or 8 times (one-second pulses), till butter is “cut in” and resembles coarse pea-sized crumbs.  They do not need to be uniform, and bigger chunks are perfectly fine!.

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Add 3-4 tablespoons of cold water as the food processor is running, the dough should start to look damp.

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You do NOT want to process it until it forms a ball–your butter will be too well integrated and your crust will be hard as cement, not flaky at all! Your dough should be evenly moistened, and just starting to stick together. If you pinch it, the dough should hold the imprint of your fingers.

See how it looks a bit like wet sand?  That’s the consistency you’re hoping for.  If it’s too dry to hold the imprint of your fingers when you pinch, add a bit more water (by the teaspoon, no more) and pulse a couple more times.  (If, on the other hand, it’s too wet, fix it by incorporating extra flour as you roll it out, don’t try to add flour in the food processor.)

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Turn the pastry dough out onto your table and gather it into a ball. Flatten it out with your hands as much as you can, then lift it up and sprinkle your workspace liberally with flour. Roll your pastry out, turning it every so often so it doesn’t stick and gets rolled out evenly.

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(Notice the streaks of butter here–that’s a good thing for flakiness!)

Set your pie plate on the rolled out dough and make sure you will have enough dough to cover the bottom and up the sides. Roll the pie crust around your rolling pin and unfurl it into the pie plate. Crimp the edges and cut off any excess dough. If you double the recipe to make a two-crust pie, roll out your top crust and measure that against your pie plate, too!

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Then fill the shell with your pie filling and bake as directed for the filling!

And, should you happen to have leftover pastry dough, you can make these!

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Just roll out your leftover pastry and cut into thin strips. Pinch three or four strips together at one end, then braid and pinch together at the other end. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with a little sugar. Bake till golden (doesn’t matter how hot your oven is, just keep an eye on the color!). Serve as cookies.

Fool-proof Pie Crust

  • 8 ounces (by weight) all purpose flour
  • 4 ounces (by weight) salted butter, cut into several chunks
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of sugar
  • 3-4 T. cold water
  1. Combine flour, salt, and sugar in food processor and pulse to combine.
  2. Add butter chunks.  Pulse 7 or 8 times (one-second pulses) to incorporate.  NO MORE than 7 or 8 pulses!
  3. Add water and pulse till mixture resembles wet-ish sand and holds an imprint when you pinch it between your fingers.
  4. Turn dough/crumbs out onto un-floured surface and gather together into a ball.  Press into a disk with your hands, and begin pressing out into a circle.
  5. When you have pressed it as far as you can with your hands, lift the dough and sprinkle flour underneath.  Also sprinkle a little on top, and flour your rolling pin.
  6. Roll dough out into a circle big enough to fit your pie plate.  Roll dough around rolling pin and unroll into pie plate.  Press into bottom, make any decorative edging you like, and trim excess.
  7. You will likely have enough leftover to roll out again to cut strips for a lattice top.
  8. Follow instructions in your pie recipe for baking.
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