Just in time for the holidays and by popular demand, here are my (painfully arrived at) lessons on how to make a perfect pie crust. No need to buy inferior pie crust in the dairy or frozen food section of your grocery store. With the right instructions anyone can make perfectly flaky, show-stopping pie crusts, right out of the box. Mim to the rescue!
If you already know how to make great pie crusts, don’t even bother to read further. This post will be a detailed explanation of how to get the job done using a food processor, and is definitely meant for the uninitiated (if you don’t own a food processor, go here. It will tell you how to get the job done using a really inexpensive little tool). The recipe, however, is an excellent one for all.
For those of you who are left reading after my caveat, the reason for reading further is simple; with pie crust, technique is everything, and you might as well benefit from my journey.
I use my food processor to make pie crust because it makes short work of the job, and does that job extremely well. I therefore recommend it to anyone who owns one. However, there are a few tricks you need to know about making it in that blessed machine that can spell the difference between a so-so crust that’s hard to work with and one that pretty much makes itself and over which your guests will go gaga.
First, I use 100% butter for my crusts; I love butter, and in a pie crust butter seems to enhance the flavor no matter what filling you choose. Other people prefer lard or a solid shortening such as Crisco, but not I. Following is the recipe I have used for ages, having picked it up years ago from some Martha Stewart article. But it’s really not just about what recipe you use, but more importantly about how you work with the ingredients, so take the time to read my instructions carefully before you begin.
For a two crust 9” pie
2 ½ cups flour
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. sugar (eliminate this for savory recipes)
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, chilled, cut into 16 slices ( you must leave the butter in the refrigerator until just before you are going to make the pie crust; it needs to be really well chilled)
½ cup ice water
Blend the flour, salt and sugar in the food processor, fitted with the metal blade. Put the butter pieces in the bowl and press on the “pulse” lever and release it about ten times, while counting “1001 (stop), 1002 (stop), 1003 (stop)”, etc. (This counting is meant to keep you from over-processing a particular food item to mush, rather than creating nicely chopped pieces. You must learn this technique in order to EVER use your food processor to its full potential). The food processor should not ever be running constantly at this point; you just pulse! By now you should see “pea” sized pieces of butter in the dough. This is a critical point in the process, as those small bits of butter are what melt during baking, making your crust so delightfully flaky. If you go beyond this “pea” stage, you will compromise flakiness.
Now, turn the food processor on and pour the ice water through the feeder tube at the top, pouring more rapidly for the first 2/3 of the addition, so quite quickly, then slower towards the end. It should take well under a minute altogether. This is much more critical than it sounds. Adding the water quickly at the beginning, then more slowly at the end keeps the water from creating puddles — little gluey patches in the finished dough that will make it difficult to work with, and will deliver an overall inferior pie crust as well. Trust me, I learned this through years of trial and error, trying to figure out how such an apparently small difference in technique while adding ice water could make such a colossal difference. Don’t even ask how much aggravation I went through to get this one right, just follow my lead and then fuggeddaboudit! No sense learning the hard way, like I did. When the dough starts to form a ball around the blade and climb up it, stop the food processor. Any further processing will toughen the dough.
Empty the food processor bowl onto a lightly floured working surface, round it up into a ball and split it in half. Form the dough into two disks, taking care to round up the edges so they are smooth. This will help keep the disc of dough in a more perfect circle as you roll it out, and keep the crust from tearing when you move it after rolling. Wrap each crust in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. This is the optimal time for resting the dough. Anything longer makes a harder job of rolling out the dough.
Once the resting period is over, it’s time to roll. There are a number of different ways to accomplish this. Some people like to roll their crusts out between pieces of waxed paper, which eliminates the use of a lot of flour. My daughter Jennifer has a wonderful large-sized Silpat™ sheet that makes rolling and cleanup an absolute dream, and having used it at her home, I highly recommend it if you have the cash to spring for one. I personally just go the old-fashioned route — I put a disc on a lightly floured work space, flour my rolling pin, and have at it. Pick your method. They all work. Much more important is how you roll the dough.
First, always roll pie dough from the center of the disc outwards to the edge, slowly moving around the circle to keep the circle intact as you go. So you’d start with a roll to 12 o’ clock on the disc, then roll to 2 o’ clock, then 4 o’ clock, and so on, until you have worked your way around the circle. Dust the disc with small amounts of flour as you go to prevent sticking. I flip the disc over when it’s about 8″ to 9″ around, to redistribute the flour and help prevent sticking. When the circle has been rolled to about 11″ to 12″ in diameter it is the right size for a 9″ pie plate. Gently lift one half of the dough and fold it in half to form a half-moon. At this point you can put it directly onto half a pie plate and unfold it to fit the dish.
If you are making a double-crusted pie, repeat the rolling of a second disc and unfold it over the filling. I then cut the overhanging dough to about 2” overhang all around. If the crust “falls short” at some point, I simply take a scrap from my trimming and “augment” the offending spot. Before crimping, fold the edges under, all around the rim so that the 2” edge becomes a fat little rim that’s flush with the edge of the pie plate. Now flour your fingers and using a thumb and forefinger (or whichever two fingers feels right to you) make one of those lovely crimped edges everyone admires so much. Failing the courage to attempt this you could (after folding the edges under) do the nice ‘n’ easy fork tine maneuver. Not quite as fancy, but it lends a welcome homey touch. “Dock” (make slits or fork pricks) on the top of the pie crust to allow steam to escape. Be a decorative as your creativity allows.
To make life a whole lot easier for holidays I like to save last minute work, so I roll out my dough after the 30 minute refrigerator rest, place each rolled “layer” of crust between two layers of plastic wrap, then fold it into quarters and put it into large freezer bags and freeze. Or, if I’m only doing it a few days ahead of time, I just put the folded layers in a bag in the fridge. Then when I’m ready to make the pies I just plunk the pre-rolled pie crusts into a pie pan, add my filling and bake.