Putting together a good pie crust is equally about using the right recipe and employing the correct techniques while mixing it together. The recipe below is my favorite so far. It’s been tweaked to suit my taste, and will probably be tweaked a little by you depending on what ingredients you use and where you live. The amount of liquid you use will likely change with different brands of flour, as they each have varying percentages of protein. It’s not as difficult as it sounds, and everyone benefits from practice!
Keeping your tools cold is important. More important even than trying not to overwork the crust while mixing. It’s all about not melting the fat you use with the heat of your work surface or hands. It’s okay to touch the crust, just not to man-handle it. You want to keep the fat intact rather than spreading it throughout the flour so that you get the nice, flaky texture.
Using different fats will give you different textures, and it can be argued that shortening and lard make the flakiest crust. But you just can’t beat the taste of butter!
Cut the cold butter into 1/2 inch cubes and set onto a plate.
Place the plate in the freezer while you measure out the rest of the ingredients.
(shouldn’t be in freezer for more than 15 minutes)
Set a bowl of ice water on work surface. This is where you will measure from.
Whisk together the two flours and the salt.
Pile the flour mixture onto a flat surface, either a table, a pastry board, or a marble slab.
I prefer to use my slab as I can chill it and it helps keep the crust as cold as possible throughout all the steps.
Keeping the crust chilled is one of the most important elements in making great pie crust.
This is why using cold tools and minimizing the use of your hands is so important.
Toss the butter cubes into the flour, lightly coating each cube.
Using a bench scraper or pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour mixture.
This involves chopping the butter into smaller pieces with the sharp edge of the bench scraper,
while at the same time, tossing the cut bits back into the flour to become coated with flour.
The butter should be about the size of a small pea at the small end, and about the size of a chickpea at the largest.
When the mixture looks about like the picture above,
gather it up into a mound, and form a well in the center.
Measure out the cream along with 2 Tbsp. of ice water from your bowl.
Pour the liquid into the well.
Using a fork, start to slowly whisk the flour into the liquid at the center of the well. Try to keep from breaking through the sides of the well.
When it seems like the liquid is somewhat incorporated, you can then take a bench scraper and start to more fully incorporate the liquid into the flour. A bench scraper works best for this as you can lift and toss the flour back into the mound without having to touch it too much with your hands, and also not continuing to chop the butter into smaller bits.
You want to keep the bits of butter as they are. When you roll out your crust, you will be able to see the beautiful bits of butter flattened out ready to add all sorts of flakiness!
Do this until it seems like all the powdery flour from the bottom is pretty well sticking to the rest of the crust mixture. If loose flour is not pretty easily mixing in, sprinkle a tablespoon or two more of the ice water over the crust mixture.
The trick is really to incorporate the ingredients together just enough to be able to roll it out correctly, adding just the right amount of liquid, while at the same time, not over-mixing the flour with the butter bits. You want to maintain the integrity of the butter, as this is what gives a flaky, layered texture to crust.
To test whether you have enough liquid to continue on, take a small amount and squeeze it together in your hand. If it crumbles apart when poked or set down, your mixture needs a bit more water. This is probably a trial and error step with most cooks. It takes a little experience, but isn’t difficult.
Also, the type/brand of flour you use, and amount of humidity where you live can affect the amount of water you will need. Just experiment–it will come in time!
When your crust has the correct amount of liquid, gather it together into a disc shape, and wrap it in a piece of plastic wrap. After it’s wrapped, smooth out the surface under the plastic and put it into the refrigerator to chill until needed. A few days in the fridge won’t hurt it at all.
The crust can be frozen, but I like it best used from the fridge within a couple of days.
I think it behaves better when I roll it out.
When ready to use, remove the disc of dough from the fridge and let rest for 10–15 minutes before rolling out. I find that I get less cracking and crumbling while rolling, which means less frustration for me!
Roll it out using a bit of flour under the crust and on your rolling pin. I use a bakers-style rolling pin coated in silicone. You can roll out on a large piece of parchment to make moving the crust around easier. You still need to flour under though, or it will stick to the parchment.
Roll from the center out, rotating the crust every couple of rolls. You will get a more evenly round crust to work with, and this will also ensure that your crust isn’t sticking to your rolling surface.
Roll out to a scant 1/8th inch depth. Make sure the diameter of the rolled out crust is at least 1 1/2 inches bigger all around than your pie pan. This recipe will give you a healthy, 9″ deep-dish size crust.
Save the trimmings for another purpose, or to decorate the top of your pie.
Carefully lift the crust into your pie pan. I like to gently fold it in half to make it easier to center in the pan. Drape the crust down into the pan, trying not to stretch it out, as this will encourage shrinking of the crust while baked.
After the crust is centered in your pan, trim the edge of the crust 1 inch larger than the edge of your pan. I use kitchen shears–super easy! Give the edge whatever decorative treatment you prefer and continue on with whatever pie recipe you are using, either filling or blind baking.
If blind baking, poke a fork into the bottom of the crust. Weigh down the crust with pie weights or beans, and bake in a 425 F. degree oven for 15–20 minutes. Take the pie weights out and continue baking for another 5–10 minutes, or until the crust is an even, light golden brown. I also use a pie shield to protect the edges from over-browning. I remove it for the last 5–10 minutes.
To avoid pie crust shrinkage during baking, let the crust rest for 10 minutes before you fit it into the pie pan. Then set pan with crust into the refrigerator for 20 minutes. This gives the gluten a chance to relax. Then place the pan into the freezer for 5–10 minutes, and bake as directed above.
Let crust cool completely before filling.
Enjoy your beautiful, no so hard after all pie crust!