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How to Make the Best Pie Crust
Pie crust is the backbone of classics like apple pie, pumpkin pie, pecan pie, cream pie, pot pie, and many, many more. It can be used in an intricate double-crust masterpiece, a rough-and-ready galette, or the foundation of a savory quiche, but no matter the recipe, the key is in the fat. There’s a few different ways to go about it:
- Lard: If peak flakiness is what you’re here for, rendered leaf lard (the fat around the kidneys and loin of a pig) is the way to get it. It won’t melt as easily as butter, so if you can find high-quality leaf lard and don’t mind a slight funk, go for it. Maybe test it with a savory pie first to get the hang of it.
- Butter: An all-butter pie crust is hands-down the most popular, and requires the most patience to perfect, thanks to butter’s low melting point. The water content in butter evaporates into steam when baked, puffing up internal pockets between the many layers in the dough, so you want your dough to be as cool as possible heading into that oven. You'll want the dough to rest and chill after all the handling and rolling at room temperature, so it's time-consuming, yes, but it’s hard to beat that redolent, buttery flavor. It’s crust that crumbles and melts in the mouth.
- Vegetable shortening: This shelf-stable hydrogenated (or un-hydrogenated) fat from vegetable oils is the best option for a vegan pie crust. Of the three, it has the highest melting point, making it easy to blend into your dough and roll out. The only major difference you might notice is in the flavor, which can be a little oily.
Making Pie Dough by Hand Versus in a Food Processor
Using a food processor to mix pie dough comes with the risk of overmixing, which results in a dense, tough crust. Mixing and kneading by hand, while more tedious, allows you to feel exactly when the dough has come together and when it's time to let it rest. Pastry cutters are a solid second choice, because you're still using your own manual touch without heating up the fat with your body temperature.
4 Key Tips for Making the Perfect Flaky Pie Crust
The world is full of tips and tricks for the perfect pie crust, but like most things, it comes down to practice. A familiarity with dough, by doing it over and over again, will teach you everything you need to know. In the meantime:
- The mix: Be careful not to overwork your dough. Once your dough has just come together, it's time to give it a rest.
- The rest: After mixing and rolling out your dough, allow it to rest in the refrigerator for at least two hours. This allows the fat to cool and solidify and the gluten molecules to relax, so you have a soft, flaky crust.
- The roll: Sufficiently flour your work surface and rolling pin so you can effortlessly roll out the dough without getting a sticky mess. You can also roll between two sheets of plastic wrap to help the dough not to stick. If you’ve got a long enough rolling pin, simply roll up the dough to transfer it to a pie plate or baking sheet, if making a galette.
- The bake: Fillings, by nature, contain a ton of moisture—fruit-based ones, especially. When they bake, they release all those delicious juices into the nearest vessel at hand: the dough. In order for your crust to withstand that moisture, it’s crucial that you blind bake. Blind baking—the process of pre-baking the bottom crust in a pie pan using pie weights, dried beans, or sugar, gives you a headstart on creating a base that will stand up to a wet filling.
Homemade All-Butter Pie Crust Recipe
ServesMakes one 9-inch pie
Prep Time20 min
Total Time1 hr 20 min
Cook Time60 min
Homemade pie is all the sweeter when you know you kneaded, rolled, and baked every last bit of it by hand.
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt, preferably kosher
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small cubes
- 3 tablespoons ice water
- 1 tablespoon white vinegar or apple cider vinegar
- 1 egg beaten with 1 tbsp water
- Combine the flour, salt, and sugar in a large bowl. Add the cold butter to the flour mixture, and work it between your fingers until the dough resembles coarse crumbs and there are no large pieces left (the dough should just hold together when pressed in a handful).
- Turn the dough out onto a clean work surface, and add the cold water and vinegar. Comb through the dough with your fingers until well-combined, then begin to knead the dough until it comes together, no more than a couple of minutes.
- Divide and form into two shaggy discs about 1-inch thick. Wrap in plastic wrap, and place in refrigerator for at least two hours before rolling out with a rolling pin.
- After the first rest, generously dust a clean work surface and roll the dough into a 11-inch circle. Roll up the dough and transfer it to a pie dish. Crimp the edges into whatever pattern suits you, cover the pie with plastic wrap, and refrigerator for another two hours.
- When ready to blind bake, preheat the oven to 350°F. Line the pie dough with aluminum foil and fill with your choice of pie weights. Bake for 15 minutes, until golden and set.