You know how sometimes things you do become a routine and you just kind of do them on autopilot? But then one day you pause to reexamine and you’re like, “Woah! I’ve really been getting sloppy with this!” That’s how I had become with pie crust.
I know the basic technique of leaving chunks of fat large enough intact so that they’ll melt and create flakes and blah blah. But it’s pretty easy to mess up if you’re not paying close attention. What revolutionized my pie crust a few years ago was a technique concocted by Kenji over at Serious Eats. Kenji is a household name around our house. My husband and I are constantly emailing each other new methods of preparation that he’s come up with, and if Kenji says it, it is so. I joked the other day that I am going to have some framed needlepoint put up that says, “KENJI IS LORD.” Because I like my pie with a side of idolatry.
So anyway, I tried his pie technique and was like, “This is the best pie crust ever!” Aaand then proceeded to bastardize it to the point of uselessness. Over time, I forgot to process the dough into the clumpy stage, and instead left butter chunks like one would in a traditional pie crust. Then, because I had foregone the clumping step, I had to add more water to get the dough to come together. As you can imagine, this resulted in some pretty miserable, overworked pie crusts. And I wondered why this pie dough recipe that I thought was so amazing was failing me. So after a disappointing crust experience earlier this week, I went back to the original recipe and couldn’t believe how far I had strayed.
No more. I’ll let Kenji do the science-splainin’, but I documented this process step by step so I will never deviate from the path of pie crust righteousness again. I hope you’ll give it a try, and possibly convert to my Kenji-based religion. I’m having pamphlets made up.
Tools of the Trade
(Warning: Affiliate links ahead! I get a cut if you buy something, but I really recommend these products because I use them and bought them with my own money.)
Yes, you can make decent pie crusts with just your fingers, but a food processor is a must-have for this method. If you haven’t invested in a food processor yet, really consider it. I use mine all the time and it has lasted me 5 years and counting!
Beyond that, you definitely need a rolling pin (I prefer the French-style tapered rolling pin). Other things that I like to use are a food scale (if you are serious about baking, this is a necessity, in my opinion), a marble slab (keeps the dough cold and plastic wrap sticks well to it), a bench scraper (good for dividing dough, measuring diameter, and, yes, scraping dough off the counter), and plastic wrap and measuring spoons. I also like to use a pastry cutter to get my edges totally round, if I’m feeling like a perfectionist.
Combine two-thirds of the flour, the sugar, and the salt in your food processor and pulse to combine.
Slice up some butter, pop it into a bowl, and shove it in the freezer for a few minutes. Add your super-chilly butter slices into the food processor bowl.
Pulse until all the flour is moistened by the butter and the mixture starts to clump together. This will make you uncomfortable if you’re used to regular pie crust methods. You aren’t going to have any pea-sized butter chunks. Relax. It’s all going to be fine.
Add the remaining flour to the food processor bowl and pulse a few times until the clumps from the previous step are broken up. This flour should stay dry, not incorporate with the moistened flour. Turn the mixture out into a large mixing bowl.
Sprinkle ice cold water over the flour mixture. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the water, pressing it together until it forms a ball.
Divide the dough into two even parts.
Form each half into a disc, and wrap each disc in plastic wrap. Take your rolling pin and roll the dough in the plastic wrap until it is pressed to the edges and tight. Stick the dough discs into the fridge for at least 1 hour.
Roll your dough into a 14-inch circle. (If you have a bench scraper with inch units, it’s easy to measure!) If you want, you can trim the rough edges off with a pastry cutter so you have a perfect circle. I like to do this because it keeps my edges even and I don’t have to trim with scissors once it’s in the pie pan.
Roll the dough up onto your rolling pin, then unroll it over your pie pan. Gently press it so there are no gaps between the dough and the pie pan. If necessary, trim the edges with scissors so you have a ½-inch overhang all the way around. If you’re making a single-crust pie, fold the edge under, tucking it between the dough and the pie pan. Flute the edge with your thumb and forefinger. After adding the filling, brush the edge with an egg wash.
For a double-crust pie, roll out the second disc in the same manner as in Step 8 and drape it over the pie filling. You can use a full crust (cut 4 or 5 slits in the top for ventilation), cutouts (as I did here), or any number of other creative tops (e.g. lattice, leaves, polka dots, etc.). Pinch the top and bottom crusts together, then fold the combined edge over, tucking it between the dough and pie pan. Flute the edge with your thumb and forefinger. Brush with an egg wash and sprinkle the top with sugar.
- 3 cups (360 grams) all-purpose flour, divided
- 2 tablespoons (25 grams) granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1¼ cups (285 grams) unsalted butter, cut into slices and chilled
- 6 tablespoons ice water
- In the bowl of a food processor, pulse together 2 cups (240 grams) flour, sugar, and salt. Distribute butter slices over the top of the flour mixture. Pulse until the mixture clumps together and all the flour is moistened.
- Redistribute the mixture in the food processor bowl so it's evenly spread out. Sprinkle remaining 1 cup (120 grams) flour over the top and pulse until the clumps are just broken up, about 5 short pulses.
- Transfer dough to a large bowl. Sprinkle water over the top of the dough. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the water, pressing it down until it becomes a compact ball. Divide the ball into two even sections. Form each half into a disc and wrap in plastic wrap. Use a rolling pin to roll the dough in the plastic wrap so it is tight and spread to the edges. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before using. Freeze for longer storage; thaw overnight in the refrigerator before using.