Pie dough is one of those things that a lot of people, even some really good bakers, find intimidating. I’m not exactly sure why, but I’m amazed at the number of people who resort to purchasing the frozen kind. It’s so easy to make your own, and requires only pantry staples so you can make it at a moment’s notice. Now I know everyone seems to have their own thoughts on the “right” way to make pie dough. Some people insist shortening is necessary for a truly flaky crust. Some chill the ingredients at multiple stages throughout the process. I have tried probably close to 10 different recipes and at least in my book, they all end up with a pretty similar result. For me, that means shortening is not necessary (I hate it anyway) and all that meticulous chilling, well, I just don’t think it makes a significant difference.
You can use whatever recipe floats your boat – they are all variations on a basic theme, and there are just a few key techniques that help you achieve that buttery flaky crust we all love. I have included my favorite recipe at the bottom of this post. Another great thing is that you can make the dough so many different ways depending on what kind of equipment you have around. You can simply use a mixing bowl with a pastry cutter or two knives, or you can use a food processor or stand mixer (my preferred method). The principles are the same no matter what equipment you use so if you don’t have fancy kitchen equipment, do not be deterred! Let’s make pie dough!
First, mix up all the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. Usually a combination of mostly flour, a little sugar, and some salt.
(Time out – who’s that super cute little helper in the mixing bowl?)
Now you’ll take your butter and cut it up into small pieces. The butter does need to be very cold when you start working and if at any time during the process it starts to get soft or melt, chill it until it is firm again.
Toss the butter into the bowl with the dry ingredients…
…and mix until the mixture is coarse and sandy, and the largest butter pieces aren’t much bigger than peas. (If you are doing this by hand, just cut in the butter with a pastry blender until you achieve a similar result. If you are using a food processor, pulse the mixture together.)
Then you add a little bit of very cold water to the mixture and mix just until the dough clumps together. (Some recipes call for part vodka – again, I don’t think it’s necessary.)
Form the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator until firm, at least 30 minutes. It’s tough to see in the picture but hopefully you get a bit of marbling effect in the dough from the butter – that’s good. Those areas of still concentrated butter will help with the flakiness.
Once chilled, lightly flour a work surface.
Roll out the dough with a rolling pin. I lift up my dough sheet and rotate it every few rolls or so to prevent it from sticking to the work surface.
Check to be sure your dough is large enough to fit your pie plate.
To transfer the dough easily to your pie plate, wrap it loosely around your rolling pin…
…and then unroll it over the pie plate.
I take any excess edge pieces and use them to patch any tears or other edges that seem a little short.
Fill with your desired filling (cherries – mmmmmmmmm).
Repeat the process once more if you are using a top crust. Lay the top crust over the filling, pinch the edges together in a fluted pattern, and cut slits to allow steam to escape. Brush with egg wash – this is important! You want a lovely golden pie crust, trust me. Sometime soon I’ll do a post on a lattice top crust. Very easy and pretty, my favorite type of top crust.
Basic Pie Dough
Yield: 1 9-inch pie crust*
1¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp. sugar
¼ tsp. salt
8 tbsp. cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
3 tbsp. very cold water
Combine the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix briefly to blend. Add in the butter pieces and mix on medium-low speed to cut the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse sand and the largest butter pieces are not much bigger than peas. Mix in the cold water on low speed just until the dough comes together.
Shape the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. (This dough can be frozen for up to 2 months.) Remove from the refrigerator. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured work surface. Use as directed in your desired pie recipe.
*Double the recipe for a double crust pie.
Source: adapted from Williams Sonoma