Monday, November 19, 2012

Fast and Perfect Pie Crust

Pies have a bad reputation for being hard. It kind of makes sense. There's a long baking time and a longer cooling time. There's a filling that can puddle and a crust that--to talk to any foodie--seems as ripe for disaster as global warming itself. We are told that crust must be flavorful and flaky, but it can't fall apart upon eating. It should be golden. It should be tasty. It shouldn't shrink. It shouldn't shatter.  Blah blah blah. And because of all this fuss, there's a whole slew of internet suggestions for making your pie crust just so. Your hands can't touch it. You've got to chill it. You need shortening. You need ice. You need cold butter. You need alcohol (because it supposedly evaporates and leaves spaces for flakiness in case you were wondering). You need to take frozen butter and grate it in a cheese grater. You need a marble slab for kneading. You need to not add too much flour when rolling or it will be tough. You need to not roll it too long or it will be tough. You need pie weights. You need milk and sugar to be brushed on to it. You need a bloomin' anti-depressent, that's what you need.

But you see, the thing about making a pie--at least for me--is that it can be kind of therapeutic. The counter dusted with flour, the rolling of the dough, the peeling and slicing of the fruit, the methodology, the seasonality, the ritual as old as your great-grandmother herself. It's like yoga to me, um, minus the calorie burn. But it's not like yoga if you make it miserable. So in keeping with my lazy-but-good cook desires, here are some guidelines for making it as painless as possible.

You will need:
A food processor (although you might be able to get away with a blender)
Frozen butter
Cold water
salt or sugar (depending on whether you're making a savory or sweet pie)

It doesn't hurt to have:
a pie crust shield (one of those thingies you put on the pie crust to keep it from burning while the rest of the pie finishes baking--like this:

Here's how you do it.

1. Add 2 1/2 C flour to your food processor. Add 1 Tbsp sugar for a sweet pie (or 1 tsp salt for a savory one).
2. Pulse.
3. Cut your frozen butter(1 C) into squares with a nice sharp knife. (I find that cutting it leaves bigger chunks that are more likely to withstand imperfect crust-making skills.)
Toss those squares into the food processor and pulse several times. You want to get your butter into pea-sized bits (or so they say). If they get smaller than this, don't stress; you're fine. the fact that it's frozen will keep it from melting and completely incorporating into your dough. Ideally, you want little butter chunks, so that as the pie cooks you'll have a nice flaky crust with all the buttery flavor. Frozen butter chunks are the easiest and best way I know to accomplish this.
4. Add 1/4-1/2 C cold water in a stream as the processor runs until the dough starts to come together (not until it's a mushy mess). I usually use about 1/3 C water, sometimes with a couple extra tablespoons thrown in. It doesn't have to come together completely; it can look a little crumbly, but it shouldn't look like just a flour mixture anymore. It should look kind of like this:

5. Dump it out and form it into two balls.
6. Generously (as in GENEROUSLY) flour your surface. Ignore your too-much-flour fears because if you don't use enough here, your dough will stick and you'll have to re-roll and that means more flour and can't you just feel your blood pressure rising from the stress. It's still okay (see #8), but it'll stress you out and you don't need that.
(If you look closely, you can see the bits of butter still in this.)
7. Roll out one of your balls. It won't be perfectly round. That's okay. Patch as you need to. Reflour your rolling pin as necessary.

8. Fold it up and put it in your pan. Do some more patching if you have to. No biggie. If it happens to stick to your counter, don't cry. That butter's still cold and all is not lost. Just re-flour everything (GENEROUSLY) and roll it out again.
9. Fill your pan with fillings. P.S. While you do all this, you probably want to put your other ball in the fridge.
10. Then when your pie is filled, take out your ball of dough. Roll it out and flop it on top.
11. Cut off the overhanging pieces of pie crust and crimp the dough together somehow. It doesn't have to be perfect. If you like perfection, go online and find a few tutorials, but don't blame me if you get a headache. I just sort of pinch it together. When I was a kid, I used the tines of a fork to smash it and make a lined pattern for the crust.
12. Cut vents into your pie.
13. Line the bottom of your oven with aluminum foil. Your pie is going to bubble sugary stuff up and there is a decent chance some of this will bubble onto your oven. So give yourself a break and line it with foil first. [Note: This step should be somewhere above--it should be done BEFORE your oven is hot, okay.]
14. Cook your pie. Cover the edges with one of those pie shield things if you have one. If not, you can use aluminum foil. Or you don't have to do anything; life won't end; your edge crust will just get a little dark.

Now let's say you're doing an open-faced pie, such as a pumpkin pie. You can still make the full recipe of dough and save half. You can just freeze the ball (this is what I usually do), but if you've got a little extra energy you can roll it out and freeze it and have a ready-to-go pie crust for yourself. Here's how:
1. Roll it out.
2. Put wax paper on half of it and fold it in half over the wax paper.
(Here, there's wax paper on all because I wasn't quite thinking; it works too)
3. Put wax paper on half again and fold again. 

4. Wrap it in plastic wrap.

5. Put it in a Ziploc bag and put it in the freezer.

6. Before using, you'll need to de-thaw it a bit so you can unfold it easily. 


  1. I got on your site today specifically looking for a pir crust recipie. Thank you for having it ready and waiting. You are one of my go to sites for yumminess.

  2. Hello! Just a tip that I do when rolling out pie crust. I shake a little flour in a zip lock bag, then put my disc of dough in there and roll on top of the bag. It makes lots less mess and I'm all about that LOL! I then loosen the crust from the bag and ease it out. I place mine in layers of either plastic wrap or wax paper like you do for storing in the freezer except that I roll mine like the pillsbury premade crusts are rolled. I love having crusts in the freezer and if the food processor is already dirty, you might as well make a few extra crusts right? And these are so much CHEAPER than store bought!

    1. I'll have to try this. Does it come out big enough in the Ziploc bag? I tried once between 2 pieces of wax paper and got frustrated because it scooted all over the counter as I rolled, but a bag would stay better I think. Definitely going to give this a try.



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