Nov 14, 2011

Buttery Flaky Pie Crust

Pies. Homemade pies to be exact. One of those things you (like I) probably took for granted growing up. (I do miss my Granny's pies) Usually, the filling gets all the credit, it gets to be the "star" of the show. All the while, true pie connoisseurs know that it's that buttery-flaky crust, or tender crust if that's how you roll (pun intended), that makes for a scrumptious perfect pie.

Most crust recipes start out the same. They usually contain flour, salt, fat (butter, shortening, lard, or even sometimes oil), and water (or other liquid). Recently, I've been doing some experimenting with different recipes. What I've been noticing is, although the ingredient lists and amounts may vary, the directions are similar.

I thought I'd share my own basic go-to pie crust recipe that can be used for either a sweet or savory pie. More importantly, I wanted to include all of the detailed steps along with some pointers and tips for the execution that might help in making a successful pie crust.

First, let's go over the list of the ingredients which seem simple, and yet each one plays a particular role in your crust. (ok, enough with the puns hehe) All Purpose flour is most commonly used but Pastry Flour is probably the best because it has less protein/gluten, which makes for a more tender crust. (I almost always use A.P flour, no biggie)

To me, the type of fat that you use has more bearing on the outcome of the crust texture than the flour. Choosing which fat you use is totally a personal preference. Using all lard or shortening will give you the flakiest crust, however, will lack that rich buttery flavor. When you use all butter in a crust, you get a wonderful flavor and mouth feel, but it is considered to be more of a "tender" crust that is a more crumbly, rather than a flaky, crust. I want the best of both worlds, so I use butter and shortening.

The remaining two ingredients are water (or other liquid) and salt. Water is used as a binder for the fat and flour. Sometimes a juice or other liquid will be substituted. Finally, salt is added merely for flavor. This amount can be adjusted to your liking.

Ok, so here's my favorite pie crust recipe. One that is similar to what my dear ol' Granny used. She never measured anything (of course), but I can sure remember how it tasted and this is as close as I can get.

Printable version (opens in a new window)

Buttery Flaky Pie Crust
Makes 1 (generous) 9” pie crust
You can double recipe for a double crust pie, but be careful not to over mix the dough.

1 ½ C All purpose flour
½ tsp Salt
4 Tbsp (1/2 stick) Unsalted butter (real butter NOT margarine)
4 Tbsp Shortening, chilled, cut into pieces
3-4 Tbsp (maybe more) Ice water

Making the Dough:
First, and foremost, throughout this whole process it is important to keep all of the ingredients (and later the actual dough) chilled, right up to the baking point. If your fats become too soft at any point, you will not have a "flaky" crust in the end result. (this is also why you use REAL butter) So, you'll have to get your butter/shortening chilling before you even begin. (don't skip this step) Cut the butter into tablespoon sized chunks and place along with the tablespoon-measured shortening onto a plate and chill in the freezer while you assemble and measure out other ingredients. 

Once chilled, cut up the butter pats into fourths and the shortening into smaller bits as well, keeping them all about the same size. This will help make the mixing/pulsing process quicker.

In a glass measuring cup, fill ½ with ice then fill with water and set aside.
In a food processor, quickly pulse together flour and salt, until just combined. 

Add in butter and shortening, pulsing a few times just until fats are a bit larger than pea size. Alternatively, if mixing by hand, you can "cut" in the fat with the flour using a pastry blender or by using two butter knives in a crisscross fashion.

Drizzle in 3 Tbsp of ice water and pulse (or work with a pastry blender if by hand)  just a few times until dough just comes together. It will look a little dry, that's ok, but it should press together and hold its shape. If too dry, add additional water, one tablespoon at a time pulsing after each addition. Alternatively, you could spray it with water in a spray bottle, just to make sure you don't get the dough too wet. Do not over mix. (You will want to see the pea-sized butter and shortening flecks in your crust when you roll it out) Also, if you work the dough too much it will come out tough. In the pic below, it's almost mixed to much, one more pulse and I would have been in trouble ;)

Gently gather and press dough into a ball, and shape into a disc. Once in a disc, wrap well in plastic wrap and place in fridge to rest and cool for about 1 hour. This helps to relax the dough and also insures that your fats don't soften up. Note in the pic you can still see flecks of butter and shortening. Pressing the dough into a disk rather than shaping it into a ball allows it to chill faster. This will also make the dough easier to roll out, and if you choose to freeze it, it will thaw more quickly. (Do ahead tip: pie dough discs may be stored, double wrapped in plastic and frozen, up to 1 month in the freezer, or 2 weeks in the refrigerator.) 

After your dough has rested and chilled out in the fridge, roll out the disk of the dough onto plastic wrap or a pastry board that's been lightly dusted with flour. Roll to about ¼” thick, always working from the center outward. I use my fondant rolling pin with bands to insure that I get the same thickness all the way around. You may need to sprinkle just a bit of flour onto the top to keep the rolling pin from sticking. Or, my personal favorite method, place plastic wrap on the top of the dough while I roll it out and when I get it to just about the size I want, I remove the top plastic and sprinkle with a bit of flour. Rub that in with my hand then roll the rest of the way out.

Choosing your pie plate:
Baked pie crusts need a LOT of heat source, they also do better in certain types of pie plates. Glass, ceramic, or stoneware pie plates work best because they retain the heat in the oven better. Especially if you are baking a fruit or custard pie. Aluminum or shiny pans tend to reflect the heat too much. I usually use glass pie plates so I can see the bottom of the crust. 

Making a one crust pie:
Roll pie crust dough onto itself using a rolling pin, pulling off the (bottom) plastic wrap as you go. 

Then, while it's draped over your rolling pin, transfer to a pie plate. Starting on one side, gently lower crust into pie plate, unrolling off of the pin as you go, being careful not to stretch dough. (note that I am left handed, so I lay it down from left to right. If you're right handed of course, you'll be moving from right to left)
If it does seem like it's stretched over the pie plate too much, don't press it down in there. Instead, carefully lift the overhang of the edges and nudge it down into the pie plate. It should be relaxed, but be touching all sides and bottom of the pie plate.

Time to make a decorative edge: 
Trim edges with a knife or scissors, leaving a 1” overhang. (BTW, Don't throw away those scraps!)

Now tuck the 1" excess overhang under all the way around. (more scraps, add them to your pile)

"Flute" the edges of the pie crust by pinching with the forefinger and thumb. There are, of course, lots of ways to decorate the pie edge, this just happens to be my fav. The crust will puff up during baking so, if you want definition in your pie's edge, be sure to make it a little exaggerated.  

Almost ready to fill....but WAIT! Place back into fridge to chill for a ½ hour before filling or baking. (don't skip this step) The dough must be chilled if a flaky crust is desired. The chilled bits of fats, once introduced to the oven heat, will melt and produce little pockets of steam in between layers of the flour/water while baking. This is what actually produces a flakier crust. After you've done all that rolling and shaping, it's likely that your fats have softened up quite a bit. Also, this step will help prevent the pie crust from shrinking too much when it bakes. So chill your crust and prepare your filling while you wait. 

For a 2 crust pie:
Trim bottom crust even with brim of pie pan (don't leave an overhang). Put into the fridge to chill while you roll out the top crust. Pour the filling into the bottom pie, then top with the top crust and leave a 1” over hang all the way around the brim. Tuck the top crust over-behind and under the bottom crust, sealing the edges. Flute the pie crust by pinching with the forefinger and thumb. Place filled pie back into the fridge to let the crust chill again for at least 15-20 minutes before baking. Once chilled, bake your pie according to the recipe.

Pie Crust Baking Tips:

  • Some recipes suggest that you brush the pie with either milk, cream, or an egg wash (beat one egg white or whole egg with 1 tbsp of water to thin). This aids in getting a deeper golden brown color on the crust. Milk or cream will give your crust a crispier texture on top, while egg wash will brown but keep the crust tender and flakier. It's just a matter of preference.
  • Oven temperatures are usually set to high when baking most pies. (425°F) In some cases, they will start out high and then you turn the oven down after a specific time. (usually after 15-20 minutes) The reason for this is again, going back to the steam thing, you need high temps and cold fats initially to achieve this.
  • Place your pie crust on a baking sheet before placing into the oven. This will be easier to move your pie crust in and out of the oven during various steps. Also, if you're doing a filled pie, it keeps possible bubble-overs from messing up (and burning in the bottom of) your oven.
  • If you have a baking stone, place the baking sheet directly onto the stone. This will help the pie crust to bake more evenly on the bottom and prevent an otherwise soggy crust.
  • Bake your pie in the middle of the oven. This will also help it to bake more evenly. Also, be sure to always preheat your oven at least 1/2 hour before putting your pie in.
  • If the edges of the crust start turning brown too soon, you can use a pie ring to protect the edges, or, take a long strip of aluminum foil and wrap it around the outside edge of the pie. You can do this before or anytime during the baking.
Blind baking:
"Blind baking" is a method used when you need to bake the crust before filling it. This would be used when a "baked pie shell" is called for in a recipe. Like (refrigerated) cream pies where the filling isn't baked at all, or even some pie recipes that the crust would take longer than the filling to bake, like quiche, for example. 

Preheat oven to 425°F. Place a round of parchment paper or waxed paper in center of crust and then cover with either pie weights or dry beans. (this helps keep the pie crust from bubbling up while all those steam pockets are being created)
Bake the pie shell for about 20-30 minutes or just until the edges are a very light brown. (hey, darker if you prefer)
Remove from oven and remove parchment and pie weights. If necessary, return to oven and bake for just about 5 more minutes so that the bottom is baked and also lightly browned. Set aside to cool completely at room temperature while you make the filling.

Now, what to do with all of those pie crust scraps???
How about a cinnamon roll? My grandpa use to call this a "baker's snack". Just gather the scraps all up, press them all together, and roll them out in a rectangle. Spread with margarine or softened butter and sprinkle with white or brown sugar and cinnamon. Roll it up into a long log, being sure to pinch and seal the ends. Roll it over, seam side down, onto a baking sheet or piece of heavy duty foil. Brush with egg wash or milk and bake for about 20-25 minutes (I usually do this on the top rack, while my pie is baking)

Ok, so there you have it. My version and technique for a flaky pie crust. I'll be blogging some pies throughout the holidays and I'll list the links here as I go.
Classic Apple Pie

If you have any comments or care to share any tips or techniques of your own, by all means, leave me a comment! I'd love to hear from you.

In the meantime, here are more pie recipes from some friends to munch on:
Click here for more pies and pie crust recipes


Culinary Alchemist said...

Awesome DD. Butter/Shortening is my favorite dough for pies. It's the way my grandma does it too. Can't wait for the Apple pie recipe

Spryte said...

DD... I ALWAYS make a little cinnamon roll with the leftover dough!

DDpie said...

Shane- it's almost done, I got all caught up with someone's links today LOL j/k ;)
Spryte- yum, right???

Patti T. said...

We used to all fight over the cinnamon "snails" when I lived at home. I must be doing something wrong, I rarely have any scraps leftover, sigh.

GigiCanCook said...

Hey Girl, sounds like a wonderful recipe and I will try it next week. Also, wanted to say we took a cooking class in Italy last month, and Chef Andrea showed us to add crushed plain cookies to the top of the pie crust before you add the filling. It helps absorb the moisture that might make your bottom crust soggy.

mary kay said...

Sooooo glad you're back posting!!!

DDpie said...

Patti- well girl, increase your recipe! I gots to have me some cinnamon rolls ;)
Gigi- oh what an excellent tip! I will definitely have to try that one
Mary Kay- thanks so much, it's good to be back, I've missed it :(

Martha said...

What an awesome tutorial. I've been making pies for many years, but I learned several things I never knew. Thanks for posting!

DDpie said...

wow thank you Martha, what a compliment. Feel free to drop in anytime and give me pointers, I need all the help I can get LOL