I may have earned a master’s degree, gotten an important job that includes my own business cards and talking with important CEOs, and achieved a decent amount of career success up to this point in my life. And don’t get me wrong–that stuff is all important. But I would say I have at least an equal amount of pride in being able to make a great pie crust from scratch. Did I just tick off a bunch of feminists somewhere? Maybe, but I’m cool with that. Call me retro.
And speaking of work, Friday was my last day at my job in Chicago, so I will be calling myself a housewife over these next few weeks until we complete our move and I start my new job in January. Starting my Monday morning telling you about pie crust just seems fitting.
The story of my pie crust is pretty heavily linked to my family. Ever since my grandma passed away, my brother, sister, and I took on the responsibility of making pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving (something she’d always done). And let me tell you, I consider my grandma to be a great role model for all of my cooking and baking, plus an inspiration as I learn to cook myself. But when it came to pie crust, well, she originally used lard, and then bought into the shortening craze when that stuff came out (50s or 60s? I’m not sure). When she was gone, my dad asked us to try the crust with lard. The way he remembered it (I guess).
Frankly, I’m not a big pie fan myself. I like to make them, but pies generally aren’t at the top of my dessert hierarchy. So while I admit my opinion may be somewhat suspect here, I just didn’t think that the pie crust with lard was all that good. It was sort of greasy, and the lard was extremely difficult to work with. Not to mention the name. Lard. Ew. So one year I decided to experiment with butter-based pie crust. I made a pumpkin pie for Andy that may or may not have sealed the deal on him proposing marriage. That Thanksgiving, I secretly substituted butter for lard in the pie crust without telling my dad. He declared it great before I told him what was in it. Ever since then, buttery pie crust is part of our Thanksgiving tradition.
Now I’m not going to pretend this crust is easy, but with a couple of practice rounds you’ll get the hang of it, and you’ll be so glad you did. It puts any pre-made pie crust to shame. There are two key factors in the success of your crust. After mixing, refrigerate the dough for about 3-4 hours. Overnight is really too long, and anything shorter than 3 hours just isn’t enough. The other key is the amount of moisture, and that’s something you just have to get a feel for. The dough should be a touch sticky when it goes into the refrigerator. It’s better to have a little too much moisture at the beginning, because you can always add flour in when you’re rolling it out (be sure to liberally flour your counter and rolling pin).
A dry dough can be really frustrating to work with. However, if the dough does turn out to be too dry (it’ll crack and tear when you roll it), all hope is not lost. Keep a small bowl of cold water nearby, moisten your finger tips, and glue the cracks together. You can even do this when you put it into the pie pan. In past pies, I’ve actually pieced the crust together in the pan. Once the filling is there, no one knows the difference.
I decorated the edges of my most recent pie using little leaf cookie cutters that I picked up at Crate and Barrel a few years ago. If you want to do something like this, simply moisten the shapes a little to create a glue that will hold them to the crust. Make sure you make a foil tent around the edges when you bake these, or you risk burning them. Otherwise, just pinch the edges to create a nice, even look.
I most frequently use this crust for pumpkin pies, but it’ll work well with just about anything. If you can be patient with the dough, you’ll get a huge payoff from the friends and family who marvel at your baking skills.
Perfect pie crust
Yields crusts for 2 pies (or top and bottom of one pie); recipe easily scales up or down
- 2 and 1/2 c all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 c butter, chilled and diced into small cubes
- 1/2 c ice water
- Prepare water by filling a cup with ice and letting water sit in it while you mix other ingredients. The coldness of the water and butter are important.
- Combine flour and salt in a large bowl. Cut in butter using a pastry blender or your fingers until mix resembles coarse crumbs. Ensure that there are no large chunks of butter remaining.
- Begin stirring in water, about 1 tbsp at a time. You likely will not use the entire 1/2 c, but it’s good to have to ready. Use your hands to blend the dough and continue adding water until it forms a cohesive ball. Dough should be just slightly sticky.
- Wrap dough ball in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 3-4 hours. Overnight will be too long; any less than 3 hours won’t be enough.
- Once dough has chilled, flour your counter top. Cut dough ball in half and put one half back into the refrigerator. Using the palms of your hands, squash dough into a flat disc. It will begin to warm slightly as you do this, making it a little easier to roll.
- Use all the elbow grease you can muster to roll into more than enough crust for a 9″ pie pan. It should be about 1/6-1/8 of an inch thick. If crust cracks during rolling, moisten your finger tips with cold water and glue it back together.
- Fold the crust in half, then in half again. Transfer to a glass pie dish and unfold. Trim edges. Repeat with second half of dough.
- Bake according to filling recipe. If the edges of the crust begin to burn, cover with foil.