So, we've all heard about the health risks of hydrogenated oils such as shortening. Not to mention it's just bland and gunky. So wouldn't it be better to use butter? But, you need the shortening to make a good flaky crust, right? Actually, no! I use butter for all my pie crusts, and we all love them!
This recipe is partially based on the tutorial from Smitten Kitchen, but is also the result of my own experimentation.
And as always, if anything is unclear, feel free to ask for clarification in the comments!
Step 1: What You Need
- 2 1/2 cups flour, plus extra to throw everywhere (be generous!)
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt (1 tsp if using unsalted butter)
- 2 sticks (8 ounces, 1 cup) butter, chilled
- A cup or so of cold water (it's kind of a "to desired consistency" thing)
This recipe makes enough for one two-crust pie or two one-crust pies (we usually use 9 or 10 inch pans; it's flexible), so if you only need one crust, just halve the recipe!
Step 2: Mixing Dry Ingredients and Adding Butter
Mix together flour, sugar, and salt. Then, cut the butter into approximately 1 in. cubes, and throw them into the flour mixture. Take your pastry blender, and begin cutting at the butter, until it's in little clumps (size of big sunflower seeds, or small peas), as shown in the picture. I usually have to squeeze the side of the pastry blender to help keep the tines (or whatever they're called) straight, and pick up some pieces and push them through manually. Remember that it's better to have it a little extra clumpy than overly pulverized! Before I had a pastry blender, I cut at the butter with two knives, but that's so much work!
Once the butter is cut in, put the bowl in the freezer for about a half hour or so. That may seem like a waste of time, but I have done crusts where I did this and ones where I didn't, and the ones where I froze the flour/butter mixture came out a lot flakier! The reason is that the flakiness is produced by pieces of butter in the dough, that melt when it's baked. If all the butter melts during pre-bake handling, there won't be any pieces of butter to produce the flakes. And freezing the butter goes a long way to helping it hold up during rolling and shaping.
Step 3: Adding the Water
Now we gradually drizzle in the water. I generally start with about a 1/4 cup, and add more by tablespoons as needed. Add some water, mix it up, add more water, mix it up, until the dough is of a moldable consistency. As you add water, try to incorporate it more with the more dry, loose dough, than with the dough that's already forming clumps. You don't want it too dry, or it will fall apart, and you don't want it too wet, or it will be all sticky. But, if you must err on one side or the other, it's better for it to be wet, then you can just cover it with more flour to keep it from sticking.
The most efficient method for mixing is to just mix it up with your hands (don't knead it, though!). The downside to this is that's it's kinda messy, but you can wash :-P. Or you can use a spoon or stir stick, as shown in the pictures; it's just a bit less efficient.
When dough is moldable, shape it into two lumps (each will become one pie crust). At this point it wouldn't hurt to put it in the fridge for a while, especially if your kitchen is extra warm.
Step 4: Rolling Out the Dough
Take one of your lumps of dough, and cover it generously with flour. Throw flour on the table, and rub it on the rolling pin; the more the merrier! Roll over the dough a couple times, then flip it over and turn it the other way, then roll it some more, adding more flour as needed to prevent sticking. If it does stick, just scrape it up with a spatula or knife or scraper or something, and put more flour under it. Remember, it's better to use extra flour than to not use enough!
Repeat until the dough is about 1/4 in. thick and roughly a flat round shape (don't worry too much about the exact shape!).
Step 5: Putting Crust in Pie Plate
Put your pie plate upside down on the crust, and cut around it with a knife, a couple inches from the edge of the pan. If some part of the crust is not wide enough, take pieces from a wider part, and rub the edge of that piece and the edge you want to lengthen with water, and overlap them slightly. Press down the overlapped edges to join them together. This is the same thing to do if you get cracks in the dough while rolling it out, or any time you just need to add to some spot for whatever reason. Make sure to add more flour under and on the join, as the additional water can make it a bit sticky!
Grease the pie plate. Fold the crust into fourths, and center the point in the pie plate. Then carefully unfold it, and re-position it as needed to get it centered as well as possible.
If you're making a one-crust pie, start rolling the edge inward. Roll it inward, then press it so it sticks up over the edge of the plate, and doesn't fall into the plate. Keep going around the whole edge of the crust. If some part is too thin, just roll a bit of extra dough into the edge. Then, you can either leave it like that, make indents all around the edge with a fork, or pinch it into a fluted shape, as shown.
If you're making a two-crust pie (unfortunately I don't have pics on hand for this), leave the edges flopped over the pan. Roll out the other lump of dough, as in step 4. Add filling to the first crust. Then, either (1) cut the second crust into a circle slightly wider than the top of the pie plate, lay it over the filling, and cut slits in it, or (2) cut the second crust into strips approximately 1 in. wide, and lay strips over the filling, about 2 in. apart. Then place a strip crosswise across those strips, near the edge of the crust, and place more strips in the first direction, between the ones already placed (with ends on top of the crosswise strip). Fold the strips that have their ends under the crosswise strip back, and place another strip parallel to it, and then fold the other strips back to where they were. You should see a lattice or basket-weave pattern forming. Repeat until the filling is covered by woven strips of crust. Or, if you find that too much work, you can (3) just lay the strips on one way, and lay the other strips on top of them the other way, but that's cheating you know ;-). Once the filling is covered, roll and shape the edge, as with the one-crust pie.
To pre-bake a single pie crust (such as for an unbaked filling), either poke holes all over it, or put a sheet of foil or parchment in it and fill the foil or parchment with beans or other weights (disclaimer: I haven't actually done the "weight" method, I've only read about it). Bake at 425°F until lightly browned (about 10 to 12 minutes).
Step 6: Bonus: What to Do With Extra Crust?
There will always be some extra dough left; I usually end up with quite a bit. Sometimes the twin 3yr olds make off with it and gobble it up before I can do anything with it, but if not, I like to make these simple pie crust cookies. Roll out excess dough, and form into a rectangular shape. This generally involves a lot of gluing pieces together with water, as explained in step 5. Don't worry, it doesn't have to be perfect! Then, smear it all over with butter, and cover with sugar and cinnamon. Starting at one edge, roll it into a log. Then slice the log into pieces about 1 inch wide, and place on a cookie sheet. Bake at 425° F for about 10 min, or until lightly browned. I usually do this in the toaster oven, because there aren't very many, but sometimes I make enough dough for an extra crust, and use it to make more cookies! :-D