Piecrust for Everyone — Easy, I Promise
A perfect piecrust is not that difficult, really. This technique, using your food processor can turn your pies into delicious works of art.
I have been baking pies for as long as I can remember. The crusts used in these culinary experiments have ranged from those awful preformed frozen messes I used as a novice, to what is now my standard go to recipe. There is nothing, and I mean nothing, as wonderful for dessert (or breakfast) than a slice of a deliciously filled, flaky-crusted pie.
To make this most masterful of culinary delights, you will need 3 ingredients and ice water. For a double crust, (and you should always make a double crust even if only using one crust. You can freeze the other) they are: Two and one-half cups of all purpose flour, King Arthur flour if you can get it; One cup of very cold butter, or a mixture of half a cup of butter and half a cup of lard, very cold; and, a teaspoon of salt. FYI a stick of butter is a half of a cup.
You will also need approximately one-quarter to one-half a cup of ice water. I mean it when I say ICE WATER. Put actual ice cubes into the water and let it sit while you are processing the other ingredients. It makes a difference.
Having a food processor makes this an easy preparation. Before you begin playing with your ingredients however, prepare two pieces of cling film (plastic wrap) by spreading them open on your counter. Make them about 20" long and have them laid out and ready to place your finished dough onto.
Pour the flour into the food processor bowl and add the salt. Pulse a few times. Unwrap the Very Cold butter you have been storing in your refrigerator and cut the first stick lengthwise into four long rods by cutting it in half, turning it ninety degrees and cutting it again into quarters. Then using your chef knife or a kitchen scraper cut the resultant long rods of butter into small, approximately one-half inch, cubes.
Put these pieces into the food processor and pulse it about 8–10 times. Do the same with the second stick of butter or the 1/2 cup of lard you are using, and pulse the food processor 12–15 additional times. The result should be a lumpy, crumbly distribution of the fat(s) throughout the flour.
You are now going to add the cold water, a little at a time, about 1/8 of a cup with each addition. Take the lid off of the food processor and pour the ater around the entire circle of the bowl. After each addition of water pulse the food processor 10–15 times. The dough will not come together as a ball, but rather it will be a rough mixture of crumbly clumps that will hold together when you take up a small handfull of it and squeeze.
This state of balance between crumb and dough takes a while to recognize and can take anywhere between a quarter to a half cup of water to achieve depending on your flour’s attitude. Be patient, go slowly. When ready, the mix will be crumbly but not dry, there will be some sections that are stuck together in large clumps and some that are more like pea sized crumbs. That is how it is supposed to be.
That’s it for mixing. ignored your desire to knead or form the dough into a ball.
Using your eye as your guide, put half the mixture in a pile on each of the two pieces of cling film that you have spread out on your counter top. They don’t have to be perfect just place a pile of your crumbly mixture in the middle of each. Evenly distribute the clumps and the crumbs on each sheet of the plastic wrap, and then bring up the sides of the plastic wrap to begin forming a disc of dough. Wrap the dough in the plastic and flatten the pile of the mixture within the bundle with your hand. Then using your hands as molds, turn and flatten the wrapped bundle a few times until it comes together as a disc. (The disc should look like the one pictured below).
The plastic wrap will keep the mixture moist in the fridge and the dough will come together as the flour absorbs more of the moisture in the mix (through osmosis, I love science). After chilling for no less than an hour, the dough will be ready to be rolled out and made into a perfect crust.
If you need to store the dough for longer, put the wrapped disc into a plastic bag and refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze it. Allow it to thaw in the fridge overnight before you use it, however.
You are ready to roll out your pie crust. See the photo below for what you will need.
Unwrap your disc of dough. It should be dotted with pieces of the butter and stay together fairly well. Turn it out of the plastic onto a floured surface, like a slap of granite or marble if you have one, or onto your counter top if you don’t.
Starting at the center roll outward putting some pressure on your rolling pin. Turn the dough, ninety degrees and do it again. Turn the dough over. If it is crumbly give it a spritz of water.
Using the sides of your hand, go all around the disc pushing inward to press away any cracks that have formed on the perimeter of the disc. Keep doing this rolling, turning, pressing routine until the dough is about 16" in diameter and is fairly thin and uniform. The process of continuously moving the dough and turning it over on a floured surface keeps it from sticking to the surface you are rolling it out on or to the rolling pin. You can dust any excess flour off the dough before putting it in its pie pan.
Drape the dough over your rolling pin and transfer it to your pie pan. It is important to press the dough up snug against the sides of the pie pan using your fingers or the side of a measuring cup so there are no air pockets between the dough and the pan. Trim the sides of the dough to about one inch beyond the edge of the pie pan and put it in the refrigerator while you roll out your top crust.
I assume you have made the filling for whatever flavor pie you are making?
If you are blind baking this crust, put it in a 350 Fahrenheit oven with a piece of parchment paper filled with beans, rice, or my favorite, pea gravel weighing it down. I keep a bowl of clean stones in my cupboard for exactly this purpose. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until nice and golden. It will be a lovely bottom to whatever you are planning for it.
If you are making a two crust pie, roll out your top layer and cut it into a circle about a half inch larger than the diameter of your pie pan. Place the top crust over your filling or cut into slices and weave a lattice. It is important to crimp the edges of your pie closed so the filling does not leak out.
To do this, lightly dampen the edges of the top crust and fold the overhanging bottom crust over it all the way around.
You can crimp the edge of the pie now with the tines of a fork, or using your fingers pinch the crust all around for a raised edge. Cut a few holes in the top crust to allow steam to escape, and you are ready to bake.
I like to decorate my pies. In the photo below I made the roses and braided edge of the pie with leftover scraps of dough. The texture of the crust was made with a fork pressed into the dough in alternating directions. This photo is of an apple pie from last fall. It’s obvious I was spending a lot of time in my kitchen during the pandemic.