It is my firm opinion that pie crust makes a pie. I will never, ever bake with a store-bought pie crust. Ever. I don’t trust them. How can I guarantee that a pie will taste delicious if I can’t ensure the top quality and true love that went into all the bits – from the crust to the filling to the cinnamon sprinkled on top?
From the time I was tiny, I was spoiled by my grandma’s super flaky pie crust. I was fascinated to find out that science was behind its deliciousness: the science of cold, cold butter and icy cold water. Wow. Food + science, two things I can geek out on till the cows come home. And from the day my grandma bestowed that knowledge upon me, I have diligently prepared from scratch crust after crust for my pies.
There are a couple of different ways to make crust – I have done vegan (ok, but no match for butter) and a shortening-butter combo (which is flaky for sure, though shortening is sort of gross). There’s something about an all-butter crust that I find charming. It’s so… I don’t know…. American? Not that I generally associate charm with America, but in the case of pie, I think it rings true. All-butter crust feels genuine, wholesome, endearing. A true-blue pal.
Right. So, this is a pastry blender —>
It’s your best friend when you’re making pie crust. I made crust for a good 7-8 years without a pastry blender, because I didn’t know what it was (have I mentioned my Mom doesn’t bake?). Instead, I would use two knives to “cut in” the butter. Not fun. So if you are looking to make pie dough, do yourself a favor and invest in one of these bad boys.
Another secret I will let you in on: Danish Creamery butter. Yeah, it’s pretty pricey. But life is too short to eat less-than-perfect pie. The aroma that this European-style butter gives off about 10 minutes into baking the pie is enough to make your mouth water and your roommates glad they live with you. If that’s not reason enough to use it, then you will never be convinced.
All-butter pie crust
(adapted from my kitchen hero over at Smitten Kitchen)
Makes enough dough for one double pie crust, or two single-crust pies. I prefer to make pie crust at least a day before I’ll be baking pie. It’s crucial that the crust chills and the butter hardens again. If you have limited time, you can stick it in the freezer for an hour or two before rolling it out.
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter, very cold!
Make your ice water! I use a 2-cup liquid measuring cup, fill it with cold water, and add a handful of ice cubes. Set aside.
Take the butter out of the freezer and sprinkle over the flour mixture. Using your handy pastry blender, press and scoop the mixture, rotating the bowl to evenly distribute the butter throughout the mixture. A firm wrist and twisting motion work well here. You want to get the butter to break down into pea-sized pieces – it might be a bit uneven, but that’s okay.
Fill a 1/4 c. measuring cup with some of the ice water and sprinkle it over the mixture, shaking the bowl to more evenly distribute the water over the dough. Using a rubber spatula, press the the dough together, scraping the sides and pressing into the middle. Sprinkle more water as needed, about a tablespoon at a time (you’ll need 3-5 tablespoons more). You need just enough water to be able to get the dough to begin to clump together. You can then use your hands to gently press and knead the dough together into a roughly-shaped ball (don’t knead it too much or the butter bits will become too integrated and the flakiness of your crust will be compromised).
Yeah! You did it. Now divide the dough ball into two and wrap each of the smaller dough balls in plastic wrap and stick them in the fridge. If you’re not going to use the dough within a few days, you should wrap it in another layer of plastic and stick it in the freezer (it’ll keep for up to a few weeks).
P.S. There is almost certainly nothing more spectacularly and simply delicious as pie crust cookies. When I roll out my crusts, I always make a valiant effort to be very conservative with the crust so I can use the leftovers to make this delicious treat (& for the record: there is no shame in whipping up a batch of dough solely for the purpose of baking crust cookies). Roll out the dough on a generously-floured surface. Brush the top with milk or egg and sprinkle with a cinnamon-sugar mixture. Bake for 8-10 minutes till they turn golden brown. Let cool for a few minutes and then enjoy the soul-warming that ensues.