There are three keys to making perfect pie crusts. The first is choosing the right ingredients in the right ratio. The second is cutting the butter or shortening into the flour mixture properly. The third is maintaining the correct temperature.
1. The Ingredients
Pie crusts are a mixture of flour, fat, and water. The best recipes seem to have a common ratio of these ingredients: 1/4 cup water to 1/2 cup fat to 2 1/2 cups flour. (The flour should be measured by spooning the flour into the measure, not scooping it. Scooping packs the flour and overloads the formula.) Add one-half teaspoon of salt and you have a recipe for a double crust.
2. Butter or Shortening
For the fat, you can use either butter or shortening or a combination. (Butter is 15% water so cut back slightly on the water when using butter—though the ratio is forgiving enough that you probably won’t notice the difference.) If you are making more than one pie, just change the amounts but keep the same proportions.
It is important that you cut the fat into the flour mixture properly. For that you will need a pastry knife. With a pastry knife, cut the butter or shortening through the flour until the mixture is coarse and nearly uniform without large chunks remaining. If you are using butter, work quickly so that the butter doesn’t become soft or melt.
Temperature may be even more important than balance—especially if you are using butter. The trick is to keep the butter and the dough cold enough that the butter pieces remain intact. If it gets too warm, it melts and saturates the flour. (The same thing happens with shortening but the melting temperature of shortening is higher.) It’s the little pieces of butter that makes the crust flaky. As the butter heats in baking, little pockets of steam are formed from the butter nodules.
To keep your dough cold, use only the coldest butter and water. Then refrigerate the dough for an hour before forming the pie. If making multiple pies, take only enough dough from the refrigerator for one pie keeping the rest cold until you are ready to for it.
Recipe for a Double Crust
1/4 cup ice water
1/2 cup shortening
2 1/2 cups pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
- Mix the salt and flour together with a whisk.
- Cut the shortening into the flour mixture until you have a coarse, nearly uniform mixture.
- Make a well in the center and add the ice water. Mix with a fork until it comes together into a dough ball. Knead a few times, only until the dough is smooth. Extra kneading will make the crust tough instead of crumbly.
- Roll the dough to about 1/8 inch thick and form the crust.
Just-Add-Water Pie Crust Mix
A just-add-water pie crust mix makes a remarkable pie crust with little work. Just add cold water and beat for moment with the paddle and your stand-type mixer. Mix only until it comes together into a dough ball. With and electric mixer, it’s easy to beat too long and the dough will be tough.
To learn more about pies and get pie recipes, download The Perfect Pie recipe e-book.