Pie crust is one of those things that is SO personal. People have their tried and true methods, family recipes, things they swear by. I find it so interesting to learn how people make pies the way their grandma or mom always did, or how they learned some cool trick from a youTuber, or just what someone else does to make their pie beautiful or special.
I have my favorite recipe and technique, but I’m always open to new ideas and trying new things too. I’m going to share my go to recipe with you though, that always gives me an amazingly flaky crust on my pies. It isn’t complicated, but there a few key points that really make the difference in how your crust comes out.
I will confess that I am completely a substance over style person in all aspects of life. I don’t care if it looks pretty if it doesn’t taste amazing. So this crust recipe is all about taste and flakiness. If you look at those completely beautiful and intricate pie crust designs some talented bakers do online, this is not the crust for that. It has a high fat content, with large blocks of unincorporated fat, which is what gives it so much flake. That also means it doesn’t hold shape as well as crust designed for intricacy. You will see this in my pictures. There are many great recipes out there for crust that is optimized for designing a beautiful crust that holds it shape if you are looking for more of that angle.
This recipe uses vodka, and I explain a bit about that in my post on making empanadas. The vodka helps increase your dough flakiness by retarding the gluten development. The vodka evaporates during cooking, so you don’t taste it, but it is a key component. It needs to be very cold, so I keep a bottle in my freezer at all times. Comes in handy for drinks too. 🙂
Factors to pay attention to when making pie crust:
Temperature – this is probably the most important thing. Everything needs to stay cold. Some people even freeze their mixing bowls and tools. I don’t go nearly that far, but you do need to be very aware you are not warming up your butter/shortening when you handle your dough. In the summer, it can be difficult to work with pie dough. You have to move fast, and sometimes you need to return your materials to the fridge for a bit if they start to get too warm. It is definitely easier in the winter! The vodka and water you add both need to be ice cold.
Over mixing – This is another deal breaker for pie crust. In order to get the best texture, there need to be different sized pieces of unincorporated fat in your dough. If you mix the dough too much or for too long, you risk mixing the fat in too much and also developing more gluten which toughens your dough.
Time – Pie crust can’t be rushed. It really is best if you can make your dough the day before and allow it to rest in the fridge overnight. This allows the flour to fully hydrate and the dough to relax and meld together. If you forgot to do it the day before, do it at least a few hours before hand so it can rest and get fully cold in the fridge.
Also once you begin to work with your dough, work quickly and efficiently. The longer the dough sits out, the warmer it will get.
Chilling – Once you have rolled out your pie crust and lined your pan, you should put the lined pie plate back into your fridge to chill again for 30 minutes before you bake. This helps it hold shape. If I am doing a lattice top, or other design with pieces for the top, I also roll out my top crust components, place them onto parchment lined baking sheets and return to my fridge to chill while I am working on the filling for the pie.
Tools – There are many tools that can be used to incorporate the fat into the flour for pie crust. You can use whatever you are comfortable using. Some people use pastry cutters like this or this and they can be very helpful in keeping your fat cold if you are new to pie crust.
I prefer to use my hands because I find it the fastest and easiest way to judge how my dough is coming along, but you have to work fast and be very careful not to get the dough too warm. I also use a bench scraper like this to help my dough come together without touching it too much.
Double Crust Pie Dough (makes a top and bottom crust for 9 inch pie):
- 2 1/2 cups AP flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 12 tbsp cold unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup cold shortening (I keep a small can of crisco in my fridge for this)
- 4 tbsp ice cold water
- 4 tbsp ice cold vodka
Whisk the flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Cut the butter into 1/2 inch pieces. Place 1/3 of the butter cubes plus the shortening into your flour. Quickly toss the fat in the flour and start to work the butter/shortening into the flour. If using hands, pick up the pieces of butter and shortening in some flour very quickly and press/rub them until the break apart. Your goal is not to fully break down the fat, just to make it into smaller pieces and blend some of it with the flour. Do this until you have some pea sized butter bits and some slightly smaller pieces. Now take the rest of the butter cubes and toss those in. You are going to leave some of these a bit larger. You want a range from wet sand to almond size fat pieces. If at any time it feels like the butter is getting soft or just starting to blend too much with the flour, stop and put the bowl in the fridge for 30 minutes.
Once you have your range of fat pieces, sprinkle 2 tbsp of vodka over and toss with a fork. Add another 2 tbsp vodka and toss again. Then do the same with the water. You will likely need all 8 tbsp liquid and possibly slightly more, but you don’t want wet dough so go slowly here. Lightly grab a clump of dough and see if it kind of sticks loosely together. If it does, you are ready for the next step. If it is still very dry and won’t clump at all, add another tbsp water, toss and try again.
Dump the clumpy mixture onto a lightly floured counter. Using a bench scraper and your palm, start the pull the crumbs inward and press them down and against the sides of the main lump of dough. Get the scraper under half the clumps and fold them over onto the rest and lightly press. Keep gently folding and pressing as the dough comes together into a mass. You do not want to over work it, so proceed carefully.
Once your dough is mostly staying together, give a couple more folds and stop. If you divide the dough into 2 with your scraper, you should be able to see layers. You should still see large blobs of butter here or there. If the dough looks uniform, you have overmixed it.
Shape each half into a round, wrap in plastic wrap and put into the fridge overnight. When you are ready to use your dough, lightly flour your countertop, unwrap the dough and place it on the flour. Gently smack it with your rolling pin to start spreading it out and working it to a slightly larger circle. This is easier than rolling when the dough is cold, plus it develops less gluten this way. Once the dough is slightly more workable, roll out to desired thickness, adding flour under and on top to prevent it sticking. Place dough pieces into pan or on parchment lined sheets and place back into the fridge to chill for 30 minutes then use as is called for in your recipe.
I hope you have found this helpful and that you have as much fun as I do making pie crust and making pies.