Anyone else avoid making pie dough because it seems hard? K, I’m glad it’s not just me. Pie dough seems complicated, fussy, and prone to disaster, but I’ve learned recently that it doesn’t have to be. Now, I’ve definitely made my share of faulty pie crusts– too hard, too soggy, shrunken in the pie dish, burnt, etc… but people, I’m here to tell you, you are not doomed to a life of jacked-up pie, or… *gulp* store-bought crust! This recipe has helped me climb out of that deep, dark rabbit hole of pie crust anguish– and it can help you too.
Enter: Smitten Kitchen. When researching recipes for Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie, I came across not only a great one for that, but also Deb Perelman’s version of a flaky, all-butter pie crust. I love that it is not only easy, but doesn’t contain shortening or lard, ingredients which are often found in pie dough to promote flakiness.
This crust is ethereally flaky and tender without any of these agents; what’s the secret? Hint: this is not achieved by magic. It comes down to just a few simple things:
- Size of butter chunks: When you cut the butter cubes into your dry ingredients, you want to achieve and maintain pea-sized chunks. Said pieces will melt in the oven, creating flaky air pockets in the dough. If you can’t see the butter bits in your rolled-out dough, you will be very sad when the pie comes out of the oven; those visible pieces are 100% essential for a flaky crust.
- Dough/butter temperature: To maintain those precious butter chunks, the butter needs to be super, wicked COLD when it goes into the flour mixture. After dicing the sticks, I put my bowl of butter cubes in the freezer for about 30 minutes to get extra chilly. Similarly, using ice water keeps the dough as cold as possible while you’re working it. If the dough warms up, the butter chunks will melt, and your flaky pockets will be lost.
- Handling of dough: Work your dough with a light hand, and for as little time as possible. Over-working the dough can cause it to get tough and the butter will warm up and melt into the pastry, which we already discussed. Mix/handle the dough just until it comes together.
Pie dough does take a bit of practice (Exhibit A: my uneven roll-out), but this recipe is incredibly forgiving. I thought I messed up or overworked the dough countless times, and yet, I was delighted to see through the oven door window that my crust was baking up golden brown and flaky!
This dough will work for any pie, regardless of your filling choice. But please do check out my Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie– I was rather thrilled with my results, especially for a first-time attempt (though I’ll do the top crust design differently next time). I should mention that dough-rolling is not my forté, and I’m sure your rolled dough will look a lot nicer than mine; but hey, let’s focus on those good-lookin’ butter chunks!
Super Flaky All-Butter Pie Crust
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Makes enough dough for 1 double-, or 2 single-crust pies
- 1 cup water (240ml)
- 2 ½ cups (315 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon (15 grams) granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon (5 grams) fine sea salt
- 2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, very cold, cut into ½-inch cubes
Fill a 1-cup liquid measuring cup with water, and put in a few ice cubes; set it aside while you prepare your dry ingredients. Whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add the cold butter cubes to the bowl.
Work in the butter with a pastry cutter until it is distributed evenly and has been reduced to pea-sized chunks. Ms. Perelman recommends doing this step by hand, rather than with a food processor, so as not to cut the butter down too small. It will only take you a few minutes.
You will then add the ice water to form the mixture into a cohesive dough. Start by streaming ½ cup water into the bowl (no ice cubes). Gently bring the dough together with a spatula. Keep adding water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until large, damp clumps of dough have formed, another ¼ cup or so (around ¾ cup total water). Once you have that clumpy dough going, bring the pieces together with your hands, kneading them gently just a few times and forming the dough into a loose, shaggy ball. You should see plenty of butter chunks in your dough.
Divide the dough in half, and wrap each piece snugly in plastic wrap; shape them into disks. Put the dough in the fridge to chill for at least 2 hours before deploying in a recipe (mine was in overnight). It will keep in the fridge for about 1 week, though it’s good to double-wrap the dough disks to keep smells out if you’re not using them right away. The dough also freezes very well– wrap it in plastic and store in a freezer Ziploc bag; defrost it in the fridge for a day when you’re ready to use it.
Check out Smitten Kitchen’s original post for a more detailed discussion of dough, and also her tutorial on rolling out and crimping dough.
© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2013.