Monday, February 4, 2013

a (nearly) perfect pie crust

The summer of 2011 was the Summer of Pie in my kitchen. I was searching for the perfect pie dough recipe. Not one to tackle any kind of project half-heartedly, I vowed to not bake anything except for pie for the entire summer. Seriously. I'm ridiculous. I discovered my favorite pie dough recipe by June, but rather than tinker with something good for the rest of the season, I just stuck with it.

The golden ticket of a recipe came from a blog called Good Egg Seattle. Its author, Kate Lebo, has published a pie zine called A Commonplace Book of Pie and recently launched a Pie School! Her recipe isn't available online anymore, so I'm thankful it's forever imprinted in my brain. I've followed her recipe and had it turn out so many different ways, that I'm convinced there is no perfect pie dough recipe. Pie dough is affected by the temperature of the room, the humidity, how handsy you get with the dough, and what you use to mix in the fat. Instead, a recipe gives you the foundation, the rest is dependent on the day and if you feel too lazy (or are running too late) to mix in the butter with your fingers.

Let's make stacks of pie dough! 

You can make pie dough in a food processor, or in a bowl with a pastry cutter or your hands. I prefer to use my hands, but sometimes that just feels like too much work. Gather up your ingredients, keeping the butter, shortening, and water in the freezer until you need them.  You want these cold cold cold. Speaking of butter: get the good stuff. It's worth the price. Higher quality butter has a higher fat content, which helps the dough hold together and handle better.

Nearly Perfect Pie Crust
makes one 8 or 9 inch double crust 
adapted from Kate Lebo

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 T sugar
1 t salt
12 T unsalted butter, frozen
1/2 cup vegetable shortening, cold
1-3 T water

Slice your butter into tablespoons (or smaller, if mixing by hand) or grate on a box grater. Keep prepped butter and shortening in the freezer until called for. Fill a measuring cup with some water and a couple of ice cubes, and stash in the freezer as well. You want these ingredients cold. 

Mix together the flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor or bowl. Remove the butter and shortening from the freezer. If using a food processor, while running, drop in the butter and shortening a tablespoon at a time, mixing until the texture resembles cornmeal. If using your hands, mix in the butter and shortening a bit at a time until it's mostly mixed and you're left with a cornmeal-like texture with pea-sized chunks of butter. I find that rubbing the dough between my palms is the speediest technique. 

Remove the water from the freezer and add some a tablespoon at a time. Some days I don't need any water (in humidity ridden August) and some days I need three (in ice cold February). Most often, you'll want one or two tablespoons. If using a food processor, add water slowly until the dough turns into a ball. If using your hands, create a well in the middle of the dough, add one tablespoon and knead into the dough, adding more if need be. You want a dough that holds together, but isn't wet feeling. 

Divide the dough in half, form each half into a disc, wrap in plastic and pop them in the fridge while you prepare your filling. Remove the dough from the fridge a few minutes before you're ready to roll them out to warm slightly. On a floured surface, roll one disc out so that it is slightly larger than your pie plate. Gently transfer it to the pie plate; it should drape over the sides. Fill your pie with whatever deliciousness you fancy. Roll out the second disc, slightly smaller than the first. Gently transfer it to top the pie. Fold the edges of the top sheet under the bottom and crimp together. Use your fingers or a fork to indent the edges. With a sharp knife or adorable tiny cookie cutter, slice air vents into the top of the pie before baking. Generally, bake pie at 350 degrees on a cookie sheet on the middle rack for about 55 minutes, or until the filling is bubbling over the edges. Eat up while still warm, and finish off the rest, cold, for breakfast, the next morning.

Some pie baking pro-tips:
Keep that measuring cup of water handy when assembling your pie. If the dough rips, patch the tear with extra dough, and use a bit of water to glue it back together.

Roll the dough out on floured wax or parchment paper so you can simply pick up the paper and flip the dough onto the pie pan. 

Put foil or a silicone pie crust shield around the edge of the pie for the first 30 minutes of baking so the edge doesn't burn. 


  1. This looks delcicious! I am always looking for an easy pie crust recipe. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Yes, pie really can be easy! Thanks, Manu!