Pie Crust 101
Bleached flour, partially hydrogenated lard with BHA and BHT, wheat starch, water, xanthan gum, potassium sorbate and sodium propionate (preservatives), Yellow 5, and Red 40.

Butter, Flour, Salt, Water, and sometimes an egg.

The first is a list of just some of the ingredients of a popular, store-bought, ready-to-unroll, pie crust.

The second is what comprises a homemade, you-are-looney-not-to-make-yourself, pie crust.

I remember taking a homemade pie, with a homemade pie crust to a friend's house a few years back.  When someone raved about the crust and asked what brand it was, I told them I had made it myself.  They were shocked, and I was shocked that they were shocked.  They then responded that "it must be nice to have the time to make your own pie crusts"...

Well, I'm here to tell you, my friends, that you can have these made in about the time it takes you to defrost your hydrogenated lard sheets of dough, and your golden color will come from creamy butter and perhaps a farm fresh egg yolk, instead of Yellow numero 5.

And let's just chat about cost for a brief moment.  At a recent glance, store bought refrigerated or frozen pie crusts ranged from $3.79 to $4.99 for a two crust package.  Making it at home will run you about $2.  Are you with me people?

But isn't it really tough?
Only if you over work it. (gluten humor.)

No!  But there are a couple of things to be aware of that will help you achieve buttery flaky pastry nirvana, and avoid a gravelly, leaden disappointment.

This small word (from the latin word for glue) is getting an enormous amount of air-time these days. Gluten is a substance found in certain grains and flours, most commonly wheat, that when mixed with moisture is activated to create a sticky, bonding compound which makes great bagels so chewy, or lousy pastries dense doorstops. The stronger the gluten bond, the less flaky and light the crust will be. Fats, sugar, or acids inhibit the formation of a strong gluten structure. However, the more you knead, play with, or "work" a dough, the more developed the gluten bonds will be.

So when working with a dough, you want to handle it as little as possible. Don't leave the food processor on high and have the ball of dough whipping around the machine. Don't knead it! Just do as much as you have to to get the ingredients to come together, and then hands off. Also, allowing the dough to rest in the refrigerator for a half hour after you've made it, will allow the gluten structure to relax some as well.

The recipe below makes two crusts, for one double crusted pie (top and bottom), or two separate single pie shells.  If I am going to take the time to get flour about the kitchen, I always make this full recipe, sometimes doubling it for four crusts.   Divide and wrap unused dough in two airtight layers of plastic wrap or freezer bags, and they can be frozen for about 3 months.  Remove to the refrigerator the day before to thaw.

Give this a try.  The ease, and more importantly, the taste will astound you.  Get this down now and you'll be a crust making-fool in time for peach pie season.


Makes 2 crusts for one double crust pie, or two single pie shells.

3 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
1 teaspoon salt
8 oz (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cubed and chilled (or popped in freezer for 15 minutes after cut into cubes)
1/2 cup water, ice cold
2 large eggs with 4 teaspoons of water

Step 1: Combine flour and salt in a food processor.  Add cubes of chilled butter.

Step 2: Gently pulse food processor, until the butter is the size of small peas.  These pieces of fat in the dough will create pockets when it is baked, and result in the flaky texture.

Step 3: Evenly distribute the ice water, or egg and water mixture, and pulse just until the dough comes together in a ball.  It may be necessary to add just a bit more moisture, which you can do a tablespoon at a time, again, just until the dough comes together.

Step 4: Pour the dough onto a well-floured surface.  In balls about the size of a walnut, gently push and smear the dough out with the heel of your hand, just once each ball.  Continue until you have done this with all of the dough.  The term for this in french is fraisage.  It will help make sure there aren't any giant pieces of unincorporated butter, that will melt and cause a hole in your crust, but will also help create long layers of butter in your dough, that will ideally help with the flakiness.

Step 5: When all of the dough has been fraisage-d, form into two disks, that are generally flat and round.  This will help give you a head start on the shape you are trying to achieve when it comes time to roll it out.  Wrap individually in plastic, and place in the refrigerator for a half hour to rest.  You can also freeze the disks of dough at this point.

Step 6: Remove the dough disk from the refrigerator and place on a gently floured surface.  It might need a minute or two to come up just a bit in temperature, so it doesn't crack all over when you put a rolling pin to it.  Gently press down with a rolling pin, and apply light pressure, at first, as you roll forward.  Continue to roll forward only, turning the dough as you need, until you have a circle about an inch wider on all sides than the pie plate you are using.

Step 7: Brush excess flour off the top surface of the dough.  To transport the rolled out dough to a pie plate, gently roll the dough around the rolling pin, brushing off excess flour on the bottom, as you go.

Step 8: Bring the dough-wrapped rolling in to your baking dish, and unroll in the opposite direction.

Step 9: Loosely fit the dough into the shell, using a small ball of spare dough to push it gently into the corners, if needed.  Trim any large overhanging edges, leaving about a 1/2 inch on all sides.  With your thumb and pointer finger on one hand, and the tip of your thumb on the other, go around the top of the edge, pinching your two hands together every inch or so, to create a fluted edge to your crust.

Step 10: Return pie shell to the refrigerator to chill slightly before baking, or filling and baking.


5 responses to “Pie Crust 101”

  1. […] tangerines zest of 1/2 of a lemon 1/2 + 1/4 teaspoon of sugar, plus more for sprinkling on crust 1 pie crust pastry (I used the recipe using eggs) egg […]

  2. […] single pastry crust (half of the recipe posted here, in my “Pie Crust 101″ piece) 1 large bunch fresh asparagus, about 8 ounces, washed and […]

  3. […] the ingredients are so sparse, the quality of the products you use is paramount.  Make a wonderful, flaky, homemade pie crust, use a golden farm-fresh egg and great butter, and above all, use amazing strawberries at the […]

  4. […] Dough: Recipe here, courtesy of Pitchfork […]

  5. […] 1 single pie crust (see my Pie Crust 101 tutorial here.) […]

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Catie Baumer Schwalb is a chef, food writer and photographer, who splits her life between the city and the country. Not too long ago Catie was a New York City based actress and playwright for more than a decade. She has her Master of Fine Arts from the National Theater Conservatory, and her Grand Diplôme in classic culinary arts from the French Culinary Institute in New York City. ... Read More

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