My mother always made great pies. Every year at Thanksgiving she would make two pumpkin and two apple to share with our large family, and every year there were oohs and ahhs from her admiring in-laws. And now, following her example, whether I’m the dinner cook or not, I make pies as well.
When I first learned to make pie crust, I literally cried over my rolling pin. The dough stuck to the board and pin, and when I finally managed a shape and cooked it, it had a chewy texture that was not very appetizing.
Since then, I’ve made so many pie crusts that I can produce a flaky and delicious one without thinking. In fact, the day I realized I was making a great crust without thinking, was when I realized I’d finally learned to cook well. So take heart, if you don’t do it perfectly the first time, practice will cure all.
I’m going to show you how to make this crust entirely from scratch, and without lard. There are a lot of pictures, to make it easier to understand. And I’m not using any fancy equipment, so anyone should be able to make this with basic kitchen tools they can pick up inexpensively. Let’s get started.
Step One: Gather Your Ingredients
The four ingredients you’ll need are:
- 2 Cups All Purpose Flour
- 1 Cup Cold Unsalted Butter, cut into cubes
- 1 Tsp Salt
- 1/2 Cup Ice Water
I learned to make pie crust from Julia Child’s book, “The Way to Cook”. She uses a food processor, and I usually do too, because it makes everything so much easier. But since I sold everything I own to travel, I no longer own a food processor, so we’ll be using a pastry cutter and fork.
This is a pastry cutter. You can get them pretty much anywhere they sell kitchen gear. I’ve even gotten one at a grocery store before.
First things first, put your water in the freezer to get cold and take out your butter to chop.
TIP: The secret to flaky pie crust is using cold butter and water. It’s important to use cold butter, because when it’s cold and not fully incorporated with the flour, it creates pockets of fat in between the flour layers. When the fat layers melt, it will separate the flour layers from each other and create air space, or flakiness. Without this, it will become dense. So if at any time during the pie crust making process you find that your butter is melting, just pop it all in the fridge for a few minutes until it’s cold again.
Chop your butter into cubes and place back in the refrigerator until you’re ready for them.
Measure out your flour into a bowl.
TIP: Properly measured flour is key to getting the right proportions. To properly measure your flour, scoop a heaping amount, and scrape across the top of the measuring cup with the back of your mixing spoon. Don’t pack down the flour.
Add the salt to the flour and whisk to combine.
Cut in the butter. To cut butter into flour, add the cubes to the flour mixture and press down and across, as if to smash, with the pastry cutter. Lift and move to another place in the bowl, and press and smash again. Make sure to incorporate all the flour around the edges as well. You want the butter to be about pea sized when done.
How to make the Perfect Flaky Pie Crust with simple kitchen tools. Click To Tweet
Now push all the flour/butter mixture to one side of the bowl except a small amount (about 1/4 cup). Then dribble in about a tablespoon of water on top of the 1/4 C of flour. Work the water into the flour with a fork. Continue to add more of the flour mixture to the wet patch until it is too dry to stay together. Then add another dribble of water, then flour. Keep up this method until all your flour has been incorporated and it will hold together when squeezed.
TIP: The flour should just come together when squeezed. If it feels “wet” or heavy, add a little bit of flour. If it is still too loose to come together after you’ve used the entire 1/2 C of water, add one tsp of water at a time until it comes together.
Place dough on a floured surface and lightly kneed 2-3 times to make a smooth dough. Then separate into two equal disks.
Wrap one of the disks in plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator. Roll the other disk out into a circle. This will be your bottom crust.
TIP: To get a round disk, work from the middle of the dough to the outside edges in a circular motion, not from one edge to the other. To prevent the dough from sticking, flour the board well and don’t smash the dough into it. Instead, apply only light pressure with more strokes. Also, flip the dough over every few rolls and lightly flour each side during the flip. Flour your rolling pin as well.
When you disk of dough large enough for your dish, place your rolling pin on one edge of the dough and roll the dough up over your pin. Then unroll it over your pie dish.
Shape the crust to the pie dish and place dish aside. Preheat your oven to the temperature your filling recipe requires.
Step Two: Prepare The Pie Filling
Prepare your filling of choice and put it in the pie. Then take your other disk out of the refrigerator and roll it out as well.
Step Three: Seal The Edges
Before you add the top crust to the dish, make some slits on the top for the steam to vent out. Then roll the dough up onto the rolling pin and onto the dish as before.
Feel free to move it around until it’s in the center. Then trim the dough to about one inch past the edge of the dish.
If there are any areas that aren’t long enough, you can reinforce them with dough you cut from the long edges. Just press the seems together.
TIP: It’s important to make the edges as even as possible all the way around the pie, because this causes them to cook evenly. If one side of your pie has a thick crust and the other has a thin one, the thin one will be burnt while the thick is undercooked.
Now you need to fold under the edges and crimp them with the bottom crust. Put your thumb between your two fingers and crimp all the way around.
If you want to step it up a notch, use the excess dough to cut out designs. I like to make leaves.
Step Four: Egg Wash
I’ve tried a few different egg washes and this is my favorite, as it creates just the right kind of golden brown. Whisk together one egg and a tablespoon of water and brush the surface of the pie. Make sure you get into all the crevices, but that none of the egg wash pools up.
Step Five: Protect Your Edges
Edges cook faster than the middle of your pie, so after 15 min, remove your pie and place foil around the edges. Return the pie to the oven and continue cooking for the duration your filling requires. Here’s an easy method for dealing with the foil.
- Fold a sheet of foil into fourths.
- Cut the corner out in a quarter circle shape.
- Unfold and place over pie.
- Crimp around edges.
- Place back in oven.
See? Easy. Now your edges will be beautiful and your filling will have time to bubble away without fear of burning.
And that’s it! Now you can make a pie crust.
I’ll be honest, it takes some time to get a feel for dough, but the more you do it, the more you’ll understand the nature of it. Don’t give up. It’s extremely satisfying to be able to produce a beautiful crust.