you can if you want to (a pie crust tutorial)

DSC_0075It’s not my way to be evangelical about any one recipe, method, or food. I hope you’ll never catch me telling you that you should do this, or that, or eat this. If you do, you have my full permission to remind me that it’s not my way. BUT, I will say this gently, and with love:

Do you want to make your own pie crust? Or if you already do, are you only somewhat happy with the result? Do you hold your breath through the process of adding ice water, wondering if that final drop will damn the whole thing? And, most importantly, do you have a stand mixer?

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This is essentially the pie crust recipe from my book, which I’ve  heard from many of you has changed the way you do pie. I credit Shirley Corriher, as it never occurred to me that throwing butter and flour and water into my KitchenAid would change my life. But it has.

So here we go. This method has been infallible for me, doubles well, and makes a good whole grain crust, too, if that’s your thing. There’s not much art, no guesswork, and no holding of your breath involved. The only rule? Stay close to your freezer.

Life Changing Pie Crust

makes two 9 or 10-inch pie crusts

1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, plus additional for greasing the dish
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus additional to flour the counter and the dish
1/3 cup water
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt

1. Cut the butter in to small cubes (about 1/4-inch). Do this quickly, without any extraneous touching of the butter. Measure the flour into the bowl of your stand mixer, and add the butter to the flour, lightly tossing it to coat the cubes in flour. Put the bowl in the refrigerator. In a small measuring cup, combine the water, apple cider vinegar, and salt. Stir to dissolve the salt, and put the cup in the freezer. Walk out of the kitchen for 10 minutes.

2. Fit the stand mixer with the beater attachment. Remove the bowl from the fridge, and fit it into the mixer.

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Run the mixer on low for about 30 seconds, until the butter is slightly mushed into the flour, like this:

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Take the measuring cup out of the freezer. With the mixer running on low, slowly add the vinegar mixture to the bowl. Raise the mixer speed to medium-low. The dough will change, becoming a crumbly meal, like this:

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Keep the mixer running. It will come together! Just let it keep running until this happens (usually within a minute):

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Stop the mixer. Gather the dough together with as little handling as possible and plop it down on a lightly floured counter.

3. Gently press the dough together into a ball, and cut it in half. Wrap each part in wax or plastic, and press it into a disc about 1 inch thick. The smoother the disc, the easier it will be to roll out a good round later on. (And by shaping it after you’ve wrapped it, you help to protect the dough from the heat of your hands.) Put the two discs in the fridge for at least 1 hour, but up to 3 days. You can also freeze them at this point. (You’ll have another chance to freeze them later when you’re farther along in the process, too.)

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4. Grease a 9 or 10-inch pie dish with butter and give it a light dusting of flour. Take the dough out of the refrigerator about 15 minutes before you’re ready to roll it out. Unwrap the dough and place on of the discs on a lightly floured counter.

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(Flour gently, like snow.)

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Try to make sure you are starting with a good circle. Remember, the smoother your disc, the easier it is to get your dough into something close to a circle.  Starting from the center, roll with quick, strong strokes.

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Roll until the the dough is circle-ish, about 12-14 inches in diameter, and about 1/8-1/4 inch thick. If you feel the crust might be sticking, you can absolutely flip it over and give it a bit more flour. Don’t fear the flour.

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5. Now transfer the dough to your pie pan. Fold the dough in half, and then in half again.

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Pick the crust up and line it up with the center of the pan.

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Unfold the corner into a semicircle, them into the full circle.

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6. Now we can go in lots of different directions. For a double crust pie, fill it now, trim and crimp the crust (more on that in a moment), and put the whole pie in the freezer while the oven preheats. For a single crust pie, trim and crimp or shape the crust, and put the unfilled crust in the freezer for at least an hour before filling it. The freezer time will help prevent crust shrinkage. You can also wrap the crust at this point and freeze it for a while, and then you have frozen pie crusts (just like store-bought), ready to go.

And a few more extras and variations

For a basic crimp, fold the edge of the crust under, and either use a fork or use the first two fingers of one hand and the index finger of the other hand, like this.

For circles, maple leaves, or any other shape, you’ll need a small cookie cutter. You’ll want to trim more of the edge, so it reaches just to the edge of the pie pan. Use the cut-off edges, or you can also roll a bit of one of your other crusts if you want to have  more dough to work with.

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Brush the edge of the crust with beater egg yolk. It will act as glue. Then attach your cut-outs to the crust.

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The key with any of these recipes is to always keep it cold. If you need to wait a few minutes while the oven preheats, throw it in the freezer. Need to take a phone call? Throw it in the freezer. If your butter is warm when the crust goes into the oven, the butter will ooze out of the crust and the crust will shrink.

And now for the Q&A (with thanks to everyone on Facebook for the excellent questions)

1. How do I get a round crust? 

Don’t stress it too much. But the rounder (and free of cracks) your disc, the rounder your crust.

2. Do I need an egg wash?

Totally up to you. A bit of beaten egg yolk brushed on your crust will make it shiny. And if you want to sprinkle sugar overtop the crust, the egg will help it adhere.

3. How do you create a lattice? 

I’m an improviser- I just tuck here and weave there. But Deb’s got a good tutorial here.

4. How about a gluten-free crust?

I defer to the experts here. Although I make a fine tart crust with dates and almonds, I haven’t played with pie crust. I asked Shauna for a bit of advice, and she offered up her favorite recipealong with the reminder that there’s actually an advantage to gluten-free pie, because there’s no gluten to overwork. (And, as Shauna says, “No one expects much from gluten-free pie. If you make a good pie, you’re a genius!” I love that.)

5. Vegan?

Again, not a realm in which I’m super experienced. But I wanted to include this one, as I imagine some of you have good answers! I did consult my wise friend Janet, who suggested a combination of this and this.

6. How to prevent shrinkage when blind baking.

I have to admit, I often skip the blind baking! But if you have to do it, make sure the crust is fairly frozen when it goes in the oven.

7. Favorite recipes for Thanksgiving?

We do the same things ever year, or else there’s a rebellion. This pecan pie, ginger pumpkin, maple cranberry tart, and damp gingerbread with pears.

And a few variations on the basic recipe

For 4 Crusts (Yes, I’m just doubling the math. But you have enough to do. Let me help!):

2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup water
4 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon salt

For a deep-dish pie pan:

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter
3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup water
3 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
3/4 teaspoon salt

For a more whole-grain version (great for pumpkin pie):

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup rye flour
1/3 cup water
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt

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And last of all, a note on pie dishes:

If, like me, you have a thing for interesting pie dishes, you may or may not be using a standard 9-inch pie pan. Use a ruler, so you have a sense of how far off you are. Remember that only metal or stoneware is okay to go straight from the freezer to oven (some glass wear will break). The more straight-sided the pan, the less gravity is in your favor, so make sure that crust is good and frozen when it goes in the oven.

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Happy cooking week, friends. If you have any questions or suggestions, add them here in the comments. I’m sure between all of us, we can make a lot of pretty great pies this week.


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30 Responses to you can if you want to (a pie crust tutorial)

  1. April says:

    I have never feared the crust, but I am certainly going to give this a go. I have never used the stand mixer for this, it looks brilliant and easy to make a big batch. Perfect for this time of year. Thank you!

  2. Anna says:

    A great post. It’s as if you read my mind; my pre-holiday pie anxiety was just kicking in. Whomever coined the phrase “easy as pie” was a severe over-achiever in my book. It’s NEVER easy!

    • alana says:

      You said it. I always found it so frustrating when people talked about the ease of pie crust, as every single time I made it by hand- I’d panic a little when I thought it was too dry and then add too much liquid. I rarely got the balance right. But as long as you keep it all cold, this just works. If you try it, let me know how it goes!

  3. Hannah says:

    Love this Alana. I always eye my food processor for crusts and then feel discouraged because I really don’t like *washing* my food processor, and then mix by hand, and then wish I had used the food processor. But the stand mixer! I love my stand mixer! And you say this is in the book? I am headed to my bookshelf. (But I’ll keep the post up, just in case.)

    Happy Thanksgiving, and happy pie eating, to you and yours …

    • alana says:

      Oh try it Hannah! I really think this method is quite miraculous, even if your comfortable doing it by hand. The dough feels really different- a bit more play-dough like, but it rolls so well and then it’s super tender when it bakes. Let me know what you think!

      • Hannah says:

        Hi Alana! Made two pies with your method, sweet potato with gluten free crust (just used Trader Joe’s gluten free flour mix as an even sub for the flour) and apple with a regular crust. Amazing! I ended up needing about a tablespoon of additional water for the regular crust, and the gluten free was tricky to roll out but baked up beautifully. I have never, ever had such an easy time with pie crust making, and the regular crust on the apple pie was as flaky and layered and wonderful as any I’ve ever made, with any method – but so much easier. This is definitely my new go-to. Happy Thanksgiving — xo

  4. Carrie Anne says:

    Definitely going to try this. I just want to be sure I know what I’m doing. Butter should be cold and straight from the fridge when you begin? Not frozen or anything? I can’t wait to make a pie!! Yay!

  5. Carrie Anne says:

    ^^^Nevermind. I found it in your book. I should’ve looked first. Cold it says. Got it!

  6. I love pie, so I have tried hard to make good pie crusts. Where I’m at now is with an oil crust rolled out between waxed paper. It’s very easy, but I want to try your method. I do not, however, have a stand mixer. I have a food processor with a dough blade – think that will work?

    • alana says:

      Yes, Margo- a cuisinart with a dough blade should work. Just be aware that the food processor gets a bit warmer, so try to stay really aware of the dough temp as your mixing.

  7. Margit Van Schaick says:

    Alana, would you encourage a discussion on this topic? I, too, love the ease of using a stand mixer, which I discovered awhile back when I just didn’t want to use the processor, nor did I feel like doing it by hand(though that is actually kind of fun). The reason I ask is that there’s a couple other really wonderful pie crust recipes I love using, and your readers may also have some recommendations. The ones I use are all butter and that makes them especially delicious. The stand mixer is really amazing with pie crust making as long as you stop before it become clay-like.
    .

  8. Katie L says:

    Can you do an even substitue of lard for the butter? My Granny made a very DELICIOUS and simple (“simple”) crust each year, and made it every time with lard-and only lard.

  9. Elisabeth says:

    Oh!! I have only made the pie crust a few times but it’s always blah…And I made up a galette-ish last night with store crust that way really blah so I am super stoked to see this! I definitely want to make the crust…My mixer is so lovely and I had never thoought to use for pie crust!! (I must’ve missed this in your book…but now I will look).

  10. Beth says:

    I will admit I always avoid making pie crust and resort to store bought. I feel silly doing this as I have no problems with other baking endeavors. I decided to take the plunge tonight. I followed the directions and pictures and just when I thought it wasn’t going to come together in the mixing bowl it did!

    The discs are now wrapped and chilling until tomorrow when I’ll take them out of the fridge and confidently roll them out. I’ll let you know how it goes.

  11. I gave up on homemade pie crust years ago when the Pillsbury, fold-out version was consistently okay and so easy. Mine just….wasn’t…though I’d tried many different ones. Last one I did that was satisfactory was with the food processor and frozen butter, so I was close to this method. However, I DO have a wonderful upright mixer AND your book, so next time I do pie, I will give this a go. For tomorrow, however, I already bought the Pillsbury one so I’m going with “easiest” for this holiday. I’ll be brave for Christmas :)

  12. Candy says:

    Getting ready to try this pie crust for tomorrow’s pecan pies. Wanted to confess I ate a slice of Molly’s bittersweet mocha bundt cake for breakfast :) Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

  13. Margit Van Schaick says:

    In my experience, the more you practice, the easier it gets to be confident about making really delicious pie crusts, so my advice is to make a lot of pies, including pot pies. One of the recipes I use is by Greg Patent of the “Baking Wizard”–you just add an egg yolk to your recipe. Another favorite one is super easy: mix 2 cups flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon sugar. Then, cut in 2 sticks of cold butter in fairly thin slices. Turn on mixer with blade attachment on medium speed until butter pieces are feathery, flaky-looking. Stop mixer and reach in to feel dough–butter should still be in pieces, clearly visible. You don’t want it to be all mixed in with the flour, so small you can’t really see it. The next step is to add approximately 1/3 cup of sour cream and mix a few turns at low speed. Probably 4 or 5 turns. Stop. You ‘be over-mixed if it looks slick and clayey (you can still use it, just stop the mixer sooner next time). Dump the crumbly dough on a piece of cling-wrap, and kind of separate it into two piles. Use the cling-wrap to mush one of the pieces into a roughly shaped mass and move it to a second piece of cling-wrap. Then, continue pushing it with the cling-wrap to make a disc shape, flattening it as you go along. Wrap it tight and place on a plate. Do the same with the other pile of crumbs. Put in refrigerator for at least an hour, up to three days. I roll it out on a floured piece of parchment, scattering a bit of flour on top as well. This wonderful pie crust is from Leslie Land. Her blog site, maintained as a resource, is a treasure-trove of wonderful recipes and baking tips. I encourage your readers to have fun making pie crusts. Your tip about using the mixer makes it so easy, both to make and to clean up after. As you get more practice, you’ll know when to add a bit more liquid or sour cream, to get the dough to come together so it will be easy to roll. Other days, you may need to sprinkle on a bit more flour. The weather really affects this. Soon, you will really enjoy making pie!

  14. I love anyone who goes to this much effort for pie crust! It’s been one of my favorite projects to play with–I even ended up accidentally learning to render leaf lard while I was testing my favorite combination of fats for my base recipe from my grandmas (my favorite turned out to be 50/50 lard/butter).

    I also love that you used the mixer, I’ll have to give that a try. I’ve tried every variation of mixing pie crust, including the food processor, and never had luck with it, I’ve only had reliable results with a pastry cutter.

    Finally, have you seen or heard of Hoosier Mama Pie? They’re a local Chicago company who just came out with an amazing cookbook this summer for all kinds of pies sweet and savory, plus some great tips, like why to use cream and milk for brushing or how to keep filling from getting soggy with “crust dust” (I’m not affiliated, I just love them that much). You might be interested in checking it out.

  15. Kat says:

    alana, i have to admit- i made some pretty kickass pies this week for thanksgiving and i owe it all to your pie crust, which was the foundation! my whole family was wooed. i think i’ll be asked back next year! thank you for sharing your tips and tricks with the rest of us :)

  16. Jenn says:

    I just got a chance to try this, and it turned out great! I’m keeping this handy!

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    Appreciate the recommendation. Lett me try it out.

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