I was all set to share my absolute favorite dessert – blueberry pie with an almond crumble topping – when I realized I should probably step back and share a pie crust recipe first. So, let’s talk pie crusts. I’m going to start out by stating that there is nothing wrong with using a store-bought crust, be it the frozen-in-an-aluminum-pie-plate crust or a rolled refrigerated circle of dough crust. These are both solid options – no one is going to stop and comment that the crust is especially delicious, but inversely, you also know you’re not going to wind up with some soggy monstrosity full of holes, either. But rolling out your own pie crust really isn’t difficult; honestly, I find it incredibly relaxing to gently roll out the dough, slowly stretching the sides, feeling the chilled, stiff dough slowly give way. It’s similar to my love of kneading bread, and why I will never, ever own a bread machine – getting my hands in there is what I love so much about baking.
Now, while I’ve mentioned that rolling out a pie crust isn’t difficult… choosing the right recipe can be. And this is where I’m going to save you the hassle of trying all the dud recipes, because I’ve already done it for you! Many years ago, I set on the quest to find the perfect rolled sugar cookie recipe, and low and behold – I found it. Since then, I’ve turned my attention towards a perfect pie crust. I’ll be honest – this might not be the recipe, but it’s very good and consistently turns out well. I’ve tried LOTS of recipes, ranging from all butter to all shortening, using vodka instead of water, freezing and grating butter, freezing and thawing the dough, rolling the dough out warm and then chilling, chilling the dough and then rolling it out, freezing the crust before baking, etc., That said, I probably haven’t tried every recipe out there, so if you have one you really love, go ahead and share it in the comments section and I’ll give it a try if I haven’t already!
Without further ado, here are my top tips for baking a great pie crust, regardless of which recipe you use:
- Keep your fat cold. Whether you’re dealing with butter or shortening, you want it to be as cold as possible. When cold butter is put into a hot oven, the water in the butter evaporates, creating that perfectly flaky crust. If your butter is warm and soft, it melts into the crust, resulting in a soggier crust. This desire for a flaky crust is why we want…
- Pea-sized specks of butter should be visible in the mixture. When you use a food processor to mix dough, you really run the risk of over-mixing, unlike cutting in butter by hand. The dough should be a little crumbly, a little shaggy, and little chunks of butter should still be present to create those pockets of steam.
- Refrigerate the dough after mixing – but not for too long. Okay, this isn’t entirely true – you can refrigerate the dough for as long as you want, but then you need to let it come up towards room temperature before rolling the dough out again. I’ve found 30 minutes to be a great length of time – long enough for the butter to rechill, but not so long that the dough breaks and crumbles when you try to roll it out.
- Roll carefully and slowly. Take your time when it comes to rolling out dough – but not too much time. Flour your work surface and place your circle of dough in the center. Roll back and forth over the dough with heavy, firm pressure. Don’t try to force the rolling in a circle; rather, pick up the dough and rotate it around. Don’t worry if you can’t get the dough into a circle (you can trim it later), if the dough cracks around the edges (ditto to the earlier one) or if you get a few holes or tears in the dough (you can patch them with the excess dough you cut from the edges). I usually find I need about 5 minutes to roll out pie dough – much less time and I’m too aggressive and the dough cracks, much more time and the dough starts to warm too much.
- Rechill the dough before baking. Pop the pie crust in the pie dish into the freezer for a few minutes before baking. It’s all about keeping that butter nice and cold.
- Build a protective barrier to keep the crust crisp. This one actually comes after you bake your crust, but I always add something to help prevent the crust from getting soggy. If you’re bringing a pie to a party and it will be devoured all at once, it’s not a problem, but we often sliver away at a pie for 5 days. After that much time, the juices from the pie start to seep into the crust, making it pretty mushy. For no-bake cream pies, I paint a thin layer of melted chocolate along the pie crust (after baking, before filling) as a moisture barrier. For filled fruit pies, I sprinkle a decent amount of flour and sugar along the bottom – the excess flour helps to soak up any juice, while the sugar starts to caramelize a bit and form that nice crust. You’ll see that I add this step in to my blueberry pie recipe.
- Make plenty and freeze! The recipe I’m sharing below makes two layers of crust – one for the bottom of the pie and another for the top if you’re doing a double-crust or lattice-topped pie. If you’re making a crumble top, like my favorite blueberry pie recipe, you can freeze the leftover dough. The dough can be frozen at any state – either in a ball to be rolled out after thawing, in the rolled out circle but not yet pressed into the pie dish, or in the pie dish. I usually double the recipe below and freeze the rolled-out crusts, meaning I can make a pie in no time at all when the mood strikes.
No-Fail Pie Crust
- 1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) butter, frozen for at least 2 hours
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1/3 cup vegetable shortening, frozen for at least 2 hours
- 6 tablespoons very cold water
- Add the flour, salt, and sugar into the bowl of a food processor and pulse several times to mix.
- Remove the butter and shortening from the freezer and dice into half-inch size cubes, using a very sharp knife. Add the butter and shortening to the food processor, and pulse for 10 one-second bursts, until the butter is the size of peas.
- Add in the cold water and pulse several times, until the dough begins to form a ball.
- Remove the dough from the food processor and roll into two circles. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
- Roll the dough into a circle as described above, rolling from the center to the edge, turning and flouring the dough as necessary. Drape the dough over the rolling pin to transfer it to a pie pan.
- Once in the pie pan, trim the crust so that there is an approximately 1-inch overhang past the edge of the pie plate. Using this overhang, crimp the crust by pressing the dough between the pointer finger of one hand and your pointer finger and thumb of the other hand.
- Place prepared crust in freezer prior to baking.