Secrets to Foolproof All-Butter Pie Crust
A pro shares her tips for creating the perfect pie crust — buttery, flaky, and delicious down to the last crumb
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Article, recipe, and photographs by Ashley Strickland Freeman
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Fall is here and you know what that means? Pie season — my favorite. I will take a slice of pie over a piece of cake any day. Are you a pie lover like I am?
I love making all types of pies and have learned a few tricks along the way. I started my career in a test kitchen for a cookbook publishing company before becoming a freelance recipe developer and cookbook author, and let’s just say I’ve made a lot of pies over the years — ones using store-bought crust, cookie crust, and of course, traditional homemade crust. I even created a pie crust using mayonnaise for my Duke’s Mayonnaise Cookbook.
For a traditional pie crust, my go-to is an all-butter crust. If you’ve got the time, I highly recommend making a homemade crust instead of opting for store-bought. The difference in flakiness and flavor when you go with butter is unrivaled, and it’s really not hard if you keep a few things in mind.
So, if you’re a novice pie dough maker, or you’ve not had any luck in the past, fear not. I’m going to share some of my test kitchen tips with you in my step-by-step method for creating a foolproof all-butter crust.
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Top tips to make pie crust with butter
Making the perfect all-butter crust starts with two key concepts. Follow these, and you’re well on your way to a foolproof pie dough.
Keep the ingredients extremely cold
This is especially important for the butter. A little food science lesson here: Cold butter is less likely to mix into the flour, so solid pieces of butter create separate layers. When the dough is baked in a hot oven, the pieces of butter melt and the small amount of water in the butter evaporates, leaving little air pockets that translate into flaky layers.
Avoid overworking the dough
For the best pie crust, gluten is our enemy. Overmixing the dough not only threatens to warm the butter too much, but it also begins to form long strands of gluten, resulting in a tough, chewy dough.
How to make all-butter pie crust, step by step
I live in the South and it’s pretty warm most of the year — not an ideal scenario for homemade pie crust baking. (In fact, on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day it’s not unusual for us to be wearing shorts and to have to turn on the AC if we want a fire in the fireplace to get into the holiday spirit!) So how do I keep my ingredients cold in this situation and create luxurious, flaky pie crusts?
1. Freeze the butter and then grate it
Instead of cutting cold butter into small pieces with a knife or pastry cutter, I freeze it and then use the largest holes on the box grater to grate it into shreds. You can also grate the butter using a food processor with the shredding disc. (I use salted butter rather than unsalted butter, plus 1/2 teaspoon salt in the recipe.)
2. Toss the butter with the flour
In a large bowl, combine all-purpose flour and salt. Add the grated butter, tossing with your fingers just until the butter pieces are coated. At this point, if the air is too warm, place the mixture in the fridge or freezer so the butter keeps its shape.
3. Make a well in the center for the ice water
Next make a well in the center of the flour-butter mixture and slowly pour in ice-cold water. I start with 1/2 cup for 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour, but depending on how humid (or not) the air is, you may need to add more.
4. Mix just until the dough comes together
Gradually combine flour mixture and water, folding with a rubber spatula just until the dough comes together. Try not to be tempted to overwork your dough here — if there are a few dry spots that’s okay. Shape the dough into two discs about 1 inch thick and wrap in plastic wrap or waxed paper.
5. Let the dough rest in the fridge
Pop the discs into the fridge for 15 to 30 minutes, depending on how warm your room temperature and the dough are. The water will absorb into the flour as the dough sits.
6. Roll out the dough
For a 9-inch pie, roll out one disc of dough on a lightly floured surface to an 11-inch circle, using a floured rolling pin. Rolling it to 11 inches will allow for the crust to easily fit into the pie dish with a 1-inch overhang for crimping, without any stretching needed.
7. Set the dough in the pie plate and crimp the edge
Fit the dough into a 9-inch pie pan and trim any uneven edges if necessary, using a paring knife or kitchen scissors. Fold the edge under, flush with the edge of the pie plate. Crimp the edge of the dough by pinching it gently with the thumb and index finger on one hand and pressing the dough in the space between those two fingers with the index finger on the other hand.
Get the Easy All-Butter Pie Crust recipe
Now the pie crust is ready for your favorite pie filling! This recipe makes enough dough for two crusts, so you can make two single-crust pies or one double-crust pie. Or you can use one disc of dough now and save the extra for another time. The dough keeps in the refrigerator up to 3 days and in the freezer up to 3 months.
Bonus: How to blind-bake a pie crust
When making pies with juicy or wet fillings such as apple pie or pumpkin pie, or cold-set fillings such as chocolate cream pie, I like to par-bake (aka pre-bake or blind-bake) the pie crust first. This ensures that the crust gets cooked through all the way (there’s nothing worse than a soggy crust).
Dock the crust with a fork, cover the dough with parchment paper, and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake at 400°F for about 15 minutes, until the edges of the crust begin to brown. Remove the pie plate from the oven and remove the parchment and the pie weights or beans.
Return the crust to the oven and bake for another 2 to 3 minutes, until the crust is no longer doughy looking, if the crust will be filled and baked longer — for pumpkin pie, for example. (Let it cool before filling.) Or bake the crust completely (until the center is dry), 5 to 10 more minutes, if you’ll be adding a cold-set filling such as chocolate cream.
Now that you know my secrets for a foolproof pie crust, are you ready to bake? Happy fall, y’all, and happy baking!
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