Anyone can make a flaky, homemade pie crust at home by following a few easy steps.
Hello, my name is Kirsten, and I have crust issues.
Specifically, pie crust. I first learned to make pie dough at my Mama’s side. Nothing fancy about it. We dumped flour into a bowl. The shortening was warm. The water was cold straight out of the tap. We mixed it with our hands. We pretty much broke all of the pie dough “rules” that you’ve ever heard of, and yet the pie crust was always perfect. No cold ingredients, no resting, no nothing. That’s just how we did it. We never used store bought crust. I’m pretty sure that I didn’t even know that processed pie dough existed until I was in high school. Everyone in my family made their own.
When I was first married, I made a lot of pies. Pies were my thing. I just about never followed a real recipe. I measured everything in liquid measuring cups because that is what I had. I had invested in a pastry blender by then–which made me feel like a real baker. I threw the dough together, and rolled it out on a floured counter top. Those pies were also perfect.
Then I had my first baby, and the rush of mommy hormones ruined my pie dough. OK, that might be a teensy bit dramatic. In actuality, I started watching a Food Network while I was nursing my sweet babes, and it dawned on me: how could my pies possibly be perfect when I was doing it wrong?! That single revelation began the decline of my pie dough.
For some reason when I became a full-time mother, I felt an unreasonable need for everything that I produced in the kitchen to be absolutely perfect. This was my new job, after all. I studied food science and recipes as if I were getting another degree. I started over-thinking pies, and everything else. My dough suffered for it. I followed all of the fussy steps that all the chefs dictated, but my pies were no longer perfect. They were dismal. Not flaky and wonderful, but limp, tough and chewy. The pretty crimped edges of my pies melted off and baked onto the oven floor. How could this be, when I was doing everything right? I couldn’t fail–this was my job. Sounds pretty ridiculous now.
I did what you might expect, and gave up the whole institution. I started making cakes. Cakes were my new thing.
But I really missed pies so I decided to give it another go.
Then I had my second baby, and the thought of making own pie dough by hand seemed completely ludicrous. So I made the dough in the food processor, instead. Fast & easy. The pies went from dismal to mediocre, but still better than store bought. I found the food processor dough was really better suited for tarts. So I made tarts. Thus, tarts became my thing.
Fast forward a few years, and a couple more babies. (Whose life was this, anyway?) I was determined that pie dough was not going to defeat me! I had birthed four healthy babies, surely I shouldn’t be intimidated by pastry! So after much trial and error, I came up with a compromise between old ways, and new knowledge. Pie dough doesn’t have to be fussy or overly involved. I really believe that with practice, anyone can make a flaky pie dough.
No, I haven’t lost my mind.
Yes, even you can do it.
A successful pie dough has three main components: flour, cold fat, and cold liquids. As with most things I make, this dough is very versatile. Use it for sweet pies, savory quiches, tarts, or galettes (a.k.a. lazy or flat pies.)
Take a deep breath! Don’t freak out. It’ll be fine. Relax! It’s not stressful–it’s just pie! You can do it!
Since we are going for light and flaky pie dough, scoop the flour in its storage container,
and gently sprinkle it back in. Do this a few times to fluff up the flour before measuring. (Flour that has been sitting tends to compact and get a bit dense. Neither are adjectives that you want describing your pie dough.)
Measure the fluffed up flour into a large bowl. Be sure to level off the top of your measuring cup with a finger.
Sprinkle the salt over the flour.
Briefly whisk the flour and salt to combine.
Add the cold butter and chilled shortening to the salted flour.
Work the butter and shortening into the flour with a pastry blender. The fats will get smaller, as you work it. See how these pieces are fairly large, as in larger than the size of peas, and pretty irregular? They need a bit more work. Continue cutting in the fat with the pastry blender for a few more minutes.
This is better. That fats are smaller, and more uniform in size. A few larger (pea-sized) pieces are okay, but for the most part, you want it to look like a coarse cornmeal. Make a well in the center.
Get some iced water. I like to ice the water before I start making the dough, and put it in the fridge until I am ready.
Pour the iced water in the well in the center, one tablespoon at a time.
Take a fork and scrape the side of the bowl, pushing the flour/fat mixture into the well, then drag the wet flour mixture back to the side. Do this in several spots, working around the bowl, until the water is absorbed. Then, add the second tablespoon of iced water. Repeat the dragging back and forth with the fork until all of the water has been absorbed.
Take a martini break.
Only kidding. I put vodka in my pie dough to amp up the flakiness factor. Why?! Well, many recipes call for vinegar because the acid in the vinegar helps to relax the gluten formation that would otherwise toughen the pastry. (Flour=gluten=binder.) I was up to my elbows in pie dough once, when I realized I was out of vinegar. Crap! But I did have loads of vodka, which is also acidic.
I don’t know what that says about me…having no vinegar but a bunch of vodka? It was for making my own vanilla extract, I swear! ;)
So I substituted the vodka for the vinegar. You can do the reverse, and use vinegar, but I would use half as much, and substitute more water for the rest.
Add the vodka to the well in the center, one tablespoon at a time.
Dragging the flour mixture back and forth through it until it is absorbed, between each addition. The dough should be starting to come together.
This is you will have after the 2 tablespoons of iced water, and two tablespoons of vodka. Don’t look at this and think “This isn’t a dough! I need more water!” You really don’t. I know it doesn’t look like much now, but it will all work out.
With your hands, divide the dough in half, and squeeze it to form two balls. The dough will still be pretty crumbly at this point, and barely holding its shape. No worries.
Turn each portion onto separate sheets of plastic wrap. It will likely start to fall apart. That just means it will be divine.
Mold the dough back into a mound. Continue to press and mold the dough to make a fairly solid mound. The heat of your hands is slightly melting the fats, and allowing the dough to really come together. Do only what you have to do–the dough should be flexible, but still be a bit brittle, and not as pliable as play-doh.
Once you’ve made a fairly solid mound of dough, press it with the heel of your hand to flatten into a disk.
Then push around the edges to fill in any cracks that may have occurred, making a rounded disk. Repeat with the other half of the dough.
Wrap the dough tightly in the plastic wrap, and put it in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. This will give the fats a chance to chill and firm up again, and for the flour to absorb more of the liquids.
Look down and wonder why you inevitably wear black and forget to put on an apron every time you make pie dough.
After the dough has chilled out in the fridge for a bit, take it out and unwrap it. Place the dough onto a lightly floured surface. I have more success with the rolling process if I let the dough sit on the counter for about 5 minutes to warm up just a tad.
Flour your rolling pin so the dough doesn’t stick. Start in the center with your rolling pin, and gently roll to the end of the dough. Do this in every direction. Be sure to start in the middle and work your way to the edge, each time. If you get a few cracks in the dough, just pinch it back together with your fingers.
When I think the dough is big enough to fill my pie plate, I plop the plate on top to be sure. It should stick out around the plate by a few inches. This looks about right.
Put your rolling pin on the edge of your dough, and gently roll the dough back onto the rolling pin.
Holding the dough onto the rolling pin, move it to the edge of the pie plate, and set it down. Then drag the rolling pin over the pie plate. The dough should unroll itself right into the pie plate.
Once the pie dough is resting in the plate, gently lift the edges around the plate, so that the dough falls to the bottom. The dough will shrink when baked, so you want to be sure that the dough is completely in the pie plate, with no gaps underneath. This will keep the dough from tearing on the bottom when you fill it.
Fold any overhanging dough back and tuck it under the edge of the pie plate, creating an all around edge.
You can leave the edge as is, for a rustic, homemade look, or you can apply a decorative edge with your fingers or a fork. My friend Cathy B. @ Bright Bakes does an excellent job of rolling out pie dough. She’s a pie girl so her pies are beautiful. That’s just how she rolls. My pies are…a little more rustic.
And there ya have it! Flawless, ultra-flaky pie dough. You did it. Go ahead, feel a little smug. Fill it and bake it according to your favorite recipes.
I’ve made this dough up to a week in advance, and just let it hang out in the fridge until I needed it. You can also freeze it by putting the wrapped disks into a freezer bag–just take it out of the freezer and let it warm up a bit on the counter–about 30 minutes, before rolling out.
Flawless Pie Dough
Yield Two Generous 9-inch Pie Crusts
Anyone can make a flaky, homemade pie crust at home by following a few easy steps.
Prep Time: 20 minutes, Cook Time: 0 minutes, Total Time: 20 minutes, plus chill time
½ C. (1 stick) cold unsalted butter
½ C. chilled shortening
2 ½ C. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. table salt
2 Tbs. iced water (or more, but no more than 4 Tbs.)
2 Tbs. chilled vodka* (yes, really)
Measure the shortening and chill in the refrigerator for at least on hour, or freeze for 20 minutes to get very cold.
Fluff or aerate your flour a bit before measuring by scooping the flour and gently shaking it back into its container a few times.
Measure the flour into a large bowl. Sprinkle with salt.
Gently whisk the flour and salt to combine.
Cut the cold butter into pieces, and sprinkle it across the flour. Toss the butter pieces to coat with flour.
Add the chilled shortening to the butter bits in the flour. Cut both fats into the flour with a pastry blender, or by criss-crossing two knives until it resembles a coarse cornmeal, with a few larger pieces no bigger than the size of peas.
Make a well in the center of the flour mixture. Sprinkle the vodka into the well, and toss flour around it with a fork to mix it in evenly. Sprinkle in ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, tossing with the flour mixture to mix it in. Dough will start to come together, but still appear crumbly. I usually end up needing 2 tablespoons of water, but you can add another tablespoon or two if necessary. You don’t want the dough to become too wet, so don’t use more than 4 tablespoons of water.
Cover the bowl with a clean towel, and allow it to rest for 10 minutes. The flour will absorb the wet ingredients while it rests.
Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface. Divide in half, and knead it a bit with your hands to form a ball. Flatten the dough balls into 5-6 inch disks.
Wrap the disks in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes, or up to a week. This allows the butter and shortening to get cold again, and the flour to absorb more of the moisture—both will contribute to the flakiness factor of your pie dough.
Roll out dough for use in your favorite pie recipes.
*RECIPE NOTES: Vinegar may be substituted for the vodka! Simply use 1 Tbs. white vinegar plus 1 Tbs. cold water in place of the vodka. I’ve made this dough up to a week in advance, and just let it hang out in the fridge until I needed it. You can also freeze it by putting the wrapped disks into a freezer bag–just take it out of the freezer and let it warm up a bit on the counter–about 30 minutes–before rolling out.