A tender, flaky crust is the best part of any pie, whether it’s filled with fresh fruit or nuts and warm fall spice. The rich taste of real butter produces a versatile and delicious pie pastry, but for a crust that’s easier to handle, try incorporating butter and shortening. The combination of butter and fat provides both stability, from the shortening, and flavor from the butter.
A perfect crust is relatively simple to prepare if you make sure to always follow these three guidelines for making pie dough.
1. Don’t overwork the dough.
Take care not to overblend the fat and flour. Cutting the butter into the flour mixture is a key step in making a good piecrust. The butter must be very cold and hard and in pea-sized pieces before the liquid (usually ice water) is added. If the butter warms up and softens, the flour will absorb it, become sticky and ultimately yield a tough crust.
Handle the pastry no more than necessary. Overworking the piecrust will “work” the glutens in the flour and melt the butter into the flour, again creating a tough crust.
2. Add just enough water to hold the dough together.
Add enough water so the dough can be rolled out easily—better a bit too much water than not enough. Try adding the water a tablespoon at a time, stirring and tossing with a fork after each addition. Stop adding water as soon as the dough comes together in a rough, shaggy mass and can hold together when pinched.
3. Keep everything very, very cold.
Pastry made with butter must be refrigerated for at least an hour before being rolled out. It’s also a good idea to refrigerate the dough again once it’s been placed in the pie dish, before you add the filling and bake.
Rolling Out the Dough
Once you’ve made the dough and chilled it, you’re ready to roll out your piecrust. On a lightly floured board or rolling mat, flatten the dough disk with six to eight gentle taps of the rolling pin. Lift the dough and give it a quarter turn. Dust the top of the dough and the rolling pin with flour as needed.
Begin rolling from the middle of the dough round, pushing outward and stopping the pressure 1/4 inch from the edge so that the edge does not get too thin. Lift the dough, give it a quarter turn and repeat rolling. Use this frequent lifting and turning of the dough to gauge the thickness and to dust the work surface and dough lightly with flour. Roll the dough out about 1/8 inch thick. Now you’re ready to fill it with whatever your heart desires!
A Recipe for the Flakiest Piecrust
In our opinion, the rich flavor of butter and the flake-making quality of vegetable shortening produce a pie pastry that is both versatile and delicious. The butter and shortening should be very cold. This will help them to form layers in the crust that contribute to the overall flakiness. If you are making a savory pie, omit the sugar.
Flaky Pie Pastry
- 1 1⁄ 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 Tbs. sugar (optional)
- 1⁄4 tsp. salt
- 5 Tbs. cold unsalted butter, cut into 3 ⁄4 -inch pieces
- 3 Tbs. cold vegetable shortening, cut into 3⁄ 4 -inch pieces
- 4 Tbs. ice water
1. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, sugar and salt. Pulse 2 or 3 times to mix. Add the butter and shortening pieces and pulse 8 to 10 times until the mixture forms large, coarse crumbs. Add the ice water a little at a time and pulse 10 to 12 times until the dough begins to come together in a mass but does not form a ball.
2. Transfer the dough to a work surface and shape into a 6-inch disk. Wrap the disk tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate until well chilled, about 1 hour or up to overnight. Makes one 9-inch piecrust.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Baking by Cathy Burgett
Take One of These Pie Recipes for a Spin!
Practice your technique by baking one of our favorite seasonal Williams Sonoma pies: