One of my clearest cooking memories growing up was of my grandfather in the kitchen making his pie dough. He wore a big white chef’s hat and his apron. He kept his marble rolling pin in the freezer, chilled and ready to roll out his crust. Unfortunately, I never learned his secrets to pie crust making. At the time, I was more interested in playing outside.
Up until about a year ago I was like many people who claimed pie dough “was too much trouble to make” and store-bought pie dough “was just as good, because the filling was the good part, anyway.” Well, when I started my CSA box I was introduced to a whole big group of vegetables that I had hardly used before (zucchini, summer squash, various greens, etc.). When I searched for recipes, quiches and tarts were a common solution.
Luckily I had some spare time and decided I should try making my own crust, because why not. I didn’t have a food processor or a stand mixer at the time, so I found a recipe and tried by hand. If it was difficult and I failed, I could always buy a crust at the store later. To my surprise and excitement, it wasn’t all that difficult and it tasted worlds better than a store bought crust.
So, because I’ve had far too many friends and family members tell me making pie dough “takes too much time” and “is too difficult to make,” I going to tell you how and challenge you to try your hand. Once you try, I promise, you will wonder why you ever spent money on such poor-quality pie dough from the store.
Here are a few bits and tips:
- Always keep a few sticks of unsalted butter in your refrigerator, because cold butter is required for all pie and biscuit doughs (yes, biscuits will be in a later post, because they are yummy, and I live in the South, and they are easy to make, too, and of course better than the store-bought)
- You do not need a fancy food processor or stand mixer to make the dough. Though I love my new food processor and pretty yellow stand mixer, it really isn’t not worth taking them out of the cabinets and then having to clean them afterward for a pie dough. You can use your good old-fashioned fingers and a bowl, which you need even if you use fancy equipment.
- You need a rolling pin or something to roll the dough with (a wine bottle works well, though please remove the label and empty the contents first).
- This pie dough recipe makes two crusts. If you need both, great; if not, don’t half the recipe but instead stick the second disc in the freezer for another day. This will save you time for the next quiche or tart (or maybe even apple turnover).
- Last one, check your oven temperature. This is not just for pie dough, this is for anything involving your oven. Once you know how far off your oven temperature is (and it will be off) you can calibrate it or at least adjust the cooking temperature appropriately. (Mine was originally 75 degrees hotter than the dial stated. No wonder I kept burning everything. Now its 25 degrees hot because I can’t adjust it anymore without consulting a specialist.)
(adapted from Martha Stewart’s Pate Brisee)2 1/2 cups all purpose flour 1 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon sugar 2 sticks (1 cup) cold unsalted butter 1/4-1/2 cup cold water In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and sugar. This will make the flour lighter. Alternatively, you can sift the flour, salt and sugar together (I don’t because I dislike cleaning the fine mesh). Dice the cold butter in small cubes. Cut lengthwise down the middle and then rotate the stick onto its side and cut it lengthwise again. Then dice it into cubes 1/4-1/2 inch thick. Add the cubes to the flour mixture.
Now the fun part, while the butter is still cold work it into the flour mixture by squishing the piece of butter between your fingers and into the flour mixture. Continue doing this until all the pieces are broken up and the mixture looks coarse and crumbly (2-3 minutes). Okay now things get a little messy. Add a 1/4 cup of cold water to the mixture and bring together with a wooden spoon, rubber spatula or your hands ( I like hands, though remove any rings first). Once most of the flour is incorporated pour the contents onto a clean work surface and knead the dough a little more to incorporate the flour. Now test the dough to see if it needs more water. Squeeze a part of it together. If it crumbles add more water, 1 tablespoon at a time.
Divide the dough in two and flatten into two discs. Wrap the discs in plastic wrap and refrigerate the discs for at least one hour before further use (you can store them in the refrigerator for a few days, a good weekend prep for a weeknight meal). If you only need one crust, place the second disc in the freezer and save for later (1-2 months).
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Remove the pie dough from the refrigerator and roll out into a circle. Fit the dough into a pie or tart pan*. If you have any scraps you can roll them back up, wrap them in plastic wrap and toss them in the freezer. Combine them with scraps of the other half and you have another pie crust or dough for some yummy turnovers.
Par bake** the crust by placing aluminum foil over the pie dough and then fill the pan with dried beans (or pie weights, but if you have pie weight you probably already know how to make a pie dough). Place on a baking sheet and put into a 425 degree oven for 10 minutes. Remove the foil and beans (allow beans to cool before placing back in a bag for use with another pie). Poke a few holes in the bottom to allow steam to escape and then put back in the oven for 8 more minutes, until the crust starts to turn golden brown.
Now pat yourself on the back because you just made scrumptious pie crust and you just need a yummy filling for it.
*Okay I have a confession: I don’t have a pie pan or a tart pan, but I make quiche all the time. I actually use a cake pan. Its a little small for the filling and dough, but it work just the same. If you try this be careful not to overfill the pan with the filling. It will spill over, so bake it on a cookie sheet to catch anything that drips. Also when removing it I let it cool slightly then place my hand on top, directly on the quiche (that’s why it has to cool some) and flip it out onto a cutting board just like you would a cake layer. Because its really hard to cut and serve a quiche in a pie pan.
**Why par bake? You par bake a crust to keep it from getting soggy when you add the filling. Also the beans hold the pie crust sides up, helping to structure the crust. If you don’t par bake it the side may fall down and shrink. Some crusts you don’t need to par bake, but I usually do, because a soggy crust is just not tasty.