How to Make Perfect Pie Crust

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While Ahnna has been questing after the perfect turkey over the years, I have likewise been questing after the perfect pie crust. Along the way, I’ve had my share of total disasters, mediocre attempts, and ultimately, complete raves. It was quite the learning process, but now I am considered the unrivaled pastry queen in my family.

how to make a homemade pie crust

Two apple pies from a family bake-off. I made the crust for both just to even the playing field! My pie is the double-crust one on the right.

My go-to pie crust recipe used to be Martha Stewart’s Pâte Brisée, which is good, but I have since worked out a better one with the help of Irma Rombauer (sorry, Martha). The main key to the perfect pie crust, however, is method more than recipe. For a truly memorable, flaky pie crust that in no way resembles a doorstop, you must follow the method carefully and lovingly. In a way, it’s an art form.

Keys to a Perfect Pie Crust

When making pie crust, just remember these three key points:

  1. Never, ever substitute anything for the butter.
    Banish margarine from your kitchen, and turn away from the hydrogenated vegetable shortening. You want butter, and only butter.
  2. Too much water ruins the crust.
    I can’t stress this enough. When you add water to the dough, add a little at a time. It doesn’t take much to suddenly end up with a gloppy dough, and then you are ruined. You might as well fashion it into a doorstop now.
  3. Lard won’t kill you.
    If you’re thinking about substituting extra butter for the lard, don’t. Lard didn’t kill your ancestors, and it won’t kill you.

Homemade Pie Crust Recipe

This Pâte Brisée recipe originates from an older edition of Joy of Cooking, with my own measures and notes. It makes one 9-inch pie shell, so if you’re making a double-crust pie, you need to double the recipe.

½ cup (1 stick) chilled butter
2 Tbsp chilled (solid) lard, preferably homemade
2 cups pastry flour
½ tsp salt
3-6 Tbsp cold water

Combine the flour and salt in a bowl. Use a knife to cut the butter in small pieces into the flour mixture. Add the lard. You can use a pastry cutter to cut in the butter and lard, but I prefer to use my fingers, particularly if the lard is frozen. The heat from my hands thaws it just enough to work it in. Work the butter and lard into the flour mixture until it resembles fine crumbs and there are no large pieces of butter or lard remaining.

For the cold water, I make a cupful or so of ice water, and then I use my Tablespoon measure to dip out 1 Tablespoon at a time. Add 1-2 Tbsp of the water to start, and stir it into the pastry mixture. Carefully add the water 1 Tbsp at a time until the dough is just moist enough to hang together. It shouldn’t be too crumbly. It should be moist, but not gloppy. (When in doubt, err on the side of less water.) When you have just enough water for it to hang together, you’re ready to move on.

Fashion the dough into a flattened round (not a ball), and wrap it in a damp towel if you’re going to use it the same day. Otherwise, you can wrap it in plastic wrap. If you doubled the recipe, fashion the dough into 2 rounds. Put in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.

When you’re ready to use the crust, take it out of the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature. Roll it out evenly in all directions on a floured pastry mat, getting it as thin as possible, about ⅛ inch. For the bottom crust, spray the pie pan with cooking spray and then carefully place the crust in the shell. I prefer to place the pan on top of the crust,  pick up the mat and and pan and flip them over so that the crust is on top. Arrange the crust in the pan, and then trim and flute the edge.

If you’re adding a top crust, do the same thing, but use the pastry mat to carefully place the crust over the pie. Trim and flute the edge.

Tips and Notes

I use this pie crust recipe for any basic pie or quiche. Irma Rombauer recommends using Pâte Sucrée for sweet pies instead of the Pâte Brisée (the chief difference being that the former has egg and sugar in it), but I find that I prefer Pâte Brisée for sweet pies, too. If you want some added sweetness on the crust, you can brush on a glaze of egg and cream, and then sprinkle sugar over it. Yummy!

There are many good recipes in the world for fillings once you have mastered the crust. I own and love Martha Stewart’s Pies & Tarts (my hardcover dates from 1985), and her blueberry pie, pecan pie, and chocolate-pecan pie recipes are some of my favorites. And, of course, Joy of Cooking is always a great resource, as is the great wide Internet.

Asha Hawkesworth

Asha is passionate about enjoying life and making the most of what she has. She is a writer and painter and enjoys being with her family. She has written children's books and a book about the inner child (www.imaginalovemedia.com), as well as other blogs at brighthill.net and ashahawkesworth.com.

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