kitchen 101: how to make pie crust

Posted on Oct 4, 2012 in Food

I seem to start these kitchen 101 posts with confessions a lot of the time. Well, here we go again, confession time, friends.

Up until about a year ago, I was terrified to make my own pie crust. I’m not sure where the fear came from. Maybe I watched one too many Martha Stewart episodes where she lectured me sternly about the importance of cold butter, but for some reason, I thought making pie crust was pretty much the hardest thing ever.

Uh, it isn’t.

It’s not even close to hard. It’s actually pretty freaking easy. And it is definitely one of those things that is worth the extra time to make it versus store-bought. Store bought crusts will work, but a homemade crust is life-changing good. My favorite part about home-making crusts is I have complete control over the flours. Almost all of my pie crusts are made with 100% whole wheat pastry flour. If you use a good whole wheat pastry flour, I’d venture a guess that you’d have a hard time telling the difference between it and its enriched flour brother. I love this organic flour from Great River so much that I order it specially online. That’s love.

With the holiday baking season coming up soon (or right now, if you live in Canada), let me show you how to take your pies to the next level. I promise, if you make your own crust, someone will say to you, “this is the best pie I’ve ever had.” Guaranteed.

The ingredients for a pie crust are painfully simple—flour, butter, salt, sugar and ice water. Done and done. Here are my measurements to make one pie crust (large enough for a 9″ pie plate):

  • 1-1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (or replace with all-purpose flour or a combo)
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1 stick frozen butter <—– I store my butter in the freezer, so it’s always ready for pie crust-making
  • 4-5 tablespoons ice water

Next up, you want to pulse together the flour, sugar and salt in the basin of a food processor. Pulse just a few times to get it nice and mixed up. Don’t have a food processor? That’s cool, just whisk together the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.

Using a sharp knife, cut your frozen butter into small pieces. It takes a little bit of elbow grease to cut through solid-frozen butter, but keeping the butter cold is what makes the crust nice and flaky. If you prefer, you can cut unfrozen butter into chunks and then freeze those chunks. Whatever makes you happy. Just as long as your butter is crazy cold.

Add the cut-up frozen butter to the food processor and pulse until the mixture resembles the texture of small pebbles. Don’t worry about getting all the butter chopped up evenly. It’s more important for your butter to stay frozen than it is for the butter to be perfectly distributed. If you are doing this by hand, you’ll need to go at the butter/flour mixture with a pastry blender or two butter knives, cutting in the butter until it’s the size of small pebbles. Work quickly (and in a cool space if you can) you don’t want that butter to warm up.

Working a tablespoon at a time, add in the ice water and pulse the food processor until combined. After each addition, grab a handful of the mixture and squeeze it together. When it stays together without crumbling (it usually takes about four tablespoons for me) you are done. If you are doing this by hand, follow the same method, except whisk vigorously between each tablespoon of water.

Yay! Your pie crust dough is done. Woohoo! Now dump the crumbly meal onto a clean work surface and, using your hands, form into a solid lump, then into a disc. Work as quickly as possible because the heat in your hands will melt the butter (which, as we’ve established, is a no-no). The disc doesn’t have to be perfect.

Wrap up the disc in plastic wrap and stash in the fridge. It’ll need to rest in there for about an hour before you roll it out. If you’re in a rush, you can stick it in the freezer for 15-20 minutes.

After the crust has chilled out in the fridge, let it warm up a bit at room temperature for 5-10 minutes, then roll out on a lightly floured surface until it is about 1/8″  and large enough around to cover your pie plate. Roll the crust around your rolling pin for easy transporting.

Unroll on top of your ungreased pie plate (don’t worry, there is enough butter in the pie crust to not stick). Gently push it in the plate to contour along the sides.

Leaving about 1/2″ all the way around, trim the extra crust, roll the 1/2″ under and then flute or decorate the edge however you prefer. Tada!

See? Easy peasy! And now you can make obnoxious creations like this savory pie, which is coming your way early next week.

Do you make your own pie crust? If so, which camp are you in—butter or shortening?

18 Comments

  1. I always make my own pie crusts. And I always use unsalted butter. I don’t typically put sugar in my crust though, so next time I make a sweet crust I will try it. I also sometimes put some baking powder in with my savory crusts to make it a bit fluffier. Enjoy your pie season!

    • I think just a touch of sugar is a really nice contrast to the butter. And I always use unsalted, too! I’d much rather control my own salt.

  2. Perfect!!! And now maybe you could do a similar post on fluting, haha. My pie crusts always look puffy and uneven and sad – more like pizza crust. But you’ve got me looking forward to what looks like a delicious autumn comfort food!

    • Fluting is so easy once you figure it out, that it almost doesn’t seem worth a post! For years I couldn’t figure it out, and then I watched a video on YouTube and the light clicked on!

  3. You are spot on when you say that homemade crust is life changing. I’ve been making homemade pecan pie for Thanksgiving since I was in middle school, but two years ago I made it with a homemade whole wheat crust. My dad went on and on about how this was the best version I’d ever made. And he always says that my pecan pie is the best so this meant a lot that I had improved it even further.

    And I’m definitely in the butter camp. Shortening has it’s place, but not in my pie crust.

    • Oh gosh, I so want a pecan pie, now! A perfect pecan pie is pretty much the stuff dreams are made of.

  4. My recipe calls for half butter, half shortening, but when really want to indulge I go with all butter. This crust you made is gorgeous! I wish I had taken pics of the kindergarten crusts that came out of my class on Monday! Not at all like yours!! They each got a tiny ball to roll out and we baked our pies in muffin tins so each kiddo got their own. I was so glad I did this because I realized that many of the kids had never even seen someone make pie. Somme didn’t even know what flour was! I think I’ll work on an after school cooking class!!!!

    • All butter, all the time! :) And you are doing AWESOME work teaching those kids about food. I remember watching a Food Revolution episode where Jamie Oliver went into a classroom and kids (not even super young kids, maybe 6th graders?) couldn’t identify common veggies. Like tomatoes or potatoes or cucumbers! They had no idea. So sad.

  5. I’m so glad this does not have Crisco or any other kind of trans fat! I love my Mom to death (and her amazing apple pie with homemade crust), but the trans fat has got to hit the road!

    Companies are so sneaky these days to manipulate their labels to say 0g trans fat. Newsflash – that really just means <1g per serving! It could be .99 grams, yet they are able to bare the "No Trans Fat!" label.

    • That drives me crazy! Did you know Girl Scout cookies have trans fats? But they put the NO TRANS FATS! label on the outside. So wrong.

  6. I have one that is way easier and it’s flaky and perfect for Apple Pie…

    2 Cups Flour
    1/2 Cup Vegetable Oil
    1/4 Cup Milk

    Mix ingredients together with a fork until crumbly, then form into two balls. Roll each out between waxed paper. Makes 2 crusts or 1 top and 1 bottom.

    • Awesome! I might have to try it out, although I have to say butter > oil in my world, always and forever. Me and butter be tight. :)

  7. I love that you posted this today! I made my very own pizza dough for the first time last night and was like, stupid proud of myself. I’ve ALWAYS been so intimidated by breads and refused to make them myself. I think I thought they were way more complicated than they really are.

    Weird question, have you ever had issues using a gas stove verses an electric? When we moved to our townhouse I had to adjust to using a gas stove for the first time ever, and I can’t find a balance between temperature and time. I have little trouble with putting chicken or pizza in the oven, but my cookies and other baked goods end up burnt or gooey in the middle all! Any advice?

    • I grew up cooking on a gas stove, so I’ve barely ever even used an electric, so I <3 gas. That being said, those stoves in those apartments SUCK. SUCK. SUCK. I had the hardest time finding the right temperature. I eventually learned that my stove was a lot hotter than it said it was and that helped. Good luck!

  8. Yes! I’m pumped about this. I’m in the butter camp but have never mastered the art so I don’t make pie. And of course it’s husbands favorite food ever… poor man is suffering and you may have just saved his life. I owe you one.

    • Hahah! It’s easy, I promise! And pie is one of my favorite foods, too. We didn’t have cake at our wedding, just a whole table of different pies!

  9. I have the world’s smallest kitchen with absolutely no counter space for rolling out, so I usually make single crust, press-in pie crusts. So easy and you save a ton of calories with only a bottom crust. You can find a bunch of recipes on google or bing.

    • That’s awesome! I’ll have to look into it, thanks!

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