Easy as…?


There are two contradictory myths about pie. On the one hand many people are intimidated to make it because they’ve heard it’s so hard. On the other hand there’s the saying “easy as pie.” The truth lies somewhere in the middle. With a few clever tricks and a basic understanding of crust chemistry, anyone can make a good pie. The crust is the trickiest part, the rest is easy as… pie.

My recipe makes a great crust, and is simple enough to memorize after making it a few times. You’re likely to make pie more often with a really great recipe that is easy to use than with a perfect recipe that is a pain in the ass.

Knowing how to handle your dough becomes easier when you understand what’s going on inside of it. The essential components of pie crust are flour, butter, and water. Proteins in wheat flour link together and line up into chains that hold dough together: this is what makes bread chewy. Two things activate this process, water and mixing or kneading. In a crust, you want barely enough connections to hold it together; otherwise, it will become tough.

Little pieces of butter between layers of the dough create steam during baking that makes air pockets. That’s what makes a crust flaky. If the butter is too soft or you work it too much, it will coat all the flour, preventing protein connections.  Then you end up with crust that’s crumbly instead of flaky. The key to success is keeping your ingredients cold.

Hannah’s Recipe for Pie Crust

(makes one double crust or two open pies)

2 sticks unsalted butter, cold
2 cups flour, dipped and swept*
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
ice water
more flour for rolling out the dough

*usually, baking recipes assume that you have spooned the flour into a dry measuring cup and leveled it off, to avoid packing it and getting too much. In this case I want you to dip your cup right into the flour and then sweep off the excess, so you’re actually getting a little extra flour.

1. Mix the flour, sugar and salt in a bowl or freezer bag. Put this in the freezer for about 20 minutes. You could even do this the day before.

2. Cut the butter into thin slices, toss them quickly with the chilled flour. Put this back in the freezer for about 5 minutes (go make yourself a cup of tea or watch a YouTube video)

3. Ice about ½ cup water in a measuring cup. You’ll probably only use half of it.

4. Now you’re going to work the butter into the flour. Run some cold water over your hands and dry them thoroughly. Use your thumbs and forefingers to quickly press the butter into thin flour-coated sheets. Keep this up until the whole mixture looks like various sized bread crumbs, leaving some butter flakes as big as coins.
If at any point you feel the butter melting, put the bowl back in the freezer for a few minutes before continuing.

5. Sprinkle the iced water into the flour mixture, a little at a time. Toss it into the flour mixture, handling the dough as little as possible. Once you’ve added about ¼ cup, try pressing the dough into a ball. It should be crumbly and dry, but just moist enough to clump together. Add a little more water if you need to, but don’t make it too wet! Remember, water helps connect proteins and makes the dough chewy.

6. Divide the crumbly-but-moistened dough roughly in half, and dump each onto a sheet of wax paper or plastic wrap. Using the sheet, press one lump of dough into a disk, then the other. Wrap them each, and refrigerate. The longer they rest, the easier they will be to handle. Overnight is ideal, two hours is good enough, and one hour is barely doable. The dough keeps well in an airtight bag in the fridge for a few days, and in the freezer for a few months.

7. If you’ve looked at other pie recipes, you may have noticed that mine uses less flour. That’s because I like to use a lot of flour to roll it out. Liberally sprinkle flour on the surface where you’ll roll out your crust. Dust your rolling pin too, and both sides of one disk of dough. Roll it to a little less than ¼ inch, pushing from the middle to the edges as you roll. Sprinkle more flour as needed to prevent sticking.

8. Fold the dough in quarters so it’s easier to transfer to the pie plate. Drop it into the pie plate and unfold it. If you are making an open pie, fold and crimp the edges as you like, but make sure the dough doesn’t drape over the edge of the pan. Put it in the freezer until you are ready to fill and bake it.

9. If you are making a double crust pie, roll out the other disk and lay it on a baking sheet (lined with parchment or dusted with flour. Refrigerate or freeze until you are ready to fill and bake your pie.

10) From here, follow the directions of your recipe based on whatever filling you are using.

A few more tips:

a) For fuit pies, preheat to 500, with a cookie sheet directly on the bottom of your oven. Put the pie on it, then turn the oven down to the recommended baking temperature. This helps prevent a soggy bottom. You may want to move it to the middle of the oven half way through baking.

b) Freeze your crust (or your whole pie if it’s fruit-filled) before baking to keep it crisp.

c) Keep a cookie sheet under the pie while baking to prevent butter from dripping, burning, and setting off your smoke alarm.

d) Cut a circle of foil a little bigger than the rim of your pie plate. Cut a 4-5 inch diameter hole in the middle of the circle. Now you have a 2 inch thick ring. Use it to cover the edges of your pie towards the end of baking to prevent burning.

Questions? Leave a comment!