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Practicing the basics: pie crust

This is a basic recipe that will work for fruit pie, pumpkin pie, quiche, and a number of other kinds of pies and pastry. It makes enough dough for two layers: one inside the pie pan, and one over the top such as for fruit pies. Or you could make two pies that only require a single layer of crust underneath, such as quiche or pumpkin pie.

Makes 2 layers of crust for a 9-inch pie pan: enough for two single-layer pies such as pumpkin or quiche, or one double-layer pie such as apple. Time required: minimum 1 hour 15 minutes (but it’s better if you let the dough rest in the refrigerator for several hours before using it).

Suggested reading:

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour.
  • 2 sticks (1/2 lb.) unsalted butter.
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt.
  • 1/2 cup icewater. The exact amount of water you need will depend on a number of factors, most of which are out of your control, including the temperature, the humidity, and the peculiarities of your flour. So prepare at least a couple of tablespoons more water than this, and we will add it gradually until it’s enough.
  • 1 tsp. sugar (optional).

Prepare the icewater in advance by putting 3/4 cups cold tap water in a mug with several ice cubes and putting it in the refrigerator at least half an hour before you begin.

While the icewater is chilling, cut the butter into cubes, 1/2 inch on a side. Place in a bowl in the freezer and allow to chill for 15 minutes. This is very important: keeping the butter very cold will prevent it from fully incorporating into the dough and leave intact pieces — the key to a flaky crust.

Place the flour, salt and optional sugar in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to mix. Add the cold butter and pulse repeatedly until the butter is in pea-sized pieces.

Slowly add the water while pulsing the food processor until the mixture looks like wet sand and just starts to creep up the sides of the bowl. To test whether you have added the correct amount of water, grab a small amount of dough between your fingers and press it together: if it stays pressed together and doesn’t stick to your fingers, you’re done; if it falls apart, you need to add a bit more water.

Lay out on your kitchen counter a wide square of plastic wrap, about 18 inches on a side. I do this by overlapping two 18×12 pieces.

Dump out the dough into a pile in the center of the plastic wrap. Pull up on the outer edges of the plastic wrap and bring them together above the dough to fully enclose it.

Cup the dough in your hands and gently squeeze it to form a solid ball. Do this gently — enough for the dough to come together in one piece, but you don’t need to pack it down. Also do it quickly: the heat form your hands will warm up the dough.

Unwrap the dough ball, and using a bench scraper or knife, cut it into two equal pieces. If you really want to make sure they are equal, you can weigh them.

One at a time, place each half of the dough on a floured surface and roll it out into a circular disk about 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick. When cold, the dough will start out very stiff and difficult to roll out. Pressing it out into a thinner layer now will save you a bunch of work later.

Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate them until ready to use, at least half an hour or up to 24 hours. The flour in the dough will more thoroughly absorb the water while it rests, making it much easier to roll out.


Rolling out the dough

To roll out the dough, lightly flour a countertop or pastry board. Have some extra flour and a bench scraper handy.

Unwrap one of the disks of dough, lightly flour both sides, and place it on the prepared surface.

Using a floured rolling pin, start in the middle of the dough and roll out to the end, pressing down as you go. Start in the middle and roll away from you, then go back to the middle and roll towards your body. Cold dough will be very stiff and difficult to roll out at first; don’t get discouraged, as it gets easier along the way.

Rotate the dough 90 degrees and continue rolling middle-out. Keep rotating 45- or 90- degrees at a time so as to evenly roll out the dough. At some point the dough will start sticking to the surface; use the bench scraper to gently pry the dough off and lift up one side, then sprinkle some more flour underneath. Also, the dough may start sticking to the rolling pin: rub some more flour on the rolling pin, and lightly sprinkle more flour on top of the dough. Try not to over-do it with adding more flour: add just enough to stop the dough from sticking, in small increments when necessary. Also, try to work fast when doing this; the longer the dough is at room temperature and the more you roll it out, the more those pieces of butter are going to soften and get incorporated into the dough; we want to avoid that, because it will make our pie crust less flaky.

Keep rolling (middle-out) and turning until the dough is about 15 inches in diameter for a shallow pie pan or 16 inches across for a deep pan, and an even thickness across the dough (about 1/4 inch). We want the dough to fully cover the pie pan plus some extra that we will trim down to the correct size. The farther you roll it out, the more the dough will crack and split in places. This is totally normal and expected. Pie dough is extremely forgiving at this point; when it cracks, tear off a piece from the edge somewhere else, lightly press it in on top of the crack until it joins the rest of the dough, lightly flour on top of it, and then gently roll over it with the rolling pin. The more time your dough rests in the refrigerator before you try to roll it out, the better the flour will absorb the water and the less it will crack and split.


Moving the dough to the pie pan

The best way to move the rolled-out dough over to a pie pan is by hanging it over your rolling pin.

Place the rolling pin about an inch in from the edge of the dough closest to you. Lift up the edge of the dough and start folding it over the top of the rolling pin. Move the rolling pin in towards the center, lifting it up off the dough and twisting it so the dough rolls over the top of the rolling pin (the motion is like rolling toilet paper or paper towels back onto the roll). Keep going until the dough is hanging off the rolling pin by its center.

For the underneath-layer of pie crust: Unroll the dough over the pie pan so that it lays across the top, with an approximately even amount of dough hanging over the outer rim of the pan all the way around. Work your way around the pan, pushing the overhanging dough in so that inside the pan it droops down to the bottom. Very gently push in on the dough so that it it touches the pan all the way around, pushing in more dough from the edge more as necessary so that you don’t stretch the dough. This is really important: DON”T STRETCH THE DOUGH TO MAKE IT FIT. When it bakes, the dough will shrink on its own. If you stretch it while you are fitting it into the pan, then it will shrink even more and pull it in a lot from the edge.

Using kitchen shears, trim the excess dough from the edges so that it’s even all the way around. If you are making a pie with a top crust, leave an overhang about one-quarter the width of the pie pan rim. If you are making a pie with no top crust, leave an overhang the width of the pie pan rim. For a pie with no top crust: tuck the overhang underneath the crust all the way around, being careful not to stretch the dough. This gives you a clean, rounded edge. If you don’t have enough overhang in a spot along the edge, patch it by taking some of the excess you trimmed off and pressing it into the hole (use a few drops of water if it isn’t sticking together).

For the top-layer of crust: After you’ve added the filling, unroll the top layer over the top of the pan so that it lays across the top, with an approximately even amount of dough hanging over the outer rim of the pan all the way around, being careful not to stretch the dough. Using kitchen shears, trim the excess dough from the edges so that there is an extra overhang the width of the pie pan rim, patching where necessary (see above). Fold the overhang underneath the edge of the lower crust, taking care not to stretch the dough. This gives you a nicely rounded edge; it also seals up the pie crust around the edges so nothing leaks out.

If you want to give your pie crust a classic, notched look: stick your index finger underneath the edge of the crust, and with the tips of your thumb and index finger on the other hand, press down on either side of where your index finger is pushing up on the crust to create indentations. Work your way around the edge of the rim making a row of alternating notches and indentations.


Blind-baking your pie crust

If you are making a pie that has a liquid filling, such as a quiche or pumpkin pie, typically you will want to partially pre-bake the underneath crust before adding the filling so that it doesn’t absorb the filling and become soggy. This is a common practice, called “blind baking” or “par-baking.” It’s a simple process; the only trick is that the crust can sometimes bubble up while blind-baking so to avoid that we weigh it down in the middle. You can buy reusable “pie weights”, which look like ceramic marbles, to do this, or you can use dried white beans (the beans can be re-used several times as pie weights).

Time required: 20 minutes

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Cut a 8-9-inch diameter circle of parchment paper. This is called a “cartouche,” and we will use it as a layer between the crust and the pie weights. The exact measurement isn’t perfect; we want it to be big enough to cover the entire bottom of the crust and partly up the side of the pan. There are several ways to cut this. 1. Place your pie pan on top of the parchment paper, trace around the bottom of the pan, and then cut it out. 2. Cut a 9×9 square of parchment paper, fold it in half twice, then cut an arc across the two sides that don’t have folds. 3. Buy pre-cut 9-inch circles of parchment paper.

Arrange the lower crust in the pie pan (see above). Place the parchment paper on top of the crust so that it covers the entire bottom and parts of the sides. Place the pie weights on top of the parchment paper, covering the entire bottom of the pan.

Place the pie pan in the oven and bake until the edge of the crust starts to brown, about ten minutes. At this point the crust is cooked enough that it won’t absorb liquid filling, but the part underneath the parchment paper hasn’t had a chance to evaporate off its extra water.

Remove from oven, carefully remove the pie weights and parchment paper, and return the pie pan to the oven. Bake until the bottom of the crust is dry, about 4-5 minutes. Be careful removing the pie weights; they will be hot. I use a cooking spoon to scoop them out and place them in an oven-safe container such as a Pyrex bowl or a ramekin.

Remove from oven. Let crust fully cool in pie pan before adding filling.