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Pie Crust...I will not be defeated!

Okay, pie crust is my nemesis. My arch-rival. It is the Lex Luthor to my Superman; the Megatron to my Optimus Prime; the Gargamel to my Cook Smurf.

===

I have "made" numerous pie crusts, and of the ones that I could even get into the pan, they all turned out tough... the rest fell apart before I could even get them there. (The problem isn't the actual physical act of moving them, by the way - I can do both the quarter-fold and the technique where you wrap it around the rolling pin.)

Anyway, I've tried Alton Brown, David Lebovitz, Mark Bittman, Sur la Table / Art & Soul of Baking, Williams Sonoma, Dore Greenspan, and a couple others...and there's something I'm missing here.

Although I've tried a number of different recipes and they do vary a bit, as a general rule I use 1.25 c flour (a bit more than 6 ounces), 1 stick butter, a teaspoon or so of sugar, a pinch of salt and they all call for 3-4 tablespoons of water (which I THINK is my problem; see below). I don't think it's the recipes; these are all reputable and respectable folks whom I have no doubt can make a mean, flaky pie crust. It's me.

For ingredients I use: King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose flour, Land O'Lakes unsalted butter, filtered-tap water, Domino white sugar, and kosher salt from Penzey's. I cut the butter into 1/2 inch pieces and freeze it, I leave the water in the fridge for over an hour, and this past time I even set the dry ingredients in the food processor bowl in the freezer for about 15 mins before starting. I don't think it's the ingredients; again, it's me.

So here's what happens: I pulse the dry ingredients a couple times just to get them mixed together. Then I add the butter 1 piece at a time and pulse once (for a total of 8 pulses) and then a couple more pulses until the butter is pea-sized, give or take.

I turn the butter/flour compound into a mixing bowl and I sprinkle the water in, a tablespoon at a time, stir it into the dough...and it all goes to heck right here.

I simply do not understand how 3 tablespoons of water can make 1.25c flour and 8T butter into a dough. It doesn't come together at all. Even if I mash the stuff as hard as I can into a ball, it will fall directly apart. Same with 4, 5, and even 6T water. If I turn the dough out now and press it together, it will barely hold together - and when I take it out of the fridge to roll it out, it WILL crack and fall apart. (And for those of you wondering: yes, I have in fact tried this with 3, 4, 4.5, 5, 5.5, and 6T water. It won't roll out properly, even if I only chill the dough for an hour and let it rest for 10 mins outside of the fridge before rolling it.)

Once I get in the 8-10T range (or more), the dough will hold together enough for me to turn it out, press into a disc and get it in the fridge. It rolls out fine, then; I roll out, turn, roll out, turn, roll out, turn, etc, and keep it from sticking. Then I get it in the pan and blind bake it for about 20-25 mins at 400F (with foil and pie weights), and lo and behold... I have a crust so tough that it is almost literally inedible.

You can't cut it with anything other than my sharpest chef's knife, if even that, and you sure as heck can't chew it. The only thing I can figure is that the extra water makes me have to work it too much and so the dough gets tough from being overworked, although I don't know that for a fact. All I do know is that every single pie crust I've ever had hold together long enough to get into the pan has been tough as nails, and those are the ones that have 2-3 times the required amount of water.

===

So, here's what I think my problem is: I'm not mixing the water into the dough properly.

I just don't know how to make the dough turn into "large, shaggy clumps" as seen on page 172 of Sur la Table's Art & Soul of baking without adding 1/2 cup or more of water to the dough.

I'm afraid of overworking the dough; should I stop being afraid of that? When I mix the water into the flour/butter compound, should I really dig in and mix it HARD? Right now I'm just sort of folding it in, and it's crumbly well past 3-4T of water.

Effectively, then, my real question is: how in the world do you get a mere 3T of water to turn that much other stuff into a dough?

Any advice at all would be greatly appreciated. I feel like I'm an expert on pie crusts - believe me, I know all about them - but I can't seem to make it work in practice... all my knowledge is theoretical.

Thanks, again, in advance!

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  1. OK I am an infrequent pie crust maker but here's where I think you are going wrong: the butter 1 tablespoon at a time and pulse method. You are maybe getting some of the butter too warm with the food processor or overworking the first pieces.

    The way I learned in high school home ec was to use a pastry blender or 2 butter knives (cutting in opposite directions) to cut up the butter into little crumbles with the flour. A fork works too. Some of your clumps will be big and some will be actual crumbs but just don't overdo it. Then sprinkle your water in until it comes together -- but it still might be kind of crumbly-looking but it's still OK. I'm always surprised by how dry it looks but then it still somehow becomes crust. But don't expect it to look like "dough" like bread dough when you do this. Somehow when you roll it out it smushes together into something that works. (Haven't done this in a while but hopefully someone who has will chime in if I am laughably off-base.)

    1. In the recipes I've used, one adds all the pieces of butter at once, so that when mixed they become uniform sized. Otherwise, the ones added first would melt from the processing. Also I have found 3 T of water to be quite adequate.

      1. I would try two things: change your recipes a bit: substitute shortening for some of the butter. All butter crust is better suited for fruit tart where one wants more of a crispy, cookie like texture. Pie dough should be tender and flaky. Second, up the salt a little bit to give the crust some flavor, especially if you are using unsalted butter.
        Here is my ingredients for a single crust, just enough for a 9 inch pyrex standard pie:
        1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (i am not picky, Gold Medal works fine)
        2/3 teaspoon salt
        1 tablespoon sugar
        3 ounces of cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, no need to get too precise, roughly 1/2 inch
        2 tablespoon chilled shortening
        3 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoon of COLD water
        Pulse all the dry ingredients together. Put in the small pieces of cold butter and the shortening.
        Pulse until the mixture until the fat is smaller than peas size. Transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl. Slowly dribble in the cold water, mixing it with a large fork. A few drops of extra cold water will not hurt.
        Transfer the dough to a large sheet of plastic wrap. Fold the plastic wrap loosely over the dough and form into a nice flat disc by pressing with the palm down and using your other hand to push the dough inward. Chill the dough thoroughly. I roll the disc of dough between two plastic wrap or parchment papers. No extra flour is needed, dough do not stick to the any surface and easy to transfer the rolled circle into the pie plate. Chill the pie dough about 30 minutes before using.
        From my experience of teaching how to make pie crust using a food processor, two of the most common problem are:
        1. most cooks do not cut in the fat fine enough into the flour. Most recipes call for 'pea size' and that just leaves too much flour dry that is not coated with fat. When you get to 'peas' size stage, give the processor another two or three quick pulses.
        2. When mixing in the cold water into the flour mixture, there is a fine line between over-and under mixing. I have found that most beginners (paranoid from all those warnings of "DO NOT OVER WORK") do not mix in the cold water thoroughly enough, making the dough very crumbly. Use a big fork, dribble the cold water while pressing down with the fork. Mix a little, it is ok. A little extra mixing (as long as you are not using your warm hands) is better than adding more water which would really make your dough tough. If you work the dough right, 2 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoon of cold water is enough.
        For a double crust pie, it is easier for me to make the recipe twice and get two equal disks. No need to wash the food processor, etc.
        I hope this helps. Takes a few crust to get it right.

        1 Reply
        1. re: PBSF

          Ditto your point about the flour/fat not being blended enough, but the main flaw in NB's method is that he's gone overboard trying to avoid warmth and overworking. (See paragraphs below.) I use my family's handed down technique (not from any book I'm aware of) and I was always told to blend the fat into the flour just until the you start seeing coarse crumbs though part of the butter is still in bitty pieces. We also use either European butter (Plugra) or a mixture of butter and shortening. Someone I know says she uses part butter and part solid coconut oil, but I can't vouch for that.

          But I think perhaps that nickblesch went overboard w/ the chilling, and instead of the butter being too warm, it is frozen rather than cold, which means the water it contains doesn't mix w/ the flour, necessitating extra water to hold the dough together. Then, during rolling or baking, the butter releases its water and you've got a tough crust. NB did you read about freezing the butter somewhere, or did you just figure that if cold is good, colder would be better?

          Since all the other ingredients in his method are equally frigid, the fat never melts even a little before the dough is created and rechilled in the refrigerator. The fault is that we now have food processors. If a person were trying to cut in the fat w/ a pastry blender or a couple of forks, it physically couldn't be done before the fat softened a bit. A food processor makes it possible to get to the "pea" stage while the butter is still rock-hard.

          NB, I can see how hard you've been trying not to let the mixture get too warm, and not to overmix or overwork it. I think that actually easing up a bit, chilling rather than freezing and processing a bit longer and you'll have it! Let us know when you become victorious.

        2. Rather than critique your pie crust recipe (I see a number of things that I disagree with) try this one once - at least once. I'm confident you'll abandon the one you've been using.
          For two two crust pies or four single crust pies:
          3 cups AP flour
          1 1/4 cups vegetable shortening (Crisco - forget about butter)
          1 egg, well beaten
          1 tsp. salt
          5 Tbsp. room temperature water
          1 Tbsp. white vinegar
          Combine salt and flour
          Use pastry cutter or opposing knives to cut shortening into the flour to form pea sized bits
          Combine egg, water and vinegar
          Form a well in the flour and add the egg/water/vinegar mixture (dump it into the well)
          Use a fork to combine all ingredients just enough to pull everything together. Do not overmix.
          Form the resulting dough into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and place in refrigerator for 30 - 60 minutes.
          Remove the dough from the fridge, leave it covered and allow to rest at room temperature for about 30 minutes
          Divide into four equal pieces (you can set two of them aside and hold them in the fridge for about two days or freeze them until a later time if you don't intend to use them right away)
          Put the dough ball on a lightly floured surface and press with your hand, then roll (from center outward; turning the dough if you need to so that it rolls out evenly)
          Place dough into pie pan, dock with a fork and bake at 475 degrees for about 8 minutes. Remove from oven, fill as desired
          For two crust pie, fill the bottom crust, cover with top crust, vent top crust and bake your pie as you normally would.
          The only way to mess this up is to overwork the dough - don't handle it any more than necessary.

          1. Edited because I misread the first post.

            I suspect two things: You're using the wrong fat (probably not enough, but I didn't do the math on your ratios), and you're working it too much.

            Are you at a high altitude? That changes things too.

            Pie crust really doesn't feel anything like bread dough. It just barely holds together before you roll it. You can practice on a pat crust till you get the hang of it. Then get yourself some of those round plastic zipper crust bags. You pop the dough inside and they force it into a perfect round. Once you use them, you'll wonder how you got along without them -- until you get to the point where you don't need them any longer really. I still use mine most of the time. Here's the King Arthur version:

            http://www.kingarthurflour.com/shop/i...

            In the meantime, please help yourself to my Aunt Susie's "Never Fail Pie Crust" here (though I laugh at how many very different recipes use that name):

            Sift together:
            1 1/4 cup flour
            1/2 teaspoon salt
            1/2 teaspoon baking powder

            Cut in 1/2 cup shortening, coconut oil or lard with a pastry blender. (Fumbling with two knives is for the birds.)

            Mix just until mixture resembles course cornmeal.

            Add 3 tablespoons ice water. Mix together gently until the mixture leaves the bowl.

            Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for one hour before rolling out.

            1. I have a couple of suggestions. The first is to use half butter and half Crisco. In my experience, an all-butter crust will tend to be harder, with more snap. A crust with both fats is usually more tender. In adding butter to the food processor, add the butter all at once, not piece by piece, and process for about 10 pulses. Then add the all Crisco, which you have also cut into pieces and put in the freezer, and pulse a further 8-10 times until there are no large pieces of the fats left. I agree with you that most recipes for pie crust tend to understate the actual amount needed to properly bring the crust together. If there isn't sufficient water, the crust will be dry and crumbly; if there is too much, it will be gummy. Now, I had a friend who had enormous trouble gauging the amount of water she would need, and I made a suggestion that has helped her make great pie crusts. Here's what you do: When you are done pulsing, dump everything into a bowl. Get one of those bottles that people use for dampening laundry before ironing. You put water in them, and then you shake them over the clothes, and a small amount of drops comes out with each shake. Shake this over your crust, and using a fork, keep turning the flour/fat mixture. What this does is to prevent one area of the crust from getting too wet, while the bottom stays dry. Continue to do this until all the water is used, then try to squeeze a handful of crust together. If it holds together, then you are done and you can quickly gather the dough into two balls, put them on pieces of saran, and press into two discs. Refrigerate for an hour, and I think you will be happy with the result.

              3 cups flour
              1 tablespoon sugar
              1/2 tsp salt
              1/2 cup butter
              1/2 cup Crisco
              ice water as needed -- 1/4 cup+

              1. Make sure everything is nice and cold, or cool, incl. your work area and butter
                Use equal parts vodka and ice water
                Use equal parts butter and vegetable shortening

                And whatever you do, do not overwork your dough.

                2 Replies
                1. re: ipsedixit

                  Is the vodka and ice water for the baker or the pie crust ? :)

                  1. re: ipsedixit

                    I routinely screw up piecrusts. DO NOT FEAR. Crumble it back into little bits, and rewater it. This Works, it doesn't come out "tough", and it is TASTY. Pie crust is easy to make, really. Just Stop Worrying. ;-)

                    Then again, I do a full shortening crust, and use plenty of flour (it goes everywhere).

                  2. Hi,

                    It's your ratio. Your techniques sound ok to me. The problem is too much water and it's pretty easy to fix.

                    1. I make quiches when I go to see my mom (she's diabetic, and has to restrict her carbs) and apple pies and chess pies and it's pretty easy once you get it. (I mean that in a like a positive way.) There are couple things that seem a little off in your pie crust, but you don't need to fret so much about overworking the dough. You want to avoid overworking the dough, so that it doesn't get pizza-stretchy and it doesn't sound like that's a problem.

                    2. Fats. Youre using water to make your dough rollable, but whenever you put the dough into the oven all of the water is evaporating out. Butter is 3% solids, 17% water, and 85% fat. So you're really using almost 12 tbsp. of water. My ratio calls for 2 cups of flour, 6 tbsp. butter, 6 tbsp. shortening, 7 tbsp. water: so that is more than twice as much water as I use. I'd try replacing some of your butter with shortening or oil (I like olive oil for quiches) and reduce the water down to 4-5 tbsp.

                    (Unleavened water and flour bread is called hardtack or pilot bread. It has reputation as being very stiff and almost inedible: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hardtack It'd be good for the end of the world though.)

                    2. Mixing. It's actually possible your butter is so cold that fat isn't mixing into the flour completely. If you adjust the ratio like I suggest above, and it's still not mixing together: let the dough sit in a nice, warm place until it's at room temperature. Then try mixing it. If you're still not able to get an ugly, brown, dough clod: try adding more oil instead of more water. Too much oil will result in a too crumbly crust or a greasy crust, but not the hard kind.

                    3. dmd_kc posted a recipe with baking powder. I've never used it in a pie crust before, but baking powder would add little air pockets to your crust. Breadier. You could experiment with this too, but I'm not sure I'd really want a pie with puffed crust.

                    Good luck with it. You'll have to tell us if you solve your problem.

                    1. Go to beyondsalmon.com and see a step by step pictorial on her technique.
                      I took her class, because I too, could never successfully make a pie crust.
                      Her recipe is great, as are the pictures. Can't hurt, it's worth a try. BTW, I
                      hear your frustration...... ugh!

                      9 Replies
                      1. re: mcel215

                        Okay, at the risk of sounding arrogant, I'm going to tell you exactly what your problem is, and why most of these posts are wrong. I'm just an ordinary cook, but I've never had a problem with pie crusts, they've always come out tender and delicious, and I never understood why people were in such dread of preparing them.

                        First, why on earth are you rolling it out, and then folding it and rolling it multiple times? What recipe told you to do that? You're not making puff pastry, I assume. All you're doing is overworking the dough, causing the glutens to toughen. If I understood you correctly, than this is definitely why your crusts come out so tough. After you've let the dough rest in the fridge, roll it out once, and then put it into the pie tin. Let it rest again, then do the pre-bake thing, fill and bake.

                        My go to pie dough is from James McNair's Pie Book. He uses 3 cups flour to two sticks butter, with 1/2 cup ice water, plus the salt and sugar. This is exactly enough for one double crust pie. I find 1/2 cup ice water is not quite enough, and add more by the tablespoon until the dough is moist enough to come together. As others have observed, you are definitely adding too many steps, and overworking the dough. I chuck all the dry ingredients in the food processor, blend, throw all the butter in at once, and then pulse a few times until the butter is shredded into small pieces (I never understood what a pea-sized piece of butter was supposed to look like. Mine is always smaller than peas). Then I pour the water in in a more or less steady stream, pulsing once or twice between each shlook.

                        Another thing, and this may be my own prejudice. DO NOT USE SHORTENING. Use all butter. Shortening gives a kind of salty taste to the crust, it's unhealthy and tastes awful. The French use all butter (need I say more?). I'm convinced that a certain cookbook author was paid by Crisco to put shortening in all of her recipes. Anyway, shortening will not solve your tough crust problem.

                        One last tip, use a pizza stone so that the bottom will brown and not come out pale and doughy. Having it at the bottom of the oven will also prevent the top crust from overbrowning.

                        1. re: MarkC

                          I have to disagree on the don't use shortening advice. An all butter crust is a wonderful thing, but a shortening and butter crust is much more tender IMO. And my absolute favorite book on the subject is called simply Pie, by Ken Haedrich. In this book he will give you recipes for ALL pie crusts, using butter, shortening and everything in between. In fact, there are 57 pages on pie crusts alone, so you will find one that will work for you and that you will like best.

                          1. re: roxlet

                            It's taste versus texture. All butter may give you a crust that is somewhat more crisp and cookie-like, which I prefer anyway, and the taste wins hands down. I don't need a tender pie crust. Biscuits can benefit from shortening, as without it they can get a bit tough and chewy. However, I've started substituting coconut oil, which doesn't have the adverse health issues, and imparts a nice aroma. As far as I know, coconut oil is the only substitute for shortening. Probably it would work well in pie crusts as well.

                            1. re: MarkC

                              Regarding the original post: my sense is that the dough is being overworked and the fat is probably too warmed. But I'll reply in this position on the question of which fat is right, because one of my dearer family memories concerns my saintly grandmother and her pleasantly wicked twin sister, each of whom made awesome pie crusts and pies more generally. One insisted that only butter would work. The other, only shortening. If they were triplets, there would have been a lard fan, no doubt. They both made awesome crusts.

                              So I think technique matters most. That said, I do tend to mix even amounts of butter and shortening to tweak the effect I like (butter for flavor, shortening for texture). For me, it's most crucial that the fat remain cool and that it NOT be uniform in size. Flakiness comes from fat pockets. In fact, once I've managed to work the dough into a ball, I wrap in up tight and chill it for an hour before rolling it out. It's not exactly easy for me, because I only make a few pies a year, but it's always good.

                              1. re: MarkC

                                ... say whut? Wasn't coconut oil banned from popcorn for being mondo unhealthy? am curious...

                            2. re: MarkC

                              I never knew the French invented apple pie. You stated that your all butter crust always come out tender then later, you state that you use all butter because you prefer a crispier and cookie-like crust. Interesting.
                              It does come down to texture and flavor. Substituting shortening for some of the butter will yield flaky/tender and still retain the good taste of butter. And this post is not a discussion on health and different fats.

                              1. re: PBSF

                                hey that's a point... I do have a sweet crust that I use for desserts sometimes, and one really crumbly one that uses an egg yolk.

                                the first is the chocolate ganache tart recipe on chow, and the second is from an "ultimate lemon meringue pie" which is perhaps one of the finest things to pass my lips.

                                1. re: PBSF

                                  the FRENCH invented apple pie? bwahaha. Pies are an English specialty, though they're Older Than Bread.

                                2. re: MarkC

                                  When I read the OP, I thought he said that he was rotating the dough as he rolled it out; not that he was folding and rerolling it.

                              2. BTW, I just saw this feature on making pie crust on Serious Eats...
                                http://www.seriouseats.com/2010/05/ho...

                                1. I am at a loss. I've never had a problem with pie crust. Maybe you're trying to hard?

                                  Here's what I do:
                                  Guess how much flour is needed and pour it in a bowl
                                  Put about half as much butter in, room temp is fine.
                                  mix together, first using your hands, then with fingertips.
                                  Should look a bit like breadcrumbs now.
                                  For a 2 person pie I'd guess you need about a teaspoon of water, just enough to bring it together. I generally whizz it under the tap for a split second.
                                  then you put it in the fridge for a bit, but you can roll it out before if you're in a rush.
                                  If you don't put it in the fridge it might crack a bit when you roll it out, but it's ok, you can just form it back together.

                                  And for sweet pastry, I chuck in some icing sugar.

                                  Seriously, just go crazy and try doing it without caring.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Soop

                                    soop I love you I make pastry crust exactly like you do. 'whizz it under the tap for a split second' made me laugh cos I do the same.
                                    My crust is always perfect.

                                  2. Have you tried Cook's Illustrated Foolproof Pie Crust with Vodka?

                                    http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/20...

                                    http://judyskitchen.blogspot.com/2008...

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: Norm Man

                                      You MUST knead the dough for about one minute to get it all blended nicely. Just flour your hands, and dump out the dough and knead.

                                      1. re: arupiper

                                        I think the better term for that process is "pressing together;" kneading can be interpreted as less gentle with folding and stretching; and that pressing is probably what you do with your pie crust; gentle pressing or squeezing until the dough is one solid mass.

                                        Cat Cora on making pie crust, for a good visual on proper dough handling, at about 1:19:

                                        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1gFx7-...

                                        I recently tried the CI pie crust with vodka, recipe upthread at Norm Man; it can't be beat for flakiness.

                                    2. The recipe I use for a double crust pie uses 2 cups of flour, 2/3 cup of fat (I use half shortening and half butter) and 6-7 Tbs of water. Sounds like not enough water to me, since your recipe calls for the equivalent of 2.5 cups of flour for the same amount of water.

                                      Also, I long struggled with pie crust in the food processor. For whatever reason, when I switched to a pastry cutter (http://www.amazon.com/Oxo-Grips-Dough...) it made all the difference (not that I really know why...

                                      )

                                      Emily

                                      1. Hi again,

                                        After reading MarkC's post I got out a calculator to check his ratio, mine, and the op.

                                        MarkC
                                        1 cup flour
                                        2.6 tbsp water (or more)
                                        5.3 tbsp butter

                                        Me
                                        1 cup flour
                                        3.5 tbsp water
                                        3 tbsp butter
                                        3 tbsp oil/shortening

                                        nickblesch
                                        1 cup flour
                                        8 tbsp water
                                        6.4 tbsp butter

                                        Hmmm, there appears to be plenty of butter in the original recipe. It should be mixing fine. fearlessemily uses a pastry blender/cutter and I use a fork (which is like using a pastry blender but more hellishly laborious.) Perhaps it's your food processor. I'm not thinking of a reason why it wouldn't mix and don't have much experience using a food processor for dough, but . . .

                                        1. Give the butter time. It takes a little effort to blend it in.

                                        2. Maybe you should try out a pastry blender.

                                        3. Yeah, the amount of water you have might make the dough stretchy even if you aren't over working the dough. I partially take back what I said.

                                        Good luck again.

                                        1. Everyone, thanks for all the tips. I *think* I may have gotten a crust right, but after I made the stupid crust I realized that I didn't have a plan for what to put in it, lol. I whipped up a quick chocolate pudding (had too many eggs in the fridge anyway) and dumped it in there, and now it's setting up - so I won't konw until morning whether I was successful or not. :D

                                          In any event, it looked right, and it sounded right. If nothing else, it's the best crust I've made yet.

                                          To clarify a couple things: I'm not folding the dough in on itself over and over (I can't make a pie crust; heaven forbid I try to make puff pastry, lol). By turning the dough repeatedly, what I mean is that I turn the dough about 45 degrees clockwise after each roll out so that I can be sure it isn't sticking. By folding the dough, what I mean is that I know how to fold it in half twice and the move it without stretching it, cracking it, or touching it too much. (The rolling pin method is so much mroe elegant, though.)

                                          I am definitely trying too hard. I'm mad at pie crusts and I am going to keep making them until I get one right. :D

                                          As to the butter/shortening debate: I appreciate that shortening might be easier, but I want the taste of butter. And at this point, given the knowledge that it is, in fact, possible to make an all-butter crust... I can't resist trying. That said, if I was out of butter I wouldn't skip making a pie. :D

                                          I haven't tried the Cook Illustrated one, but it's now on my list. For those of you who use that recipe, can you put other liquor in there to add flavor to the crust? I envision dark rum in the crust of a butterscotch pie... mmm

                                          Finally, assuming that the crust currently in the firdge is good (or at least better), the gold star goes to the people who suggested working the dough a bit by hand / gently kneading it. I hadn't been doing that, and by doing so, I got this crust to come together with about 4 tablespoons of water (maybe 4.5), which is in any event significantly less than I had been using and it seems to be a lot more in line with what normal people do. :D

                                          So: I'll keep you all posted, and thanks again!

                                          5 Replies
                                          1. re: nickblesch

                                            make sure you are getting the pieces of butter small enough. that was my problem for the longest time. i cut the butter in using a pastry blender, and using the pastry blender to mix the water in works way better for me than using a fork to mix it in. also, try using a wider bowl to mix the water in so that the water is a little more evenly distributed. you might also want to change the flour you use. king arthur flour has more gluten in it then other flours, making it better for some things, and worse for others like pie crusts

                                            1. re: pastaforlife

                                              pshaw! I use my fingers, if I don't have a stand mixer handy. Using a fork seems like a bad idea, because you want it to clump (and extra water on the surface works fine for me -- just use a touch more flour).

                                              1. re: pastaforlife

                                                KAF also sells pastry flour online and by phone order from their catalog in addition to their AP flour.

                                              2. re: nickblesch

                                                I get a flaky all-butter crust... but use my fingers to mix thin slices of butter into the flour (the trick is to just make thinner pieces of butter, not peas). The other key, which I think was mentioned but only once, is when there is what seems like not quite enough water, make the dough into a disk using a piece of Saran wrap to hold together, and put into the fridge for at least 20 minutes for the water to absorb, the butter to cool, and the gluten to relax. Also -- if you live someplace where its dry (i.e. Phoenix), you need more water than someplace humid!

                                                1. re: nickblesch

                                                  According to Rose Levy Beranbaum:

                                                  "The secret to success is finely incorporating about two thirds of the butter into the flour [as per the associated recipe, she means processing it to the coarse crumb stage], which keeps the flour from absorbing too much water and forming gluten, which would make the crust tough. The remaining one third of the butter is incorporated in larger pieces, which serve to seperate the layers, resulting in the desired flakiness. This pie crust does not shrink or distort as much as the standard all-butter crust because there is less gluten development.

                                                  "If when adding the water, you find you need more than indicated in the recipe, chances are you haven't moisture-proofed the flour adequately (you haven't used the correct amount of butter or processed it fine enough), leaving the flour free to absorb more liquid. The resulting crust will be flakier but less tender."

                                                  Read More http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...

                                                2. Lots of problems here- It would probably be best to get a simple pastry blender and learn to do it by hand first- pastry is largely a matter of feel. I don't measure water, but it really needs to be just barely holding together. As far as tenderness, too much water and rough handling are the main culprits. As minor points, a little acid (lemon juice or vinegar, usually) will help some, and sugar can toughen a crust if you overdo it. Also, KA flour, though a terrific product, is a bit stronger than most all purpose flours, which is not what you want for pastry. But mostly it's moisture and handling (or too much warmth). Half vegetable shortening or lard is traditional and will make a flakier crust.
                                                  A properly made crust will be a bit of a pain in the *** to roll out, but you get used to it. Most people advise rolling only from the center out, but this increases the tendency to split; I use a kind of odd motion that mostly follows the outside edge- hard to describe- that works better for me. Usually splits can be pinched back together, but do it as soon as they appear. In desperate cases, you might fold a badly split edge over and roll it back into the crust.
                                                  Above all. persevere- a lot of things like this, once you get it to work well once it keeps working.

                                                  7 Replies
                                                  1. re: oldunc

                                                    and make some EASY pies! Like a good sour cherry. Roll out the whole 2-crust until it's big... that way you won't have to worry about it tearing -- just use the untorn regions. And the top's a lattice, which, while a bit of a pain, is also easier, particularly if you put too much crust in the bottom.

                                                    1. re: Chowrin

                                                      Where the devil do you find sour cherries? There are a lot of cherries farmed in my general area, but our best produce stores seldom have them for more than 5 min. a year.

                                                      1. re: oldunc

                                                        Where are ya, pal? I've got three farmers markets in the area (from "close to Erie" to "close to Greensburg") that drive to ohio to get pitted sour cherries (they're shipped fresh frozen from Michigan, and pitted in ohio). Use within three days, or freeze with a foodsaver.

                                                        I buy buckets. 30lbs of cherries makes me very happy.

                                                        1. re: Chowrin

                                                          Northern California- you can't get corn (by which I mean yellow corn) here either for some reason.

                                                          1. re: oldunc

                                                            betcha you can find someplace in San Francisco that sells 'em once a year (and probably to restaurants too, in that city). Worth the drive? ;-)

                                                            1. re: oldunc

                                                              About a month ago I saw sour cherries at Monterey Mkt in Berkeley .. I found a recipe to try and was back there yesterday trying to buy some .. NO MORE, season is over they said. I did not realize the season was so short.

                                                              They had white corn in the front and some yellow corn on the inside.

                                                              1. re: walker

                                                                We have two weeks when we can buy cherries around here (granted, they are driving three states over to get them).

                                                    2. OK. Too late for Nick Blesch who is probably a premier pie-maker now thanks to all this great advise, BUT for someone else that has the frustration that Nick and I do there's this amazing approach to a pie shell: http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2009/05/...

                                                      This won't do if you want the traditional rolled two-crust pie. But if you want an effort- and frustration-free shell for fresh fruit that can be topped with a lovely streusel or left nekkie like the Tarte au Citron I *always* use this for (I think I got it originally as part of DL's Tarte au Citron entry) this is the way to go!

                                                      Aside from the simplicity of approaching a pie shell like playdough, it's got browned butter and what is there on the planet Earth that isn't improved by the extra nutty flavor of browned butter?

                                                      1. After much research ended up making the "Pie Crust" on the King Arthur Flour site using their Perfect Pastry Flour (in cuisinart-freezing all ingredients first). Finally perfect crust!

                                                        1. Easiest, best pie crust ever.
                                                          2 sticks butter, 2 cups flour, between 1/4 to 1/2 cups flour.

                                                          cut up butter and flour in the food processor, then add the water, until it JUST sticks together and you can form a ball. use as little as possible with it still sticking together.

                                                          the trick is to make the crust FAST like, under five mins it you can (I can do it in a commercial break). keep everything cold and as soon as you're done wrap the dough in plastic wrap and put it in the fridge for an hour or so and it'll be much easier to work with.

                                                          it takes practice but you'll be a champ in no time.

                                                          2 Replies
                                                          1. re: luciaannek

                                                            That's an awful lot of butter, more like what you would use for a tart. Three to one by volume (flour to fat) is pretty universal for pie shells. Not to say that it won't make a good crust.

                                                            1. re: oldunc

                                                              Hah! Yeah, I once made a shortbread recipe and accidentally doubled the amount of butter. It wasn't exactly shortbread, but it was awesome.

                                                          2. I am so glad I wasn't getting all this conflicting advice when I was mastering piecrust. I used the piecrust recipe from the BH & G Cookbook from the early '70s. It used shortening. I made the recipe enough that I felt comfortable changing it a bit. I began using corn oil margarine instead of Crisco, and began using ice water. I made many piecrusts in my KA mixer, and if I have to make one today, that is still my method.

                                                            If you are still struggling with this now, I'd go back to an old, simple American recipe and learn with that. Crisco has been reformulated without transfats, and it makes a softer dough than I remember. But if you are learning, and you haven't used the old fashioned shortenings, then it might work for you. Use a light hand. I would mix the dough by hand as well. The old fashioned pastry blender works very well. Put the dough into a ball, using a light hand, and chill. When you roll, use a light hand.

                                                            There are a million recipes and ways and techniques to make pie crust. You have to find your own. But I recommend doing a basic, simple recipe first, and then moving on from there. There is nothing like practice for learning this.

                                                            I don't think it would kill you to use shortening for a few pies, until you get the hang of making piecrust. Then if you want to add butter, replacing the shortening with some or all, you will have experience behind you, and you will know what good piecrust dough should feel like. And, home made pies are rare. No one will turn up his or her nose at a home made pie, whatever the quality of the crust!

                                                            I hope you are making progress toward your goal.

                                                            1. I'm gonna be brutally honest with ya on this. I too was a pie crust loser for years. Oh sure, I covered it up and said I hated pie, I even made non flour type of crusts and claimed that I was being innovative when all along the shame of not being able to turn out a decent crust was killing me inside.

                                                              Then, one day, I was browsing a book store (this was before the internet) and I saw this book on the discount shelf. It was super cheap and I decided it looked like a pretty well thought out book so I bought it. I read it cover to cover and I embarked on what would be my first of many triumphs in pie crust making. This book is THE best and most doable book I've ever used regarding pie crust making. There are charts, all diff recipes depending on what feature you are going for and the master recipe for flaky crust is the best crust I've ever made and PS...I make it in my food processor. Yes I do. And it is the flakiest crust you will ever make or eat, it shatters as you cut into it with flakes everywhere and it has a butttery wonderful taste....if I was you I'd spend about $5 and get this book .It's nearly 30 years old but it still stands today and no one ever talks about it. GET IT.

                                                              http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0517...

                                                              6 Replies
                                                              1. re: amishaxelady

                                                                Although I've moved on with my favorite go to pie crust recipe, and use the CI vodka crust more than any other now, I want to give a hearty thumbs up to Pamela's books; I bought the pie book and her fruit tart book decades ago, and they were both great, well written and never produced a dud in my kitchen.

                                                                Here's her fruit tart book link:

                                                                http://www.amazon.com/Pamella-Z-Asqui...

                                                                1. re: bushwickgirl

                                                                  My sympathies...pie crust has been my nemesis, as well. Recently I watched a friend make her AWESOME butter tarts, and it seemed like she handled the pastry much less than I would have thought, but when she stuck her hands into it, she was much more assertive than i have ever dared to be. She cut the butter into quite big chunks, slashed at it very quickly with a pastry cutter, and then turned it out onto the counter and pushed it into a very rough, crumbly ball of dough...I was surprised that it even held together with such little water, but she really leaned into the counter and just smooshed it together (the muscles in her wrists were visibly flexing...) I had been translating 'don't overwork it' into 'touch it like you would a newborn baby' and I think this is the wrong approach. I've tried to channel Ma Kettle the last few times I made pie crust, and I may be getting the upper hand. The last few I've made were still rough looking, but much more tender and flaky. I use a basic recipe with butter & a bit of shortening (lard or Crisco) and I find that a bench scraper works better than hands to gather it together and tame some of the flour mess.

                                                                  1. re: bushwickgirl

                                                                    It was a pretty good book, (the pie book) but I found her insistence that her crusts just didn't shrink,ever, a bit hard to believe. At any rate, not useful as advice since everyone else's do.

                                                                    1. re: oldunc

                                                                      mine shrink, maybe a bit? Is that something you see more when you precook? Am actually having trouble even thinking if mine shrink... but I guess they do... a little. (I always make fruit pies, and they nearly always have tons of tapioca... dunno if that helps).

                                                                      1. re: Chowrin

                                                                        It's only a problem when you're baking them blind (empty). They not only shrink, they tend to bubble up and just move around a little in general. The most common cure is to line with aluminum foil and fill with beans, the crust will set in about 15 min. and the beans (and foil) can be removed. It's not really a problem, its a fundamental property of pastry that you need to deal with.

                                                                    2. re: bushwickgirl

                                                                      I am also a convert to vodka pastry. But I have found I can replace half the water with an equal amount of vodka in many pastry recipes with improved results.

                                                                  2. I agree with the other posters who said that you should make some crusts with shortening by hand first. I learned from my grandma, and she made me really get the feel of how it should be. I also think you are adding your butter too slowly. Add it all at once to avoid it beginning to melt.

                                                                    And yes, definitely don't care so much! Pies need your sense of humor!

                                                                    1. I have made pie crust for a lot of years, my mom taught me about 25 years ago. My mom always used an all lard crust and it was indeed delicious. Now I use the cooks illustrated recipe, the one with the vodka in it. It will always be flaky, follow the directions that they provide, and I bet you will be successful.

                                                                      1. I've tried all variations of the traditional pate brise crust, and I could never make it work. For the longest time I made due with frozen pie dough from the grocery store; it worked, but it definitely wasn't great (or even all that good).

                                                                        Then I discovered this recipe on YouTube:
                                                                        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SB47fV...

                                                                        1) In large bowl mix 2 C all-purpose flour minus 2 Tbsp with 3/4 tsp salt.
                                                                        2) In a small bowl mix 1/2 cup oil plus 1 Tbsp with 1/4 C milk.
                                                                        3) Add liquids to the flour and stir with fork until blended and pastry cleans side of bowl. (If pastry seems dry, 1-2 Tablespoons of oil can be added.
                                                                        ) 4) Gather pastry into a ball and divide roughly into halves.
                                                                        5) Roll halves into ball and flatten slightly. Place flattened round between two 15-inch lengths of waxed paper. Roll pastry 2 inches larger than inverted pie plate (you can turn paper with pastry and flip over to enable you to roll it out into a nice circle). Peel off top paper and replace. Flip over and peel off what was the bottom but is now the top paper. Place paper side up in pie plate. Peel off paper. Ease pastry loosely into plate.

                                                                        Now I can make incredible pie crust with no fuss. It's as easy as measure, mix, roll. Never again will I putz around with butter and flour, trying to get it pea-sized, oh so carefully working in ice water, etc. This turns out flaky and delicious. It's oh so quick, too; the most time-consuming part is rolling it out.

                                                                        1. I always use the Cooks Illustrated foolproof pie crust which someone else posted here and have never had problems using that recipe. Using the food processor to speed up the process, I found, was key. I always add frozen butter in 2 batches with a couple pulses in between. Another important thing is to use ice water. Putting some water in a glass with ice cubes is my very first step, even before I start measuring anything out.

                                                                          Overworking the dough is a problem since the heat from your hands will cause the butter to melt.

                                                                          After I let my crust rest in the fridge, I always butter and flour my pie plate before putting the crust down. Then, I dock the crust: poke some holes in the bottom and sides of the crust with a fork. Beat an egg, then brush the eggwash all over the surface of the crust.

                                                                          I found this to be an important step: put the pie plate and crust back in the fridge for about a half hour. This gives the butter a chance to get cold again, helping the crust to stay flaky.

                                                                          If you're blind baking, cover with foil and put your weights in. If you're filling the crust straight away, fill it up and put some foil around the edges of the crust to keep them from burning.

                                                                          Good luck!

                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                          1. re: ladooShoppe

                                                                            To each his own, but there's really no need to prepare the pie plate, it won't stick. A food processor is totally unnecessary, but that does seem to be how people learn to make crusts nowadays- those that bother at all.

                                                                          2. For your recipe 4-5 tablespoons of water should be enough. All butter pie pastry is difficult to do because the butter makes it so soft. I suggest that you use part Crisco. Also, I suggest sprinkling all 3-4 T of water at once. You can either use a fork or a rubber scraper to "toss" or fold the water in. When I'm getting close to having it all mixed in, I shake the bowl a bit so that the clumps separate from the dry, and sprinkle up to 1-2 T more water in on top of the dry, maybe 1 t at a time (or more if it's really dry). Half a cup is way too much. How long does it take you before you start adding in more water? Maybe you're not mixing enough. I've also never heard of using kosher salt for pastry. Have you tried using table salt?

                                                                            1. You've gotten a lot of responses here, but I thought I'd still throw in my 2cents. I wasn't able to get a decent pie crust either until using Rose Levy Beranbaum's recipe (here on epicurious http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...). She's so detailed in her directions that I finally got it right, and then I was able to use other recipes successfully, too. Good luck with your crusts - I hope your pudding pie turned out well!

                                                                              1. I hear you. It can be frustrating. My husband's grandmother made the best pie crusts (that what he said). I had learned a few things.
                                                                                1. I was using flour with high protein content, King Arthur's. So, I switched to Gold Medal. That was what she used.
                                                                                2. She used lard, not Crisco. So, I use lard. It's available at Asian and Hispanic markets.
                                                                                3. I use far more water than any recipe I've ever seen. This allows me to roll out the crust gently.
                                                                                4. I cut the butter into flour by hand, not food processor.
                                                                                Now people like my pie crusts.

                                                                                1. Found this link in similar post, but I'm too lazy to search for it again - @whoever posted it - thanks.

                                                                                  It's basiaclly the above mentioned Cooks Illustrated method minus the vodka (apparently ommitted for legal reasons) along with an interesting explanation of the "science of pie crust".
                                                                                  My first attempt at it came out great, and I'm pretty sure that I didn't just get "lucky".

                                                                                  http://sweets.seriouseats.com/2011/07...

                                                                                  1. I am an excellent baker who comes from a long line of amazing pie bakers. That said, I make a large enough variety of baked goods that my pie-making is infrequent. So I haven't gotten it down pat as quickly as I would like to. Additionally, I live in a drier climate which wreaks havok with any standard pie dough recipe; I need more water, but how much?

                                                                                    This recipe changed things for me by pointing out that the stand mixer makes GREAT pie dough:

                                                                                    http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...

                                                                                    Now, I have to add 2 T. of extra water to this, but after that it really works for me.

                                                                                    The dry climate part may not apply to you, but I have learned that it is truly better to use a stand mixer than a processor or even to do it by hand.

                                                                                    Additionally, chill the dough before rolling it and freeze the rolled crust after forming it in the pan.

                                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                                    1. re: sandylc

                                                                                      humidity changes everywhere. even professional bakers add different water each time. so just do it until it "handles" right (kinda squishy, not crumbly, and enough flour to not stick to the rolling pin)

                                                                                    2. I think you're probably overthinking it. I used to make perfectly good pie crusts using Julia Child's recipe/method. Then I got the overthinking Rose Levy B. pastry book and made the toughest crusts on the planet. Finally, last time, I just did the food processor thing, dumped the mess on my counter, used the heel of my hand to push it just like Julia said, threw it in the fridge and then made my piecrust and it was back to normal.
                                                                                      So, just go have a glass of wine or three and relax and your crust will relax also.

                                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                                      1. re: kayandallie

                                                                                        Thank you! A breath of fresh air in the dark and complicated world of pie crust. I like your attitude.

                                                                                        It's about repetition, a light touch, the memory of how a proper dough feels in your hand, being aware of the texture and moisture of the dough and a few simple steps, like fat incorporation, chilling the dough and less is more with handling. Anything beyond that and pastry making gets needlessly overwhelming.

                                                                                      2. This post has been SO HELPFUL to me! Nickblesch's dough problems were exactly the same issues I was having. I was doing everything by the book, but i couldn't get the water amount right, and as a result, the crusts had to be cut with a knife. From all the replies, I discovered 3 things I've been doing wrong: I was using King Arthur AP flour, I wasn't letting the dough warm up enough (I would put it back in the fridge every few minutes while working it) and I was afraid to get my hands in there for fear of overworking the dough. Tonight, I finally made my first flaky crust.