This post has been a long time coming. I love baking pies, in fact they are probably one of my most favorite things to bake. But I know plenty of you are intimidated by pies, more specifically, pie crusts. I’m here with a detailed tutorial to hopefully give you a little more confidence with your next pie, or maybe give you the courage to bake your first pie.
This is my favorite pie crust recipe, I’ve been using it almost exclusively for the last several years. It’s made with butter and flavored with buttermilk. Many pie crusts call for half butter and half shortening, as shortening is known to make a flakier crust and butter has the better flavor. But I don’t like using shortening, and I think that a flaky crust comes more from how the crust is prepared than from the kind of fat used. I love the flavor that the buttermilk adds to the pie crust, it gives it a little something extra that crusts mixed with just water don’t have.
I have taken something from my experiment with the crust recipe from Cook’s Illustrated and now use a bit of vodka if my dough needs a little more moisture to bring it all together. Since the vodka evaporates during baking, it won’t cause the baked crust to be tough, as excess moisture can sometimes do. If you prefer not to use vodka, use more buttermilk or substitute with water, just do so sparingly.
To make a long story short, this crust is tried-and-true. You definitely should try it. Let me show you how!
It starts with six ingredients: butter, all-purpose flour, salt, sugar, buttermilk, and vodka.
Combine the flour, salt, and sugar in a bowl. Add the cold butter and toss it in the dry ingredients.
Dump it all out into a pile and get your rolling pin and bench scraper ready. A bench scraper is very handy to have during this whole processes, but you could improvise if you don’t have one.
With the rolling pin, roll the butter into the dry ingredients. You want to roll out each cube of butter, combining it with the flour mixture. Some butter will stick to the rolling pin as you go along, just use the bench scraper to scrape it off.
Bring the mixture back into a pile as needed and continue this process of rolling the butter into the flour mixture until it is all in thin sheets.
It should look like this. And you can begin to see how this crust gets to be so flaky!
Working with the butter warms it up. You want the butter to stay cold because otherwise it may incorporate into the other ingredients completely and you’ll lose those flaky bits that are so crucial to a pie crust. So put the mixture back into the bowl and freeze it for about 15 minutes.
Remove the bowl from the freezer and add the buttermilk. Use a spoon and then your hands to bring the mixture together into a ball. If the mixture is too dry, add the vodka (or water) a tablespoon at a time. Sometimes I need to add it, other times I don’t. Add the extra liquid sparingly, you don’t want the dough to be too moist.
This recipe makes enough dough for a double crust pie, so divide it in half. Flatten each half into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Let the dough chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour (and up to a few days). This accomplishes two things: it gets the butter in the dough cold again, and it relaxes the gluten. Ever had a pie crust shrink when you baked it? Letting the dough rest properly can help keep that from happening.
If you only need a bottom crust for your pie, the other disk can be stored well-wrapped in the freezer for several months.
After the dough has chilled, unwrap it and place it on a well-floured surface. Let it to come up to room temperature for just a few minutes, which will make it easier to roll out.
Use your rolling pin to roll the dough out into a large circle.
The key to preventing your crust from sticking to the surface while you’re rolling it out is to use your bench scraper to keep it loose. My process is to do several rolls with my rolling pin in each direction, swipe my bench scraper underneath it to remove any areas that have stuck, add a little more flour if needed, and repeat.
For a standard 9-inch pie you want to roll your dough out to a rough 12 or 13-inch circle. It doesn’t have to look perfect. Holes can be mended, and cracks can be repaired. If you have any large cracks, use your finger to tack them back together.
For the longest time, transferring the crust to the pie dish was one of my biggest frustrations. It’s where everything seemed to fall apart, literally. What I’ve learned to do now is use my rolling pin. Gently roll the crust around the rolling pin, then unroll it over the pie dish.
Works like a charm.
Next I trim up the overhang if it’s really long. And then I usually snack on the trimmings.
If you’re making a double crusted pie, roll out the second disk of dough. Prepare your pie filling, put it in the prepared bottom crust and then cover with the top crust.
Pinch the top and bottom crusts together, tuck them under into the pie dish, and then use your index fingers and thumb to make the traditional crust border. Or, get creative!
As the pie bakes, the filling is going to produce a lot of steam. If you’ve got a lattice or have cut out shapes in your top crust, then you’ll be fine. Otherwise, cut a few vents with a knife.
Finally, lightly beat an egg to make a wash and brush onto the crust. This will help it turn beautifully golden brown. You can add sanding sugar as well, which will give the crust a nice crunch.
And that’s it! Bake it according to the pie recipe’s instruction. Different pies may require different temps and baking times.
I hope I’ve taken some of the mystery out of how to get that perfect flaky pie crust. You seriously can do it. If you try this recipe, I would love for you to let me know what you think!
Here are a few pies I’ve made with this crust recipe:
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