How to Make an All-Butter Pie Crust Perfect Every Time

make a pie - step 12 - press edges

One of the biggest surprises we had while we were working on the cookbook was regarding pie crust—and how hard the making of it can be to explain. Fact: There are lots of ways to make pie crust, many of them good. The technique that we use, however, is kind of special. It involves an all-butter, high-butter recipe that comes together in minutes, no chilling, and bakes light and flaky every time. You can do it with whole-grain spelt flour (as shown here) or with white spelt flour or with white or whole-grain einkorn flour (as in the book) or with all-purpose flour. This is my mom’s technique. This is my grandma’s technique. Since my mom let me stand over her shoulder in 2010 and watch her, step by step, it’s been my technique. Since Tim and I started sharing a kitchen in 2011, it’s become his technique, too. The problem is if you’ve ever made a pie crust another way, you have to force yourself to abandon all preconceptions and start from scratch to try this one—and also that explaining the technique to you in a few sentences leaves a lot open to be misunderstood. With that in mind, we’ve been wanting to post a step-by-step guide, complete with detailed FAQ at the bottom, for months now, and Nashville’s past three days of hibernation / Ice Storm 2015 have been the perfect chance. So here we go. Behold: how to make an all-butter pie crust that’s perfect every time! We call it pie crust for dummies. It’s so fast and easy, that almost makes it hard.

1: Gather your ingredients
(1 cup [whole-grain spelt] flour plus extra for surfaces, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 stick [i.e., 4 ounces or 112g] unsalted organic butter and 1/4 cup cold water)

How to Make an All-Butter Pie Crust - step one is gather all your ingredients!

2: Take a large bowl, and add flour. (Yes, we’re starting simple here. Because anybody can do this!)

make an all-butter pie crust - step 2 - add a cup of flour

3. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt to the flour.

make a pie - step 3 - add salt to flour

4. Quickly stir together flour and salt.

make a pie - step 4 - stir flour and salt

5. Add in a stick of cold butter, cubed into half-tablespoon pieces.
Why half-tablespoon pieces? No magic reason. You could cube it into tablespoon pieces, too. But we had testers ask us what “cubed butter” meant and realized it isn’t super clear. So here’s what we do.
make a pie - step 5 - add cubed butter

Bonus Tip: Your butter wrapper probably has bits of butter on it still. Take it and use it to grease your pie dish!

make a pie - bonus tip - butter pie plate with butter wrapper

6. Cut in butter with a pastry cutter, using it to quickly—in a matter of a few minutes–break up the chunks of butter throughout. They don’t have to be teeny-tiny, just roughly broken up throughout into small pieces.

Q: Do I have to use a pastry cutter?
A: No, but it’s the easiest tool. It a few dollars on Amazon and is handy every time you make any kind of “cutting in butter” dough.

Q: What other tools could I use?
A: Two forks or two knives are the most popular alternatives. Again, they’ll work. Just focus on breaking up the butter. But if you’re feeling like you want a confidence boost, trust us, the pastry cutter is king.

make a pie - step 6 - cut butter into small cubes
(See that up there? That’s what we mean by small pieces.)

7. Add half the cold water (1/8 cup, or 2 tablespoons) to the flour mixture. Stir it in and, if dough still seems dry and crumbly, add in the remainder of the water. Stir it in, too. Once the water is mixed in, use your floured hands to push and press the dough into a ball. This pushing and pressing will be a fast process, maybe 20 seconds. You’re using your body heat to just warm the butter enough to get it softening with the dough—not so soft that the dough becomes a wet mess, but soft enough that it can become a ball.

make a pie - step 7 - stir in water and smoosh together dough

8. Form dough into a ball.

make a pie - step 8 - form a ball

9. Flour countertop or parchment and place ball of dough on top.
I used parchment for a long time because it made me feel safer. You can or you can’t, it’s up to you. Go ahead and sprinkle a little flour on the top of the dough, too. It won’t hurt.

make a pie - step 9 - place dough on floured surface

10. Use a floured rolling pin to press out the dough on that floured surface.
Flip the dough regularly as you’re rolling it out in order to help keep it from sticking to the counter. (What does that mean? It means, roll the dough out a bit, pick it up and flour it and roll it out some more, pick it up and flip and flour and roll it out some more.) If the dough does get sticky at any point, add a little more flour.

make a pie - step 10 - roll out the dough

11. Roll the dough out to be just a little bigger than your pie plate.

make a pie - step 10b - roll out a little bigger than pie pan

12. Pick up dough and place it on top of your buttered pie plate.

make a pie - step 11 - press into pan

13. Press the dough into the plate, rolling excess dough into and over the edges.
You can crimp and/or style the dough any way you like, but my preferred method is using my index fingers to press, one finger by one finger, impressions around the sides. Again, if the dough gets sticky at all, add a little flour to get it to cooperate.

make a pie - step 12 - press edges
make a pie - step 12b - voila

14. Fill to bake!
Your pie crust can now be placed in the fridge while you make a filling or immediately filled with prepared filling and baked. I had already mixed up some sweet potato pie filling ahead of time (based on this recipe), so I grabbed it and poured it in the pie crust.

make a pie - step 13 - lifestylea
make a pie - step 13b - lifestyle
make a pie - step 14 - pour in filling
make a pie - step 14b - pour in filling

15. Bake your pie according to your recipe’s instructions and enjoy!

make a pie - step 15 - finished pie
make a pie - step 15 - slice pie

MORE QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS (and if you have other questions, we’ll be happy to add and answer them here, too!)

Q: My dough is getting too soft! I can’t work with it! What’s wrong?

A: You might be overworking it. This all is a fast process, we’re talking minutes, and if you fool around with the dough too long, you soften the butter and it gets hard to work with.

Other possibility: Your kitchen’s temperature can change the dough. I realized this a few weeks ago when we were preheating the oven for pizzas at somewhere near 500 degrees and I was standing next to it making pie crust. My dough got soft, too. You’re not alone. When this happens, here are your options: chill the dough to firm it up, add more flour to gain control or, on a really frustrating day, dump the broken, craggy dough all over a dish of fruit and bake it in the oven. We’ve done all of them and they all work.

Q: Why so much butter?

A: This is a great question and the best answer is that you could still make a good pie crust with less butter, we’re not saying this is the only way, but we are addicted to a full-stick crust because it’s so flaky. SO FLAKY! Do you remember pie crusts from your childhood that were hard and dry and the kind of thing you’d leave on your plate? This is not that pie crust. It’s as good as your filling, maybe better. It’s flavorful and almost tender in texture, the kind of pie crust that stands out when you take a bite.

Q: Wait, I can use spelt or einkorn or all-purpose? How does that work?

A:The way this recipe/technique is written, it’s made to be adjustable in that you can add a little more water (common with whole-grain flours) or less (common with white einkorn) to get the dough to come together. That means you can start with a cup of any of these flours and make adjustments as you go. It’s easy to remember and, once you get the technique, easy to do. Note: Whole-grain flours, like the whole-grain spelt pictured in this post, typically create a grainier appearance and a slightly sandier dough, but the flaky, buttery texture post-baking still happens every time.

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About Shanna Mallon

Shanna Mallon is a freelance writer who holds an MA in writing from DePaul University. Her work has been featured in a variety of media outlets, including The Kitchn, Better Homes & Gardens, Taste of Home, Houzz.com, Foodista, Entrepreneur, and Ragan PR. In 2014, she co-authored The Einkorn Cookbook with her husband, Tim. Today, you can find her digging into food topics and celebrating the everyday grace of eating on her blog, Go Eat Your Bread with Joy. Shanna lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with Tim and their two small kids.

20 thoughts on “How to Make an All-Butter Pie Crust Perfect Every Time”

  1. I can attest that this method, copped from your cookbook JUST IN TIME for our Thanksgiving pies, totally works. And I typically work with about an 80 percent pie dough success rate. Still, I like seeing the step-by-step pictures. It gives me confidence.

    AND YOUR KITCHEN!!!!

    • Man, that is so nice to hear. Thank you for giving it a shot and then saying it worked for you! Hooray! And I know, right? Hope you’re standing in it with me one day soon.

  2. Pastry Cutter is King – oh yes! Pie crust eluded me for years and when I finally discovered the pastry cutter, I’ve been a happy pie crust maker ever since. Only butter all the time!

    • I totally agree. While Tim’s been working on our home renovation projects, he has said many times that the right tool makes all the difference. When it comes to making pie, I totally know what he means!

  3. Ever since I began to make your chicken pot pie – this is the recipe and method for pie crust that I have used whenever I do a crust. I’m planning to use it again for a quiche this weekend – it’s so versatile and fail safe! Thanks for the step by step – I so enjoyed it and found it helpful!!

  4. I have to admit, using so much butter in a pie crust was totally foreign to me (for whatever reason, and I notice this a lot, recipes in the UK are a lot more abstemious in their use of butter than US recipes) but it does produce such a good result in the end and your step-by-step instructions + pictures are so helpful.

    PS your kitchen!!!

    • Bless you x a million for trying it and helping us know where we were going wrong, K! You’ll never know how much we appreciated it. And I know, right? It’s come so far.

  5. I can’t wait to try this – I’ve had one very traumatic pie crust making experience and swore it off! Thank you for the step-by-step – I’m an absolute novice and this makes me feel confidant in revisiting homemade pies!

  6. Shanna!! I loved the step-by-step instructions, and I loved getting a peek into your kitchen (if I scroll down fast enough, it almost appears like those flip through books that create animated pictures! Like a video pieced together in pictures)

    Anyway, love love love your marble countertop. I’ve ordered a slab of marble which should be ready in a few weeks – and can’t wait to use it as a backdrop for my food photos! I think marble is just so pretty (the whiter, the prettier!)

    big hug.

  7. I love that you posted a how to on this, I am a baker also and LOVE making crust and I know a lot of people have trouble in this department! Really love this!

  8. Your technique is definitely what I need because I really want to perfect my crust every time I am making pies at home. Thanks Shana, I am also loving your blog 😉

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