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)
2: Take a large bowl, and add flour. (Yes, we’re starting simple here. Because anybody can do this!)
3. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt to the flour.
4. Quickly stir together 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.
Bonus Tip: Your butter wrapper probably has bits of butter on it still. Take it and use it to grease your pie dish!
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.
(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.
8. Form dough into 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.
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.
11. Roll the dough out to be just a little bigger than your pie plate.
12. Pick up dough and place it on top of your buttered pie plate.
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.
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.
15. Bake your pie according to your recipe’s instructions and enjoy!
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.
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.