Perfect is a relative term, but for me the perfect pie crust is light and flakey, crunchy but not hard or chewy and a balanced dance between salty and sweet. With that in mind, I don’t put sugar in my crust, the sweetness comes from the subtle flavors of real butter and fresh, high quality flour. I use the same crust for savory and sweet dishes, pies or tarts. I make pie crust a lot and at this point I don’t even measure my ingredients! So, don’t be intimidated by the lengthy instructions, as you experiment with making crusts you will see how easy it is.
In general when I make crust I use ½ or ¾ whole-wheat flour and the remainder white. While I enjoy the flavor and added nutrition of this hearty combination, the most delicate crust for special occasions or refined desserts will be better made from all white flour. Since I find this is a bit boring to the eye and to the taste buds, on the rare occasions that I do this I usually roll out the crust with a course ground whole wheat flour to give it a more dynamic appearance and flavor. If you have a gluten or wheat intolerance or allergy try making your crust with buckwheat flour. While buckwheat has its own unique flavor I find both the texture and flavor appropriate for a good crust. Lastly, please use real butter. Margarine and shortening are not good sources of food or nutrition, and they will make your crust heavy and stale.
The trick to making flakey pie crust is to keep the butter cold. This keeps the butter in small pieces so that when the crust bakes the butter separates the dough into very small layers, making it flakey. Start with the butter straight from the refrigerator, or better yet the freezer. I had a friend who puts his bowl, flour, and utensils in the refrigerator too, if that inspires you go for it. Personally, I always felt that would make my hands too cold and my experience taught me early on cold butter and ice water works just fine.
This recipe makes one crust, if you wish to make a pie with a top and bottom crust you will need to double this recipe.
1 cup flour (see above)
½ tsp. salt (if using salted butter leave out)
¼ cup butter (cold or frozen)
In a large mixing bowl measure out flour and salt, if necessary, and stir together well. Consider adding some black pepper if you are making a savory dish. If the flour is lumpy then sift it through a fine sieve or metal strainer. Once your flour is well mixed remove the butter from the refrigerator or freezer and slice it into thin chunks. Separate the slices from each other and gently toss them throughout the flour mixture. Using a pastry cutter or two butter knives cut the butter into the flour, taking time to remove the butter pieces stuck to the utensils as you go. Keep at this for a while, it takes some effort particularly if your butter was frozen. The idea is to eventually have the butter in hundreds of little peppercorn sized pieces, each one coated with flour. Once you have achieved this to your satisfaction, remember the smaller the better, clean any stray butter pieces from your utensils and give it one last dry stir.
Fill an 8 oz. glass with as much ice as will fit and then add water. Slowly pour about 2 oz. of water into the flour/butter mixture and stir it in. The dough should begin to clump, but still look pretty dry. Continue to add ice water, 1 oz. at a time, stirring well between pours. The crust will begin to clump together more and more. Adding water is an art, you want the crust to be moist enough to form into a coherent dough, but not too moist so as to be sticky or wet (although if that happens just add more flour). Use your hands to squeeze the dough together, when it sticks easily together but not to your hands it is ready to go!
Flour a large, dry surface; I like to use my dinning room table so I have a lot of room to work. Shape the dough into a round flat disk and then roll it from the center out. Rotate the crust often to maintain a circular shape and add more flour as necessary. If you are transferring the crust into a pie pan wrap the crust gently around your rolling, place the pin over the center of the pan and unroll the crust into the dish. Note: if you do not have a rolling pin a clean wine bottle will work fine.
If the crust is for a pie throw in the insides and put the top crust over, rolling up the crust on the edge and pinching it with your fingers or a fork. Remember to put holes in the top for the steam to escape. If you are making a quiche, tart or cheesecake you will want to pre-bake the crust. In this case, roll up the edges and pinch them flat. It is important that the crust have a heavy lip, well formed on the outer lip of the pie pan, otherwise it will sink down the edges toward the center as it bakes. use a fork to poke holes all over the bottom of the crust and place the pie pan on a cookie sheet in a pre-heated 375 degree oven. Bake the crust for 10 minutes or until the butter bubbles and the crust begins to change tone. Don’t overdo it, the crust need not be browned, that will happen later. Allow the crust to cool for at least 15 minutes before adding your filling.
Sometimes when I have some left over trimmings I throw them in the oven with a little cinnamon and honey for a sweet little treat.