Monday, May 28, 2012

All-Butter Pie Crust

Well folks, it may not officially be summer for another few weeks, but Memorial Day weekend has passed and it's scorching hot outside, so I think that means we can declare it pie season! Few things say summer like a fresh fruit pie, and no fruit pie is complete without a gorgeous, flaky crust.  Many recipes rely on vegetable shortening to produce flaky layers, but this recipe proves that producing a blue ribbon-worthy pastry is more technique than trans fats (okay, butter is plenty fatty, too - but at least it tastes better!).

Whole wheat flour lends this crust a darker color, but it's still flaky and buttery
In order to produce the perfect flaky crust, however, there are a few things you should remember:

1) Pie crust likes to be cold - very, very cold. Those prized, flaky layers are the product of bits of butter melting as the dough bakes. In order for those bits of butter to melt during baking (and not before) they need to be cold. Very cold. Got it? Do what you must to keep your butter cold - even if it means chilling your mixing bowls, running your hands under cold water before handling the dough, and returning the rolled and cut crust to the fridge before filling. If that's what it takes to get flaky layers, it's worth it.

See those bits of butter in the dough? Those are flaky layers in the making!

2) Use all-purpose flour. I know, I'm a hypocrite. The crust pictured in this post is made with whole wheat flour and it tastes fine, but it's not nearly as light or flaky as it should/could be. Trust me, just use all-purpose. Over-achievers can even sift or whisk it before mixing (I'm not really sure if this makes a difference, but it makes you feel better!)

Whole wheat flour lends a nice 'nutty' flavor, but can make crusts dry and unappealing

3) Mix your dough by hand. I swear I'm not just saying this because I don't own a food processor (although that's obviously a factor). I honestly believe handmade crusts are flakier, and that's because you have more control over the size and distribution of your butter pieces. Food processing makes it too easy to over mix, leading to tough, chewy crusts.

My vintage pastry cutter has seen better days - but it still works like a charm

4) Go easy on the water. Are your crusts turning out tough and leathery, even though you've chilled your butter to Arctic temperatures, cut it in by hand, and used the snowiest of snow-white all-purpose flours? You're probably using too much water. Add it in gradually. Gradually. And be sure not to over mix. Dough should still be a little shaggy/crumbly when you're rolling it out. Don't worry, it will come together.

Hand-crimped, whole wheat pie crust

Okay, now that my pedantic nit-picking has totally put you off pie crusts forever, let me say one more thing...pie crusts really aren't that easy to screw up. Sure, it takes a bit of know-how and flair (or a lot of beginner's luck) to produce a perfectly flaky pastry, but it also takes a bit of effort to produce a piece of floury shoe leather. Chances are, your crust will be perfectly adequate, so give yourself some room to practice and try different techniques, and don't worry too much about failure. Once you've mastered the mystery of the flaky crust, I guarantee you'll be hooked!

All-Butter Pie Crust

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (whole wheat works, but gives a 'sturdier' crust)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 Tablespoon granulated sugar
1/2 cup butter, very, very, very chilled, and diced
1/4 cup ice water (minus the ice)

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, salt and sugar. Using a fork or pastry cutter, cut in the chilled butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs (you should see pea-sized chunks of butter - these are important!) Stir in water 1 tablespoon at a time, using a rubber spatula, until mixture begins to come together.

You can go ahead and use your hands to bring it together into a ball - just don't let it get too warm! Place the ball of dough on a large piece of plastic wrap and form it into a 1-inch thick disk. Wrap tightly and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or overnight. Dough will keep in the fridge for a few days, or weeks if frozen. Be sure to wrap it well if you're freezing it to protect it from freezer burn (and that nasty 'freezer' smell that things sometimes get). Defrost in the fridge for one day before you plan to use it.

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  1. I just attempted a homemade pie crust last week and yours looks a lot better than mine! So what filling will you use?


    1. This one was destined for Strawberry Rhubarb (my favorite!) but I've been having cravings for blackberry pie, too. With so many great berries in season, it's hard to choose!

  2. New follower from Lil Luna hop! Love for you to follow back when you get a chance. I will have to try your crust out! We go apple picking every year and bake lots of pies ')

    1. Thanks, Julie! Glad to have you. I try to go apple picking every year, too. Somehow they just taste better when you can take them right off the tree!

  3. Thank you so much for sharing, I found you on Clean & Scentsible Creative Spark. I agree that if I don't have to use shortening I would rather not! Will be pinning this for sure!

    1. I agree - you can't beat real butter! Thanks for visiting, Melissa!

  4. This is perfect with all the berries coming into season soon! Plus I love that this uses butter and not shortening. I would love it if you would share this on my linky party

  5. It took me nine years to make a good pie crust, and it ended up being an all butter dough! Your pie shell with the perfectly pinched rim looks beautiful! Now I need lessons on how to make perfect edges!

  6. Hi Rachel,
    Wow, a great pie crust is very important and this looks like a great recipe! Hope you have a great week end and thank you so much for sharing with Full Plate Thursday.
    Come Back Soon!
    Miz Helen

  7. All butter is my favorite, and my recipe is similar. Love that you have sugar in yours - I will have to try that for sure!