Pies are so versatile, and making pie crust needn't be intimidating. No Recipe Pie Crust is as easy as 3-2-1. Happy Pi Day!
What's this Pi Day you speak of?
Pie is sublime.
Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against cakes (even with the slightly overdone cupcake phase we're in), cookies, or ice cream in general. In fact, I encourage them all with equal gusto. But there's something special about pie.
Perhaps it's because pie is more dimensional than other treats, meaning that pie doesn't just have to be dessert. Pies can be sweet or savory, and the latter category opens up a whole world of possibilities with which other baked products just can't compete. Give pie the ability to be held in your hand, and you've got a meal on the run.
Making pie crust needn't be intimidating either...just remember a simple formula and be chill about it. And how many treats can boast a special day just for them? It's Pi Day! You know, March 14th (3/14, get it?). Yes, my math geek is showing.
[As a quick digression, we just had Band Day on March 4th (march forth..the command to go forward). Ok, maybe we just notice Band Day in my house. I like the joke and am a former Marching Band member so I'm entitled to be a Band nerd!]
Making pie crust can be formidable
How do you get it to be flaky, not tough, with just enough flavor to complement the filling without taking away from it?
Prior to my culinary awakening (aka culinary school), I didn't try to make pie crust. I'm wasn't good at rolling out dough, and I didn't have the temperament (read: patience) to fiddle with it. It was just easier to buy a frozen pie shell and be done with it.
But then I started looking at the ingredients in those commercially made shells. Mostly, it was the lard that turned me off.
Now before you gasp in horror, I'll say that I've nothing against the pig in general, and I certainly know that many chefs make many wonderful items using it (including pie crust). It's just that I don't eat lard (remember, no pork products for me).
What you need
- Flour: Where the structure for the pie crust comes from. The trick is to not overwork the dough so that you don't develop gluten (and toughen the crust)
- Salt: Needed for flavor
- Sugar: If you are making a sweet pie, you can sweeten the crust as well if you'd like (but it isn't necessary)
- Fat: The fat used in making pie crust could be butter (my choice), vegetable shortening (like Crisco), lard (many people's choice), or something else entirely. I've seen recipes with coconut oil (to make it vegan), and I've used rendered beef or chicken fat on occasion (for savory pies)
- Water: Keep the water as cold as you can because you want the butter to stay cold.
- Apple cider vinegar: Adding a little bit of apple cider vinegar helps tenderize the dough. You can also use white vinegar or even lemon juice. It's the acid that does the trick
Chill out that dough
Many people are intimidated by pie crust, but they needn't be.
(As a side note, many people are intimidated by anything with more than four legs, and they are perfectly justified in that. Just saying...)
The real key to pie crust is bein' chill about it. Wait, no, I mean chilling it...a lot. Keep your fat cold (grating frozen butter is my method of choice), and your water very cold so as not to melt the fat (half water and half ice).
The idea is to keep small pockets of fat within the flour so that when baked the fat releases steam and creates the flakiness so desired in pie crust.
Chilling also helps protect against crust shrinkage, especially if you are blind-baking the crust, i.e., baking the crust before filling it with something that doesn't get baked, like a pudding pie.
So chill your fat before using it, chill the dough at least an hour after making it, chill it again after rolling it out, and chill it again after working it into your pan. You want the crust cold when it goes into the oven!
Make a pie crust without a recipe
Remember Michael Ruhlman's book Ratios? (See ...and now to explain the "& Scones" for that scintillating discussion). From his book I now have a simple way to remember how to make my own crust without a recipe...3-2-1, i.e. 3 parts flour, 2 parts fat, and 1 part liquid (as measured by weight).
The pie ratio helps in deciding how much flour-fat-liquid to use...12 oz flour, 8 oz butter, and approximately 4 oz ice water will be enough for a double crust, while 9 oz flour, 6 oz butter, 3 oz ice water is good for a single crust.
If you don't have one already, invest in a good kitchen scale. They're not too expensive, and they're invaluable in baking...no more scoop and level guesswork. I will, to the best of my ability, give you the weight measurements along with the volumetric measurements.
If you don't know how to convert the volume measurements to weight, look online -- there are plenty of websites and apps that can help. Really, it's doesn't take that much extra time, and you can write the conversion on your recipe for next time.
My No Recipe Pie Crust is adapted from Epicurious' Our Favorite Pie Dough, mainly because the ratio fits (and the addition of the apple cider vinegar).
A quick word about flour...I like to use King Arthur Unbleached All Purpose Flour when I can because I can be sure of its quality and performance. I consistently use their website as my go-to reference guide...it is a wealth of information for bakers, including many wonderful recipes for baking and blogs giving detailed instructions. If you haven't been to their site, please check it out (and I'm not sponsored by KAF to say that...at least not yet).
Now go forth and bake a pie crust without a recipe with confidence! Happy Pi Day, everyone!
Slainté! L’chaim! Cheers!
p.s. Happy Quarter-Century Birthday to the wonderful woman who first made me a mommy...this pie's for you!
No Recipe Pie Crust
- 2¾ cups all purpose flour, (12 oz, 335g)
- 2 Tbsp sugar, if making a sweet pie (optional)
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 cup butter, chilled, cut into small cubes (8 oz, 224g, 2 sticks)
- ½ cup water, chilled with ice (4 oz, 113g)
- 1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar, chilled (1/2 oz, 12g)
- Measure your ingredients using a kitchen scale. It's the most accurate and will give the most consistent results.
- In a large bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer or food processor), stir together the flour, sugar (if using), and salt. Toss in the butter and mix using a pastry blender until coarse, pea-sized crumbs appear.
- Slowly add ice water and vinegar and mix until the dough just holds together (here you have to be flexible about the amount of water to add as the actual amount will depend on the humidity of the day). Squeeze a small amount of dough between your fingers and if it is very crumbly, add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time (2 tablespoons maximum).
- Do not over mix the dough (you want to keep that butter cold and separate from the flour). Don't worry if the dough has a slight vinegary smell...that will dissipate during baking and/or be overwhelmed by the filling.
- Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and push together into a rough ball. Knead a few times to combine, then divide into two equal balls. Flatten each ball into a disc with smooth edges (no cracks), cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 1 hour or up to overnight.
- Lightly dust the counter with flour. Use even pressure to roll the dough out from the center in all 4 compass directions, north, south, east and west. Turn and loosen the dough occasionally as you continue to roll the pastry out into a circle or square shape that is an approximately 1/4-inch thickness, about the height of two stacked quarters (unless otherwise directed by your recipe).
- Place the dough in the baking pan and continue with your pie recipe. Remember to chill the dough after you put the crust in the baking pan and before baking.
- Pies (and blind-baked pie crusts) are generally baked at 400°F.