Flaky, buttery perfection is simpler than you think.
I know a lot of great home bakers. People who can whip up a layer cake or a double batch of chocolate cookies from scratch, probably with one arm tied behind their backs if necessary.
But homemade pie dough sometimes seems to trip up even accomplished home bakers (or at least scare them a little). I get it. A good pie dough requires developing a feel for the dough — an intuition of texture and technique. This is often hard to get from a recipe that says something vague like “cut the butter into the flour.” What does that mean, exactly?
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Luckily, pie dough really is easy to get right every time, so long as you have the right recipe to guide you to success. And here it is. So let’s go step-by-step, and in lots of detail, so you can avoid the most common mistakes and get your best pie ever — and forevermore.
(Note: this recipe makes one double-crust 9 or 10″ pie. It is also provided again at the end, in a shorter format that you can print.)
- 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup (2 sticks) cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces (see directions step 2., below)
- 1/3 to 2/3 cups ice water
1. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, and salt with your fingers or a whisk. I use my fingers for the simple reason that it saves me from washing a utensil.
2. Add the cold, diced butter and work with fingers until the butter is the texture of small peas. The butter does not have to be too combined – there should still be loose flour. Let’s go into detail here:
PRO TIP #1: Use very cold butter. You need butter crumbles in the flour, not a bunch flat smears. Warm butter will smear into the dough, over-hydrating it and killing the promise of flaky pie crust. Those crumbles will melt when baked, and when they melt, steam gets released, forming a little flaky pocket.
PRO TIP #2: How do you dice a stick of butter? Easy. This is how the pastry chefs do it:
- First, take a stick of butter. Cut it into thirds lengthwise, so you have three long sticks.
- Next, turn it on its side. Cut this “clean” side into three long strips. Now you have nine even batons. Trust me on this; don’t peek! You still need it all together in stick shape.
- Third, instead of cutting it again lengthwise, cut it six times “shortwise” — going working right to left, into five even cuts.
- Now separate everything. You now have a pile of 45 perfectly even butter squares.
3. Add water and stir with your fingers until it all just holds together in a shaggy mass, and turn out onto countertop. I find that in winter, I need more water than in summer, because of the low humidity. What is a “shaggy mass”? What is not a shaggy mass? (Yes, this is a pastry term.) See below.
4. Divide dough in half. Shape/press each half into a thick, flat disc about 1/2” thick. Wrap each in plastic wrap and chill in fridge at least 1 hour or overnight.
PRO TIP #3: Why chill the dough? This lets the gluten relax and the butter firm up. Relaxed gluten means that the dough won’t fight you when you roll it out. Chilled butter makes a nice, flaky dough.
5. Roll out the dough out with a rolling pin until the dough is about 2 inches wider than the pie pan and about 1/8″ thick. To roll out a pie dough, lightly dust flour on the countertop as well as the dough. Roll up and down once or twice at most, then rotate the dough, so you can be sure it isn’t sticking and are getting it into a round shape. Dust with a little more flour as needed. Keep rotating it as you roll.
You did it! Proceed according to pie directions. Here is the recipe again, simplified.
What is your favorite pie? Tell us in the comments, below.
Perfect Pie Dough
- 2 3/4 cups
all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 1 cup (or 2 sticks) cold, unsalted butter, diced into small pieces
- 1/3 to 2/3 cups ice water
- In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, and salt with your fingers or a whisk.
- Add the cold, diced butter and work with fingers until the butter is the texture of small peas. The butter does not have to be too combined – there should still be loose flour.
- Add water and stir with your fingers until it all just holds together in a shaggy mass, and turn out onto countertop.
- Divide dough in half. Shape/press each half into a thick, flat disc about 1/2” thick. Wrap each in plastic wrap and chill in fridge at least 1 hour or overnight.PRO TIP: If you are only making a single-crust pie, such as a pumpkin pie or a small galette, you can freeze the other crust, wrapped, for up to two months.
- Roll out the dough out with a rolling pin until the dough is about two inches wider than the pie pan and about 1/8" thick.
- Proceed according to pie directions.