Welcome to this week’s second “basics” post! Not long ago, I decided to stop being intimidated by the idea of making all-butter pie dough and taught myself through (a lot of) trial and (even more) error. Pie dough is one of those recipes that strikes fear in the hearts of many home cooks and bakers. I can empathize; I’ve been there, too. I used store-bought pie dough for years and avoided making it from scratch like it was my job. But…I finally learned and that’s what’s important! I got help with technique from my mother-in-law, Eleanor, who has been making pie dough for years. When I told her I was teaching myself, she recommended Martha Stewart’s recipe and it’s the recipe I’ve been using ever since.
Pie dough is known as pâte brisée in French and pasta brisée in Italian. It’s a dough that works well for both sweet and savory recipes. The only ingredients needed to make all-butter pie dough are butter, flour, salt and ice water. There are variations on the recipe which include using baking powder, vinegar, and shortening, all of which are optional. Shortening helps tenderize and moisture-proof the dough while contributing flakiness. Baking powder helps to tenderize the dough while it bakes. Vinegar’s acidity helps tenderize the dough by weakening the gluten just enough to make rolling out the dough easier. Vinegar also prevents the dough from shrinking during baking. The flour you use to make pie dough is important. The best flours to use are all-purpose or pastry flour, both of which have the best protein content to give the baked dough both flakiness and tenderness.
My favorite way to make all-butter pie dough is the food processor method. I have never attempted to make pie dough by hand, although everything I read says it’s the best method as it results in the flakiest crust. The food processor method, when used correctly and carefully, will also yield a flaky crust. It’s a much faster method for making pie dough, especially if you need to make several batches of dough for holiday baking.
To ensure success every time you make pie dough, I’ve compiled a list of my favorite tips:
- Dedicate the time. Baking is an exact science and rushing can lead to over or under-measuring and other mistakes.
- Prepare your baking space. Set out all the equipment you will need for the job.
- Set out and prep the ingredients. This is where mise en place (“everything in its place”) is essential.
- Read the recipe from start to finish before beginning. You don’t want to be caught off guard in the middle of making a recipe.
- Take your time. Don’t rush through the steps as you follow the recipe.
- Clean as you go. It will save your sanity when it’s time to clean up and put things away.
- Relax and have fun! Fear has no place in the kitchen. Even if you have kitchen fails, learn from your mistakes and try again!
I put together this numbered collage to give you a visual of the recipe instructions below so you can see how the dough comes together at each step. Don’t get discouraged if it takes you a few tries to master all-butter pie dough. I lost track of how many times I messed up when I was learning! Just keep trying and enjoy the learning process. The French have a saying for this: Il faut mettre la main à la pâte, which means “it is necessary to put your hand to the dough”. Making pie dough is all about learning how the dough looks and feels. It’s a very tactile experience and hands-on practice is the best way to learn.Print
Adapted from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook by Martha Stewart
- 1 cup (226 grams) unsalted butter, cut into cubes and chilled
- 2½ cups (300 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
- ¼ – ½ cup (60 mL –125 mL) ice water, plus more if needed
- Cut the butter into cubes, place them in a bowl, and chill in the refrigerator until it’s needed. Fill a measuring cup with ¼ cup water and and ice. Set aside.
- Put the flour and salt into the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade and pulse a few times to combine.
- Add the chilled, cubed butter to the flour mixture.
- Pulse the butter and flour mixture several times until the butter is the size of large peas.
- With the machine running, pour the ice water (take out the ice cubes) through the feed tube in a slow, thin stream until the dough just holds together without being too sticky or wet (you may not use all ¼ cup of water).
- The dough is ready to shape when you can pinch off a portion and it holds together when you press it with your finger tips.
- Transfer the dough to a lightly floured board and work it into a smooth ball (do not knead). You may need to add very small amounts of ice water to bring together drier portions of dough.
- Use a bench scraper or a sharp knife to divide the ball of dough evenly in half.
- Shape each half of dough into a disk about 1-inch thick. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate 2-3 hours (preferably overnight) to allow the dough to rest. Resting the dough relaxes the gluten in the flour and makes the dough easier to roll out. It’s a very important step, so don’t skip it.
- Take the dough out of the refrigerator 30-40 minutes before you are ready to roll it out to allow it to become pliable enough for rolling. Flour the board and the dough lightly.
- Use a rolling pin to roll out the dough from the center out, turning it a quarter turn after each roll. Flour the board lightly as you go to prevent it from sticking to the board and rolling pin. If the dough is too hard to roll, let it sit at room temperature a few minutes. If it becomes too soft and sticky, fold it in thirds like a letter, place it on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet, and refrigerate it for a few minutes. Re-roll the dough once it’s chilled enough but still pliable.
- Once the dough is ready to place into the pie plate, gently roll it onto the rolling pin, set it over the pie plate and unroll it.
- Carefully lift the outer edges of the overhanging dough to allow the dough to drop into the bottom of the pie plate. Do not press the dough into the pie plate.
- Fill the bottom crust with your desired filling per your recipe’s instructions. Note: some recipes will instruct you to “blind bake” the bottom crust before proceeding with the recipe. Watch this video tutorial to learn how to blind bake a pie crust.
- For double-crust pies, roll out the second disk of dough and transfer it over the filling. Trim and crimp the edges. Watch this video tutorial to learn crimping techniques.
- Cut slits to vent the pie as it bakes, brush the top of the crust with heavy cream or an egg wash (depending on what the recipe instructs) and sprinkle with sugar (for sweet pies).
- Bake the pie according to the instructions of the recipe you are using. I recommend putting the pie plate on a rimmed baking sheet to catch any juices that may overflow out of the pie as it bakes.
- Pie dough can be refrigerated for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 2 months, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and sealed in a plastic freezer bag.