While no one is going to say that making piecrust from scratch is simple, it’s much easier than many people think and the results are well worth the effort. And pie dough freezes beautifully, so you can spend an afternoon making and rolling out several crusts and then freeze them, well wrapped, for up to 3 months. You can even freeze the crust right in the pie pan. The following steps will work with just about any piecrust recipe.
Whisk together all dry ingredients in a large bowl and place in freezer. Chop the butter and shortening or lard into 1/2-inch cubes, place in a single layer on a plate, and place in freezer. Allow the ingredients to chill for up to 30 minutes. Then, using your fingers, two knives, or a pastry blender, rub the chilled fat into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse meal. The larger the bits of fat, the flakier the piecrust will be, but they should never be larger than a pea.
In a 2-cup measuring cup, mix cold water with several ice cubes. Drizzle a few tablespoons of ice water over the flour mixture and quickly toss the water into the flour. Continue to add the water, a tablespoon or so at a time, until the dough just holds together when you press a handful of it into a ball. It should be just moist and look a little shaggy. Gently press together into a flattened disc, wrap in plastic wrap or foil, and chill for 30 minutes.
On a lightly floured surface or rolling mat, roll out the dough to the desired diameter. It should be about 1/8 inch thick.
Drape the dough over the rolling pin and place it in the pie dish. Press the dough against the sides and bottom. Trim the overhang to about an inch, tuck the extra dough under itself, and press to seal. Crimp if desired.
4 Extra Secrets
1. For the flakiest, most tender pastry, keep everything cool, including your hands (run them under cold water for a few seconds and then dry thoroughly before starting work). Chill all the ingredients, including dry ingredients. Some serious bakers even keep their flour in the freezer so it’s always at the right temperature.
2. To avoid tough crusts, be careful not to add too much liquid or to overwork the dough. Pie dough is fragile, so treat it with the utmost respect. Don’t worry if you can see bits of fat in the dough (although they should be no bigger than a small pea). It’s those pockets of fat that create the pastry’s flakiness.
3. Pastry tastes only as good as the ingredients you use. Skip the vegetable shortening and make dough the way great-grandma did: with butter and lard. Butter adds flavor, and lard provides an incomparable flaky texture. Unfortunately, lard has earned a bad reputation through no fault of its own. In fact, the main fat in lard—oleic acid—is a monounsaturated fat linked to decreased risk of depression, says Drew Ramsey, M.D., coauthor of The Happiness Diet. Just make sure to use leaf lard (high-grade lard from around the kidneys, available through mail order and at some farmers’ markets) and avoid the hydrogenated product sold at supermarkets.
4. To make rolling out the dough easy, invest in a silicone pastry mat that includes measured circles for rolling out your dough accurately. King Arthur Flour offers an excellent one.
Silicone rolling mat: King Arthur Flour, 800-827-6836, kingarthurflour.com.
Search for local providers of rendered leaf lard at localharvest.org.