Basic Pie Crust
- 2 1/4 Cups all-purpose flour
- 3 Teaspoons kosher salt
- 2 Teaspoons white sugar
- 2 sticks cold unsalted butter*
- 1/2 Cup plus 2-3 tablespoons strained ice water
This is an amazingly versatile recipe for a double-crust pie. It can be used for sweet or savory pies. It can be all butter, all leaf lard, all shortening, or any combination. For savory pies you can even use beef suet. Choose a good-size bowl, one where both of your hands can fit in and work. You will be mixing the crust with your hands. Pour all dry ingredients into the bowl and mix together in the bowl with your hands.
Pour all dry ingredients into a good-size bowl and mix together in the bowl with your hands. Cut the cold butter into ¼-inch pieces. Scatter the butter over the dry ingredients. Incorporate the butter into the dry ingredients by pinching each piece. Do not break up the butter beyond this; it should keep its shape. (You are really just introducing them to each other.)
As you work, cup your hands and lift all the dry ingredients from the bottom of the bowl to the top. Do this a few times so you aren't stuck with dry ingredients at the bottom of the bowl. (The butter should not get warm or create tiny butter pebbles. The goal is for the fat to have presence in the crust. It has a lot of work to do; leave it some backbone.)
Strain the ice water so ice doesn't end up in the crust. (Ice water is used for the same reason cold butter is: to keep the fat separate throughout the process.) You can also pour the ice water through a slotted spoon held over the bowl.
Slowly pour the water into the bowl. Start with ¼ cup of water, and pour it around the outside of the bowl. Never sloppily dump wet ingredients into dry ingredients, especially for a crust. The water should be evenly distributed. Push the crust around with the fork, moving from the outside of the bowl.** Add the second ¼ cup and repeat.
When mixing the ingredients, make sure you are incorporating all ingredients on the bottom of the bowl. You've added ½ cup of water. It is almost there, but you probably need to add at least 2 tablespoons more water. After adding the extra water, push the crust more with your fork. (In warmer months, you may not need the last tablespoons of water because of the humid air. Always slowly add water to a crust before adding any more. Once you add it, there is no going back. Now, a splash of water from your fingertips or a dusting of flour can tip the balance in the crust texture. Say your crust is almost together but just needs a little shove, or it's beginning to feel a bit tacky. Try just a touch of water or flour to adjust the texture.)
Your crust is ready to be shaped when a few things occur:
You can squeeze it together and it won't fall apart, and the center is not just a crumbly, dusty mess. (And, please, you are squeezing it, not kneading it. It's not bread or pasta dough, it's pie crust. Quit touching it!)
The crust becomes slightly golden and a little cooler to touch. This is the perfect moment when the mixture becomes crust, where the equilibrium between the dry ingredients and butter has been achieved.
Separate the dough into 2 equal-size balls and flatten them into disks. (For this recipe, the disks should be about 5-inches in diameter.) Wrap each one in plastic wrap and refrigerate them for at least 30 minutes before rolling them out.
*Note: It is very important that your butter is cold; its ability to maintain its shape is what lends flakiness to the crust. You can freeze it, but I find refrigerated butter to be quite sufficient.
**Note: Why the fork? Why the pushing? Pie crust has the best texture when it is worked the least. When you push it around with the fork, you are not mixing it, stirring it, or kneading it. You are just pushing it. The more you work it, the tougher it becomes. Your pie crust should be tender, not tough.