Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Best All Butter Pie Crust Recipe

“We must have a pie. Stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie.”   
-  David Mamet, Boston Marriage

Pie crust, it may be one of the least homemade baked goods out there. Almost every recipe for a pie you come across calls for a frozen pie crust. I guess they know no one wants to go to the trouble to make one. And why should you make a homemade pie crust? It does take some work, and time. And for what? There needs to be a payoff for all of that labor.

Cutting up the butter
There are just some things that you can't buy in a grocery store. If you cook anything from scratch, you know what I'm talking about. Some things can only be made by your hands. And then, there are times you want the very finest, the crème de la crème. Like on Thanksgiving or Christmas, where you don't want anything but the very best.
This is what it looks like when it's done, when it just sticks together
Well, this is the best. Let me tell you a story. Just a few days ago, we ate dinner at a popular pie place in Seattle. The crust was so flaky, I mean the texture was just amazing, it melted in your mouth. But it had no flavor. I thought for sure it was made with all shortening. I asked, and it turns out it was made with lard. No biggie. That's fine with me, I'm not against lard, (vegetarians don't appreciate it, since they can't even have a piece of apple pie, since the crust is made of pig fat, but I digress.) But, I am against food that has no flavor. I mean it had a little taste, but not much. So my husband and I debated. What's more important? Flavor or flakiness?

Right out of the food processor

My husband says flavor, by a mile. He actually didn't love that pie crust no matter how flaky it was. He said when he got a bite of just crust, it dried out his mouth it was so flaky. Like he had a mouth full of sand. For myself, on the other hand, I was still debating it in my mind. For days, in fact.

After refrigerating, ready to roll out

Meanwhile, I was baking pies. I baked a lot of em. I made a version of this pie crust many times. I also made a shortening and butter combined crust a few times, which is the pie crust I usually make. The combined (shortening and butter) crust is a crust I've made a lot of times, but I was still on the fence about it. It just didn't excite me.

Tuck the top crust over the bottom crust, crimp, then make sure the crust stays inside the pie plate, or you risk it hanging over when it bakes. Also brushing the crust with egg white and giving it a sprinkle of sugar helps to get it nice and golden brown.

After lots of pie baking (and eating) and after giving it much thought, here's what I concluded. A crust full of lots of butter is the best. It's the best taste, by a long shot. But that's no surprise is it? This crust has a lot of butter in it. So with all of that fat, this crust is flaky. It's not as flaky as a crust with all lard, or shortening. The reason being is that those fats are 100% fat. Butter has some water content, it's not 100% fat. But no matter. This crust is almost like puff pastry. Not like that puff pastry you get in the grocery that's full of oils, but real, all butter puff pastry you would have to get from a specialty shop or make yourself. A few times when my husband and I took a bite, we even compared the taste to that of a croissant. Yeah, that's how delicious this crust is.

In fact, my husband, not a big dessert fan, loved and devoured the pies I baked with this crust. I needed to make a dessert for an event of his we were going to, and I thought he had decided on one. After eating these pies he changed his mind, all because he couldn't get enough of this butter filled pie dough.

Make sure the crust is inside the pie plate after crimping.
This crust rules over all others in the taste department, but it acts different than a typical pie crust. Call it a pie crust, or call it a pastry, remember how I said it's like puff pastry? Well it does puff up. It doesn't keep it's shape very well. So if you want to cut out shapes of leaves to put on top of your pie, or do a really decorative border, this probably isn't the recipe for you. There are a few tips to using this crust, (below in the recipe) to make it behave for you, that do need your attention. 

Here's what you do with leftover pie crust. You make pie crust sticks! Just sprinkle pie dough with sugar, slice and bake until browned.

But don't let that scare you. I used to be one of those people. One of those indifferent slackers who used premade pie crusts. The times I made a homemade one, was on holidays, or when I was feeling particularly domestic. I never wanted to. I didn't know a pie crust could taste like this. But now that I've made like, 10 pies in the last few weeks, I feel like Betty Crocker, or better yet, Lionel Poilâne. I feel like a magician, capable of transforming an often overlooked dessert into something so delicious, I would be proud to serve it to Gordon Ramsay. I actually have this recipe memorized. By the time I finished my last pie, I felt so exhilarated, I felt like I could challenge Bobby Flay to a pie crust throwdown.

Golden brown and delicious

But this is true for almost anything in life, isn't it? First you have a desire to be good at something. You research, and you learn as much as you can about it, to give yourself a good fighting chance. Then you do it. Then you do it again, and again. You make mistakes, but you learn from them,  and you don't get discouraged, because you want this. Then you actually get pretty darn good at it. The result? A skill you will have for the rest of your life. A skill that will make people love you (trust me on this.) A skill that will warm the hearts of your friends and family. A skill that will open peoples minds to how amazing a simple American staple like pie, can taste. That is a skill worth having, and time well spent, in my book. Now that is exciting.

Here's what you have to watch out for with this recipe, pie crust that hangs down. You need to tuck the pie crust in, so that when it bakes, it doesn't hang over the sides, like mine did here. The first time I made this crust I wasn't careful with this, and I had lots of hanging pie crust.

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Baking the pie in a glass pie plate and following a few simple steps, really does away with a soggy pie crust.

Tips for successful pie making:

Make sure to read the recipe all the way through before making.

The dough can be made days in advance and then kept in the fridge, plan accordingly. It also freezes well for months. Just double wrap it in plastic wrap, then place it in a zip top bag with the air removed. Let it thaw in the fridge and proceed with the recipe.

Add as little water as possible to the dough.

Mix it as little as possible in the food processor, meaning just pulse it, as few times as needed. Overworking the gluten in the flour makes a crust tough.

Refrigerating and freezing the dough when called for in the recipe allows the gluten to relax after being worked, which is going to contribute to a flakier crust as well as giving you less shrinkage when baking.

Use rice flour when rolling out the dough. This isn't absolutely necessary, but when rolling out pie dough, you want to use as little flour as possible so you don't work in too much of it, which can lead to a tough crust. If you use rice flour instead, you don't need to worry about working in too much flour, since rice flour has no gluten. Just roll out dough like you usually would, only substituting rice flour with all purpose.

Use a glass (or Pyrex) pie plate. This helps the bottom crust cook. Glass is a good conductor of heat. This will help the bottom crust to cook, and not be soggy. Actually if you preheat a cookie sheet in a 400 degree oven, then put your pie in a glass pie plate on the preheated sheet in a lower rack in the oven, this will give your bottom crust a head start in cooking.

Brush the top of your unbaked pie with egg white and sprinkle with sugar (don't use sugar if making a savory pie, only use the egg white) to get it nice and golden brown.

Brush the bottom of your pie crust with egg white before filling it, to prevent sogginess, it will form a barrier between the filling and the crust.

Bake a fruit pie at 400-425 degrees Fahrenheit, (200-220 degrees Celsius) (Gas Mark 6 or 7) in a lower rack in your oven. It takes about an hour for a double crust fruit pie. If the crust gets too brown before the time is up, cover the crust with foil. If it's not getting brown enough, about 15 minutes before it's done put it on a top rack in the oven to brown.

Freeze your pie (or at least refrigerate it) for about an hour after filling and before baking it. This will help calm the gluten as well as help prevent shrinking.

Peach Pie - one of the pies I made with this crust
Tan Vintage Damask Dinner Napkins, Vintage Copper Kettle, Vintage Arthur Wood Mug, Heritage Hall English Transferware Plate, and Old Ivory Syracuse China Dessert Plates available at my Etsy shop, House of Lucien.

The Best All Butter Pie Crust Recipe

This recipe is my own. It started as an adaptation from Ann Burrell's Pie Dough Recipe as well as a few ideas from America's Test Kitchen, mixed with knowledge I've learned over the years, combined with experience.

This recipe makes enough for 2 crusts, for an 8 or 9 inch pie, or one double crust pie. If you only need one crust, for a pumpkin pie, or a cream pie, freeze the other half, or simply halve the recipe. The dough will last for months frozen if double wrapped and then placed in a zip top bag and sealed. Simply thaw it in the fridge and continue with the directions from there.

This recipe contains vodka. Americas test kitchen is famous for using it in their pie crust. Their recipe uses more than mine, and their recipe is different. I've taken the idea from them. The reason it is a great element for a pie crust, is because gluten forms in water but not in alcohol. In a pie crust recipe you want to use the least amount of water as possible, but sometimes this makes it hard to roll out. By using a little alcohol it makes it easier to work with, without adding water, since the alcohol cooks out and leaves no taste. If you absolutely do not consume alcohol go ahead and leave it out, you may need to use a tablespoon or 2 more ice water.

Vinegar is used in the recipe because it helps prevent the formation of gluten, which will ultimately make for a flakier crust, you can't taste it since it is just a teaspoon.

Using the best quality butter you can get your hands on is a good idea here, since the butter is the star ingredient.


2 1/2 sticks (20 Tablespoons) or (285 g.) of very cold good quality butter, cut into small pieces then held in the fridge to get it cold again,  plus extra for greasing the pie plate

2 cups (268 g.) all purpose flour, plus more for rolling out the dough OR use rice flour for rolling

rice flour for rolling out dough, optional

2 Tablespoons sugar - omit if you are making a savory pie, like a pot pie

1/4 tsp. salt

1 tsp. apple cider vinegar

2 Tablespoons cold vodka

5-7 Tablespoons ice cold water


Get your ingredients ready. Get your food processor out.  Have the butter cut into small pieces, then placed in the fridge until needed. Have a cup of water with a few ice cubes in it next to your food processor to use as your ice water. Make sure your vodka is cold.

In the bowl of the food processor add the flour, sugar and salt and blend together. Take the butter pieces out of the fridge and add about half of it to the food processor. Pulse it a few times to get the butter mixed in, then add the other half of the butter. Pulse the butter into the flour until it resembles little pieces of grated cheese. Now remove the lid of the food processor and sprinkle on the vodka, and the apple cider vinegar, plus 2 Tablespoons of ice water. Pulse it again a few times to get it mixed in. Then add 2 more tablespoons of ice water and pulse until it's blended in. The goal is to work the dough as little as possible, so just pulse it as few times as needed to get it to be mixed together. Only add enough water to get the dough to stick together. Add as little as possible. Remove the lid of the food processor and pinch it together to see if it sticks together. If it needs more water, if it's not sticking together, add a tablespoon at a time, pulse, then check it again.

When it's ready, dump out the contents onto a work surface such as a big cutting board. Form it into a flat disc with your hands, then cut it in half and flatten each disc, this will make it easier to roll out later. I weigh each one with a scale to make sure I've divided them in two equal portions. Wrap each disc in plastic wrap then refrigerate for at least an hour, or up to days in advance.

When ready to use the dough, remove it from the fridge for about 20 minutes, to let it get soft enough to roll. Dust the work surface and the dough with flour (or rice flour, as mentioned above.) Use a rolling pin to roll out the dough, evenly in all directions. Turn the dough a 1/4 of a turn after each roll to get it as even in all directions as possible. If it gets tacky, use a little more flour, don't let it stick to your work surface. Roll out the dough until it's about 1/8 of an inch thick.

Grease your glass pie plate (an 8 or 9 inch) with butter and place the rolled out dough in the plate. It should hang over at least a 1/2 inch, if it hangs out more than that, cut it to 1/2 inch overhang. Fill the pie and bake as directed in your recipe.

*This is an important step* After you've filled your pie, you need to tuck the top crust under the bottom crust, then crimp together. Make sure the crust is not hanging over the edge. Make sure after you have crimped it together that it is inside the pie plate. When the crust bakes, if it's hanging over the edge, it will fall down over the edge of the pie plate and hang over. If making a fruit pie, make sure the edges are sealed, so the juices don't go running out of the edge. Make sure you cut vent holes on the top.

If you are making a single crust pie, just make sure when you crimp the edges so that they stay inside the pie plate, not hanging over the edge.

To blind bake for a single crust pie: Line the dough with parchment paper and fill with pie weights, raw rice, or dried beans. Bake in a preheated 425 degrees F oven for 10 to 12 minutes, remove the parchment and beans and bake for 2 to 3 minutes more. Remove the pie shell from the oven and cool. The dough should be golden and crisp. Continue with desired filling.

I hope you love this recipe as much as I do!
Happy Baking!


Anonymous said...

What a beautiful pie!

Iris said...

Can we get a Peach Pie recipe as well? :)

Deb A said...

Hi Melissa - thanks for linking this up to our MM party last night - sharing on FB and pinned!

Jenn Erickson said...

Oh my! Your pie crust and pie both look AMAZING!


The Alchemist said...

Margita - Yes! The peach pie recipe is coming in just a few days.

Simple Mama At Home said...

This looks like a delicious pie crust and your peach pie looks fabulous!!!
Stopping by from “Tuesdays Table”.
Following you on GFC, Pinterest, and Facebook.
Have a great week :)
Bismah @
Simple Mama

Unknown said...

I'm always wondering how to make a pie crust at home. This is so good to know! This would be great to link to Create It Thursday #23…it's live now! Hope to see you there!

Anonymous said...

I was linked to your recipe via LiveJournal. I've been making pie from scratch for nearly 25 years now, and while I know all of the tips and tricks to making a good pie crust I have never been able to make a decent all butter crust. (Since I am not all fond of the taste of crusts made with shortening it's always been a bit of a letdown for me.) I thought I'd give your recipe a whirl and have now used it a couple of times and can say with authority that this is the best pie crust I've used. I am going to be recommending it! Thank you for it, very much.

The Alchemist said...

kukkaseksi - That's awesome! I'm so glad you liked it! Thanks so much for the feedback.

Unknown said...

Last week I had the most buttery crust at a restaurant in NYC so I've been determined to try to make one that would taste just as good! Yours crust recipe is the first Im trying. Can't wait to taste it, the dough already looks tasty!

lilred70670 said...

I'm one of "those" people who was always afraid of making my own pie crusts...especially after trying a few and not being impressed with the flavor or texture, even all butter crusts. I found your recipe the night before Thanksgiving and gave it a, I'm impressed!!! Unfortunately, the sugar cream pie filling recipe I used it with wasn't so impressive, but I ate the crust around the top anyways. I usually leave that part on my plate, but can honestly say it was the best crust I've ever had. I told my hubby after seeing the pics that it had to be puff pastry, not pie crusts,but I was wrong. It does taste like puff pastry though and I will never make another crusts. The fact it was so easy to make is awesome, too! Thanks for taking me out of the "those" people category! (Making more today as crust for Apple dumplings with caramel sauce...yummy!)

lilred70670 said...

I'm one of "those" people who was always afraid of making my own pie crusts...especially after trying a few and not being impressed with the flavor or texture, even all butter crusts. I found your recipe the night before Thanksgiving and gave it a, I'm impressed!!! Unfortunately, the sugar cream pie filling recipe I used it with wasn't so impressive, but I ate the crust around the top anyways. I usually leave that part on my plate, but can honestly say it was the best crust I've ever had. I told my hubby after seeing the pics that it had to be puff pastry, not pie crusts,but I was wrong. It does taste like puff pastry though and I will never make another crusts. The fact it was so easy to make is awesome, too! Thanks for taking me out of the "those" people category! (Making more today as crust for Apple dumplings with caramel sauce...yummy!)

Yo Bo said...

Hey Alchemist - are you still responding to comments and emails? i noticed very old dates, so I'm wondering...

Donna said...

I'm assuming this uses un-salted butter?