Crisp, flaky and just salty enough. Creating a crust with “tooth” that melts instantly on your tongue is the key to any great pie. But differing opinions and confusing controversies abound. What combination or ratio is best? All-butter or all-shortening? Maybe lard is better? How about a 50–50 ratio of butter and shortening (or lard)? Then there’s the popular 70 percent butter to 30 percent shortening (or lard) version. Is that any good? Don’t get me started on solidified coconut oil. Well, I have tried them all. The all-butter crust remains my favorite for its rich, savory flavor. It has just 4 simple ingredients that are always on hand at my house. So in my opinion, this is the one to master. In fact, commit it to memory.
High-fat European-style butter is essential to a perfect pie crust. Which, along with chilling, helps keep the dough flaky and minimizes shrinking. Many people swear that the addition of ¼ teaspoon white vinegar or lemon juice makes for a guaranteed flaky crust. I’m on the fence but you can add these if you want to.
- 2 3/4 cup all-purpose flour (or 390 grams, plus more as needed)
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 18 tablespoon very cold high-fat, European-style unsalted butter (cut into ½‑inch dice)
- 2–3 ice cubes
- ¼ cup ice cold water (plus 2 or more tablespoons optional)
In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a blade attachment pulse flour and salt 5 or 6 times until well combined. If there are additions such as spices, herbs, cheese, vinegar or lemon juice add these now (see specific recipes).
Add butter, and continue pulsing until the mixture is crumbly and coarse, with various-sized but obvious chunks of butter scattered throughout.
Place two ice cubes, broken up if necessary into the feed tube of the food processor. With the machine running, pour ¼ cup cold water through the ice-filled feed tube a little at a time until dough just comes together and begins to pull cleanly away from the sides of the bowl in jagged clumps. Don’t let the machine run too long and don’t worry if you don’t use all the water. Overworked dough and/or too much water are the main culprits in pastry that is tough or dense. However, in dry climates you may need up to an additional 2 or more tablespoons more cold water. You’ll learn to know when it’s the right balance of wet and dry.
Move the dough to a lightly floured work surface and gently knead 2 or 3 times. If the dough seems quite sticky or at all wet, sprinkle in another few teaspoons flour. Give the dough another couple of quick, gentle kneads. Divide dough in half. Shape into two discs about 5‑inches round and 3/4‑inch thick, or as indicated in individual recipes. Wrap in plastic. Refrigerate at least 1 hour (or up to 2 days) to distribute moisture evenly, or freeze up to 1 month.