My Best Pie Crust: A Piece of Cake #33

A Piece of... Pie?

A quick note: our friends at New York’s Golden Diner suffered a horrible fire last week. They’re trying to raise funds to rebuild and restore, and I wanted to help. I’ll be donating all the annual subscriptions we get from this week’s newsletter to their Fire Fund. And as a thank you for donating, I’ll do a special bonus cocktail recipe for subscribers this week. Thank you!

Here’s the first of a couple of newsletters this week! Well, if you’re a subscriber, that is. But this one goes out to everyone. And that’s because we’re talking about something near and dear to my heart: pie crust. 

Everyone has their own way of doing pie crust, and I’m not here to tell you anyone is wrong. Well, actually, there are a lot of bad pie crusts out there, so I guess some people are wrong. Pie people, I can’t guarantee you’re going to love my pie crust method. I mean, I think you will and hope you do! But what I can tell you is that this pie crust method has consistently worked for me, both in my kitchen and in various commercial settings, for years. 

All butter pie crust recipes have nearly the same ratio of flour to fat. Some have a little more sugar or salt, but essentially they’re all the same. The trick to a great pie crust then lies in the technique versus the measurements. I believe the true key is temperature: keeping everything cold by working relatively quickly. With that in mind, I always start with fully frozen butter. Not chilled. Frozen. I actually keep a few pounds of butter in the freezer at all times for impromptu pastry making. Extremely normal behavior, I know. 

Before you do anything else, set yourself up with some ice water in a measuring cup. Generally speaking, I measure out the water on the higher side of what I might need, then add ice. It’s always better to be prepared with more ice-cold water than running out and having to use less cold water to finish. 

Next, pulse the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, and salt) in a food processor. The food processor is the real clincher here, for me. It allows you to use extremely hard frozen butter and incorporate it very quickly with the flour, therefore keeping it very cold. Based on Epicurious’ rec, Andrew’s parents got us the Breville Sous Chef 12-Cup Food Processor for his birthday a couple of years ago, and honestly? It’s a game-changer. It’s huge, but it has power. If you need proof, I made this pie crust in an airconditionless kitchen during a Cape Cod summer. 

Next, add the butter. Pulse it a few times, checking the consistency. Now, this part might be the most divisive of my pie crust takes: I like to go on the smaller side of the traditional “pea-sized” butter chunks. Many people like larger chunks, and my queen Deb Perelman swears by “lima-bean” butter pats. And I respect that! But over the years, this method has consistently yielded flaky, crispy, tender crusts for me.

Once the butter is pulsed with the flour and you have your baby-pea-sized bits remaining, you dump the whole thing into a bowl. Now we’re back to that ice water you made. I drizzle the ice water over the flour mixture, starting on the lower end of the water measurement. As in, start with a cup, and save the ½ cup if you need to add a little extra. I use my fingers to gently toss the mixture to hydrate. Don’t overwork it, just keep moving quickly and gently. 

The amount of water you need to add takes some finesse. If there is too much water, the dough will be tough, too little water and the dough will crumble. There is no recovery from too much water in the dough. Your dough will be tough, and you literally need to start over. Keep gradually adding water until the dough can be pressed together into a disk that doesn't break apart, but isn’t sticky or gummy. You’ll know it when you see it.

Lastly, the dough has to rest. If I’m really planning ahead, I’ll make the crust the day ahead and let it rest overnight, but a rest of at least 1 hour is fine. This allows the flour to hydrate and makes the dough more workable and the end result more tender. I form the dough into a disk, tightly wrap it in food wrap, and tuck it into the fridge for its nap. If you are making pie crust to freeze for later use, let it rest and hydrate before you freeze it! 

I hope this little tutorial helps you make a better pie crust, but no hard feelings if you’re a pastry cutter or full-on fingertip person. Personally? I’ll stick with the horsepower of my trusty food processor. If you’re a subscriber, you’ll get to put this pie crust recipe to work right away, because tomorrow, you’ll get my Nectarine and Pistachio Slab Pie recipe! The crust recipe below is scaled for both the slab pie and a traditional two-crust pie.

My Best Pie Crust

For a two-crust pie: 

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt

1 cup unsalted butter, frozen

½ - ¾ cup ice water 

For a half sheet pan slab pie:

4 cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoon sugar

2 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt

2 cup unsalted butter, frozen

1-1 ½ cup ice water 

  1. Place the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a few times to combine. 

  2. Remove the butter from the freezer and cut it into ½ inch chunks, working quickly. Add the chunks to the flour mixture in the food processor. 

  3. Pulse the butter a few times until the mixture has small pea-sized chunks of butter remaining. 

  4. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl. Drizzle the smaller measurement of water over the mixture. 

  5. Working gently and quickly, toss the mixture with fingertips to hydrate the flour/butter. Add a little water, a tablespoon or so at a time, until the dough can just come together into a disk and not easily break apart. Avoid adding too much water, or letting the dough become sticky. There is no recovery from too much water, your dough will be tough.

  6. Form the dough into a disk and tightly wrap it with food wrap. Chill for at least one hour, but overnight is great. If you’re making dough to freeze and use later, let the dough chill first and hydrate, before freezing. 

Quick Bites: 

  • Speaking of Deb Perelman, have you seen her great new YouTube series?? I’ve made this Zucchini and Ricotta Galette about 100 times in the last 11 years tbh, and this video is just the push I need to make it again. 

  • It’s been too long since I’ve been to LA, so I live vicariously through my friend Rachel Karten’s food posts. She went to Lady & Larder this week, and it looked sooo good. I haven’t stopped thinking about this sandwich since. Also, if you do any work in, or with, social media you have to subscribe to Rachel’s great newsletter, Link in Bio. She’s a great read and a literal pro. 

    A post shared by @milkkarten
  • It’s been so exciting to see my friend Raf Swaider in the second season of Making the Cut! I finally had an excuse to get a pair of his incredible linen trousers for a certain upcoming August event. (It’s my wedding. That’s the event.)

    A Piece of Cake is written by Bill Clark and edited by Andrew Spena. Photography by Hunter Abrams. Logo design by Brett LaBauve.