This isn’t a recipe for a full pie. The middle part, filling, is where you get to be creative and weird and fun and classic. I’ll post full pie recipes soon. I have a wild one that’s apple and miso paste that I’m pretty excited about. But, before we start posting pies we need to talk about pie dough. The filling is never really the issue. It’s the crust. That’s where people get frustrated and swear off pie baking for the rest of their life. It is a pain to work with, it’s too crumbly, it doesn’t hold up to a filling, it’s too tough, etc. This post gives some troubleshooting for pie baking and some techniques that might be new for you. It goes fairly in depth, I wanted to give some reasoning behind techniques rather than just tell you to do something. In baking I think it’s vital to know why something works or doesn’t work. Baking is science!
If you don’t want to read all of this you can just Jump to the Pie Dough recipe.Jump to Recipe
Pie dough needs three things: flour, fat, liquid.
Flour: The flour is the structure of the crust. It’s probably the most obvious statement I could make, but it needs to be understood to go to the next steps. Don’t mess with using a whole wheat flour for a pie crust. It’s a pie. You don’t eat a pie for its nutritional density. You eat a pie because it’s flaky and crispy and melts in your mouth. People might argue me on this, but I stand firm when I say just use an unbleached all purpose flour or a gluten free substitute. Whole wheat flour has a different consistency because the bran is present which also affects the flavor of the crust.
Fat: A pie crust needs fat to work. If you limit the fat or try to substitute it out with a non-fat ingredient your crust will be more bread-like. Fat does three things for a crust. It minimizes the wheat proteins’ ability to create gluten, because it acts as a barrier in a sense, it creates striations of layers which makes it flaky, and it fries the flour during the baking process. I bet you never thought about baking like that before did you? That you’re essentially just frying the flour but from the inside. So, less fat than the ratio requires and the proteins create gluten, you lose those striations, and there isn’t enough fat to fry the amount of flour. If your crust is tough the fat content is one component to look at.
The fat you use matters because it needs to be one that can be a solid. You cannot use a liquid fat, like oil, for a pie crust. Butter, shortening, coconut oil. No matter which you use it should be as cold as possible through the entire process. Take your butter, vegan or dairy, out of the fridge, slice it into 1/4″ pieces, then put it into the freezer until use. Coconut oil just needs to be refrigerated, because it’s a solid at room temperature and freezing vs refrigerating doesn’t have much of a difference. Shortening won’t freeze hard but it will get more firm in the freezer.
Have you seen this recipe yet for my Veganized Hamburger Helper? Super easy to make and is a one pot meal. Perfect for a weeknight when you want some comfort after a long day.
I’m an 80s kid, and I learned to “cook” in the 90s at the height of the Hamburger Helper era. Fry up some greasy ground chuck, toss in a flavor packet, cook with those cardboard noodles. Yum. Well, the other day I was feeling nostalgic and decided I needed to relive my childhood. I tossed…
You’ll see in pie recipes to use “ice cold water.” That literally means ice in water to keep it cold. When you add the water into the flour and fat mix you don’t want it to soften the fat. Take a measuring up and fill it up and drop in some ice cubes. Measure your tablespoons from that ice water.
You’ll also see in recipes to mix your dough then refrigerate it. Don’t skip that step. It does three important things that will make your crust the best it can be.
- Hydration: the rest period allows the flour to soak up the water and hydrate. If you tried to roll out your dough straight after mixing it will fall apart. This is why. The flour needs time to rehydrate.
- Relax Gluten: any time you mix flour and water the wheat proteins combine to create gluten. You knead bread dough to create gluten. The goal is to minimize that as much as possible when making pastry doughs. The rest time allows the gluten to relax.
- Firmer Fat: refrigeration gives the fat in your dough to firm up again after being warmed through the process of mixing and being touched by your warm hands.
Liquid: Once you’ve mixed the flour and fat together it needs a liquid to bind it. Water or milk is generally what is called for and in a very specific amount. You want as little water as possible in your dough so that the crust is crisp and isn’t tough. The water is only there to hold the mixture together, and the drier the better when it comes to a pie dough. This is why in pie dough recipes it says something like 5-7 tablespoons ice water. Start with the lowest number they give you and add one tablespoon at a time until you can pinch the dough and it sticks together.
America’s Test Kitchen actually came out years ago with a pie dough hack using vodka for part of the liquid. The science there is that vodka isn’t water and the proteins in wheat need water to create gluten. The vodka evaporates during the baking process and doesn’t leave any trace flavor behind. It works and it makes a dough easier to work with if you want your pie dough to be softer. I have found though that if your dough is soft you tend to overwork it and break down those fat layers in the dough. The drier the dough the less that fat combines and gets just mixed into the dough. It’s personal preference, but I can say the vodka hack works and it does make a dough that’s easier to work with.
Now let’s talk technique
How to add the fat:
My method here involves as little touching of dough as possible because your hands are warm and soften the butter too much, and the more you touch the dough the more gluten forms. I add the butter, I use Earth Balance vegan butter BTW, in two stages and using two techniques.
First, I add half of the butter to the flour by cutting it in using a pastry cutter. Get the butter into small granules which will create micro striations when rolled out. Also, adding half of the butter in using this method means more butter to fry the flour but doesn’t leave a greasy feeling in the crust. The other half of the butter I add in sliced. These bigger pieces get laminated, flattened thin, when you roll out the dough. When you look at your dough you’ll see these layers of butter and that’s what makes the crust flaky.
I do this two step process for a reason. If your fat is added to the flour in a uniform way your crust might be too flaky once baked or too difficult to work with as a dough. I’ve used methods where you grate the butter into the flour, but that is messy and by the end of grating your butter has warmed up too much and maybe even a little melty on your hand.
How to roll out:
I’m a big fan of easy and efficient. I don’t like to clean up an epic mess, and I like to avoid making a mess if possible. I stopped rolling my dough out on a floured surface a while ago and my life is so much better. I also found that rolling out on a floured surface dried my dough too much because it presses flour in which messes up the flour to liquid ratio. Instead, I roll my pie crust out between two sheets of parchment paper. Pull the top parchment off and turn the dough on the parchment into the pie pan then carefully peel the parchment off. You can also lightly flour your parchment paper before rolling if you want it to remove easily. Baker’s choice on that.
Now that you have all of that info here’s my pie crust recipe. How you use it depends on what you’re baking. If you are doing a standard 9″ top and bottom crust pie divide the dough into roughly 3/5 and 2/5, or 10 ounces and 14 ounces by weight, so that you have more for the bottom crust. If you are using a 9 1/2″ pie pan, which doesn’t seem like that much bigger but that extra half inch takes a lot of volume, then you’ll need to divide it towards a scant 3/4 to 1/4 amount so that you have more to fill the bottom and sides.
Flawless Pie Crust
- Parchment paper
- Ziploc gallon bags
- Straight rolling pin
- 14 tablespoons vegan butter (I prefer Earth Balance)
- 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour (unbleached and 320 grams if by weight)
- 2 tablespoons corn starch
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon baking powder (Helps it get flakey)
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 7-10 tablespoons ice water
- Cut the butter into 1/2 tablespoon slices and place in the freezer while you prepare the rest of your ingredients. Measure out 3/4 cup water and place into the cup a few ice cubes. Set aside.
- Whisk together the flour, corn starch, salt, and baking powder.
- Add 8 tablespoons of the chilled butter to the flour mix, toss, then use two knives or a pastry cutter to cut the butter in until it's like sand with small pieces of gravel. Toss the remaining 6 tablespoons of chilled butter with the flour but don't cut in.
- Transfer the flour mix and butter to a gallon Ziploc bag, press out the air, seal, and use a rolling pin to flatten, shake the bag slightly, then flatten again. Don't shake, place the sealed bag into the freezer and chill for 15-30 minutes.
- Pour the chilled flour and butter into a bowl, sprinkle on the apple cider vinegar and 5 tablespoons of ice water. Fold to incorporate. Sprinkle on 2 more tablespoons of ice water, fold, and repeat adding 1 tablespoon of water until you can press the dough between your fingers and it sticks together but doesn't seem sticky or wet.
- Turn the dough onto a countertop or workplace. Lightly press into a mound. Divide into a 60/40 ratio. Press each into a round and flatten to 1" thick. Wrap each disc with plastic wrap. It will be crumbly but that's okay. Refrigerate for 1 hour or overnight.
- Lay a piece of parchment paper on the countertop. Sprinkle a little flour on the paper. Unwrap the larger dough disc onto the parchment. Press together to incorporate any loose dough into the sides. Sprinkle a little flour on top of the dough then lay a piece of parchment paper on top. Use a straight rolling pin on the parchment paper and roll out to desired thickness or diameter. Generally a pie crust is slightly less than 1/4" thick and about 11-12" round for a 9" pie pan.
- You can trim the edges at this point or turn the rolled dough into your pie pan and trim after. Press pieces of dough onto any cracks or splits.
- Repeat with the smaller piece. Place on filled pie pan or cut into lattice strips. Bake according to specific pie recipe.
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