What Makes a Good Pie Crust?

I work at one of the best pastry shops in Portland.

I dig out sloppy and beautiful slices out of pie tins all day long, so it’s only natural of me to probe deeper into the world of good crust.
And perhaps I’m biased, but our pastry shop makes amazing pies. That thick, flaky, rich crust that sustains the weight of baked apples and pumpkin and pecan.
Like I’ve said before, I think pies are the new cupcakes. Cupcakes have had their run — at least in my book. Plus, I can’t ever figure out how to take that first bite without getting frosting on the tip of my nose or all up on my mustache. Sheesh, the problems we have, eh?

I don’t have any heirloom recipes for pie crust and I know some people who swear by their recipe, and that’s totally rad. Some folks use egg and milk — some use vodka, which I hear works REALLY well. Unfortunately, we usually don’t keep vodka around the house. The vodka works well because at first, it is a liquid that helps bind the flour and butter – but when you bake it, the alcohol evaporates leaving you with a super flaky crust. Insane, I know!

After making several crappy, soggy pie crusts, I went to my boss who gave me a few bits of wisdom on the matter.

It’s really about two things: butter and cold water.
Well, it’s more than that, but those two things, and how much to put in your dough, matters most.

Keep everything as cold as you can. Your water should be chilled, your butter almost frozen and you can even keep your flour in the freezer if you want.

It helps to have a food processor to cut your butter and flour together, but as I’ve said before, it’s not necessary.

I think this ratio makes for the best pie crust:
2 1/2 cups AP Flour
2 1/2 sticks of cold butter, cut into pieces
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 cup of chilled water; AT THE MOST – add one tablespoon at a time
(and this makes two pie shells)

It’s important to use good and cold fatty butter. Use unsalted as you will add salt to taste when you mix it in with your flour.
Kneading technique: Use as little water as possible. Add your water one tablespoon at a time and mix. Generally, mine take about 5-6 Tbsp. per 1 1/4 cup.
Be sure to knead as little as possible. The more you knead your dough, the more you will form gluten strands which will probably result in a tough [not so flaky] crust.

It helps to have your oven on a high temp for the first 15-20 minutes of baking(around 425-450). Also, freezing your formed pie crust before baking and then sticking it in that high temp oven will help your crust to not shrink so badly.

It takes a few times to get it right, trust me. I’ve made so many pies this Fall and have yet to get it just right. Keep on doin’ it though, you learn something every time.

Just make sure you keep in mind that quality butter and the amount of water you mix into your dough will determine the final product.

And let’s be honest, either way, it’s a pie and I’ll guarantee it’ll be delicious.

Happy cookin’, my friends.


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