Why It Works
- All-purpose flour gives the dough strength to hold its shape in the oven, preserving any sort of decorative design.
- A blitz-style ratio of flour to butter creates a dough that's pliable but strong, making cracks and tears a thing of the past.
- One round of folding provides eight major layers with minimal fuss.
- Refrigerating the dough after shaping ensures it's fully chilled and relaxed, preserving its flakes in the oven.
Americans have been crafting the best pies in the world for over 200 years, even going so far as to equate pastries and patriotism—"as American as apple pie," a dessert that requires not one pastry crust but two. Yet somehow we've come to think of it as a particularly daunting task, as if 19th-century grandmas weren't cranking out wonderfully flaky pies without electricity, air conditioning, or even convenient sticks of butter.
With those considerable advantages, making pastries is easier than ever. While Kenji goes full modern with a food processor for his easy pie dough, my approach is decidedly low-tech. It's simple, it's reliable, and it produces a strong but pliable dough that bakes into an extra-flaky crust.
Before jumping into the nitty-gritty of my technique, you must unlearn what you have learned from other recipes. We've been warned about the "evils" of gluten so many times that some bakers have a deep-seated fear of overworking the dough. That's a crummy mindset to carry into the kitchen, because fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering. Pretty much sums things up, huh? We're so afraid of gluten, we'll do just about anything to avoid it, but then we find ourselves angry at doughs that rip and tear, and we hate our crusts as they slump out of shape in the oven.
To transcend that suffering, we have to realize that gluten isn't the enemy of our dough. If it were, we'd have all switched to a gluten-free recipe by now. Gluten is the force that gives pastry its power, that binds a crust together. It strengthens dough so that we can wield it with confidence, knowing it won't fall apart in our hands.
With gluten on our side, pie dough should feel as comfortable as a worn leather jacket, flexible and soft but strong. Sure, the dark side of gluten is that it can make a pie crust tough, but that's where love butter comes in. It brings balance to the force, so pie dough turns out tender and crisp. In culinary school, I learned that a 1:1 ratio of flour to butter by weight is ideal. That may seem like more than you're used to, but it's a tried-and-true pastry formula that improves the flexibility of the dough.
It also keeps the bottom crust from turning soggy, as the butter has a slight waterproofing effect on the dough, preventing it from absorbing a juicy filling. That means that even the bottom crust of a cherry pie will be flaky and crisp, no par-baking required.
Happily, the technique for getting the crust extra flaky is actually pretty fun, at least if you're the sort of person who likes to pop bubble wrap and make paper planes, because it all boils down to smashing and folding. Here's the deal: Cut up some cold butter, toss it with flour, and squish each cube flat. That's it; no "coarse meal" or "pea-sized bits" to try to judge by eye. No guesswork when it comes to adding the water, either—the amount you add will always be exactly 50% of the flour by weight. Once it's incorporated, knead until the dough forms a lumpy ball; the butter itself will work as a binder while simultaneously keeping the gluten from becoming dangerously powerful.
Once all the floury bits have been absorbed, plop the dough onto a well-floured surface and sprinkle more flour on top. Seriously, have at it! Any excess flour can be brushed off later on, so there's absolutely no reason to scrape by with the bare minimum. Use as much flour as you need to feel 100% confident as you roll.
On that note, choose whatever type of rolling pin feels most comfortable in your hands. Like a finely crafted lightsaber, it's an expression of your own personal style. I've got a soft spot for a tapered French pin, which lets me feel every bump in the dough, but some prefer the smooth action of an American pin or the fixed handles of a Shaker-style.
However you choose to arm yourself, aim to roll the dough just a little bigger than a sheet of notebook paper, keeping it well floured on either side as you go.
Bring each 10-inch side toward the middle, close both sides together like a menu, then fold the whole thing in half (top to bottom). Unlike with a fancy puff pastry or croissant dough, this sort of folding isn't about precision—it's about throwing in a few quick and dirty layers that will be thinned and lengthened as you roll out the top and bottom crusts. For that modicum of effort, you'll be rewarded with massive layers that make everyone go ooooh and ahhhh.
As soon as you've folded it up, the dough is ready to rock and roll—no waiting or refrigeration needed. In fact, unless your kitchen is unreasonably warm (which means your rolling surface is warm, too), it's better to tackle the procedure all in one go. When you refrigerate a block of dough, rolling it out later on will soften the chilled butter and "awaken" the gluten, requiring that it be chilled and relaxed again. If it's not, the softened butter will melt too fast, making the crust greasy and dense. What's worse, the unrelaxed gluten will turn to the dark side and cause our crust to shrink.
Cut the folded dough in two pieces for the top and bottom crusts. Yeah, they'll be kinda square, but don't worry about the logistics of trying to make things perfectly round. So long as you roll the dough until it's roughly 14 inches across, you can just sling it over a pie pan and trim it to size.
And yes, I said sling. This dough is a joy to handle, wonderfully easy to pick up without any of the "tricks" so many other recipes suggest to prevent weakling doughs from stretching, ripping, or tearing. Thanks to an ample supply of butter, you don't have to worry about cracks as you fold and shape the dough. It easily conforms to the curves of the pie plate, and curls over nicely to form the border of the crust.
Roll the remaining dough into a nine- by 15-inch rectangle. It's the perfect size and shape to yield plenty of strips for a lattice-top pie, but it's also big enough that you can cover the whole pie in one solid sheet, with enough extra dough for decorative cutouts, too. Whatever your plan, don't cut those pieces yet, or they'll shrink as the dough relaxes. Instead, transfer the dough to a parchment-lined baking sheet or cutting board so it can lie flat.
Cover both portions of dough with plastic, and refrigerate at least two hours and up to 24. As I mentioned before, refrigeration isn't strictly about relaxing the gluten; it's about chilling the butter to help preserve all those leafy sheets.
If I could impart one final piece of crusty wisdom, it would be to remind you that my pie dough should never, ever feel sticky or wet. If it does, chances are the ambient heat in your kitchen is causing the butter to soften too fast (more on the importance of dough temperature here). It's also worth taking a look at how different pie plates, whether aluminum, ceramic, or glass, can affect the texture of your crust.
Know that you have the power to make a perfect pie. Do. Or do not. There is no try.
8 ounces low-protein all-purpose flour, such as Gold Medal Blue Label (1 2/3 cups; 225g), plus more for dusting
1/2 ounce sugar (1 tablespoon; 15g)
1 teaspoon (4g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use half as much by volume or use the same weight
8 ounces unsalted, American-style butter, straight from the fridge (2 sticks; 225g), cold
4 ounces cold tap water (1/2 cup; 115g)
For the Dough: Whisk flour, sugar, and salt together in a medium bowl. Cut butter into cubes no smaller than 1/2 inch, and toss with flour mixture to break up the pieces. With your fingertips, smash each cube flat—that's it! No rubbing or cutting. Stir in water, then knead dough against sides of the bowl until it comes together in a shaggy ball. Dough temperature should register between 65 and 70°F (18 and 21°C); if not, refrigerate briefly before rolling and folding (see note).
Make the Layers: On a generously floured work surface, roll dough into a roughly 10- by 15-inch rectangle. Fold the 10-inch sides to the center, then close the newly formed packet like a book. Fold in half once more, bringing the short sides together to create a thick block. Divide in half with a sharp knife or bench scraper. Dough temperature should still be somewhere between 65 and 70°F (18 and 21°C); if not, refrigerate briefly before proceeding (see note).
For Single-Crusted Pies: Using as much flour as needed, roll one piece into a 14-inch circle; this size allows ample room to line pie plate, with enough overhang to form a generous border. At smaller sizes, dough will fall short, making it difficult to shape edges, and thicker dough will not crisp as intended. Transfer to 9-inch pie plate; dough should be easy to handle, and will not require any special procedures to move. Dust off excess flour with a pastry brush, using it to nestle dough into corners of pan. With scissors or kitchen shears, trim edge so that it overhangs by 1 1/4 inches. Fold overhang over itself to create thick border that sits on top edge of pie plate, not below. Crimp or shape crust as desired. Repeat with remaining dough. Wrap with plastic and refrigerate at least 2 hours and up to overnight. Use as directed in your favorite recipe.
For a Double-Crusted Pie: Using as much flour as needed, roll one piece into a 14-inch circle; this size allows ample room to line pie plate, with enough overhang to form a generous border. At smaller sizes, dough will fall short, making it difficult to shape edges, and thicker dough will not crisp as intended. Transfer to 9-inch pie plate; dough should be easy to handle, and will not require any special procedures to move. Dust off excess flour with a pastry brush, using it to nestle dough into corners of pan. With scissors or kitchen shears, trim edge so that it overhangs by 1 1/4 inches. For solid top crust, roll remaining dough as before; for lattice-top pie, roll into a 9- by 15-inch rectangle instead. Transfer to a baking sheet or parchment-lined cutting board. (The parchment will prevent dough from absorbing any savory odors from the board.) Wrap both portions in plastic and refrigerate at least 2 hours and up to overnight. Use as directed in your favorite recipe; after filling pie and sealing crusts together, refrigerate 30 minutes before baking.
For a Blind-Baked Pie: Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat to 350°F (180°C). Line pie shell that has been chilled for at least 2 hours (as outlined in Step 3) with large sheet of aluminum foil, pressing so it conforms to curves of plate. (A second sheet of foil may be needed for full coverage.) Fill to brim with sugar, transfer to a half sheet pan, and bake until fully set and golden around the edges, 60 to 75 minutes. Fold long sides of foil toward middle, gather short sides, and use both hands to carefully transfer sugar to heat-safe bowl. Let sugar cool to room temperature. If needed, continue baking crust a few minutes more to brown along the bottom.
Compared to stoneware or heavy enameled ceramic, tempered-glass pie plates conduct heat quickly and evenly, so the crust bakes up light and crisp, never greasy or soft.
When room temperature exceeds 74°F (23°C), kitchen equipment and pantry staples will act as a heat source to the butter, creating a sticky dough. If it’s warm in your kitchen, take these proactive steps to manage your dough temperature.
See our crash course in mastering pie dough for more tips and troubleshooting.
Make-Ahead and Storage
The dough can be made ahead of time and refrigerated for up to 24 hours before use. To store it for longer than that, the dough can be frozen as a block, rolled, or shaped in a pan. If frozen as a block, dough will still need to rest/relax for at least 2 hours after rolling and shaping.
This Recipe Appears In
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- How to Freeze and Thaw a Fresh-Fruit Pie
- A Crash Course in Mastering Pie Dough