Many pie crust recipes call for shortening but it is completely possible to make your pie crusts using nothing but butter as the fat source. To cut to the chase here is the recipe. For those who are interested, the explanation of the principles of making a proper pie crust will follow the recipe. Keep all ingredients as cold as possible before, during and after mixing. This recipe is a slight variation on the classic 3-2-1 pie crust.
- 12 oz All Purpose Flour
- 10 oz Butter
- about 2 oz Water (ice cold)
- 2 tbsp Sugar (you can omit this for savory pies, but you can keep it as well)
- 1/2 tsp non-iodized table salt
This technique has to be credited to J. Kenji Lopez who illustrated (possibly invented) it here. Cut up the ice cold butter into chunks and add to a food processor. Add a little more than half of the flour and all of the salt, and sugar. Run the food processor until this mixture forms a ball. Do not over mix. Next add the remaining flour and pulse a few times for about 30 seconds each. You want the mixture to turn into a bunch of loose pebbles. Think of the rocks on the bottom of a fish tank. If it crumbles too quickly don’t fret it will still be good. Transfer the mixture to a cold stainless steel bowl. Add 3 tbsp of the ice water into the bowl and with a wooden spoon or spatula use the moisture to gather the bits of dough into a cohesive mass. The dough itself is not soft like bread dough and not gooey like cookie dough. It is a hard crumbly thing that barely sticks together. Do not over mix it. As soon as you can press it into a ball it is ready. Move it to a flat surface and separate the dough into 2 equally sized discs. Wrap each of these separately in cling wrap and refrigerate. The dough will be perfect for use the next day. However, if you cannot wait that long then wait at least 2-3 hours before using. Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface while keeping cling wrap on top so that it is between the dough and rolling pin. Have a dough scraper handy to keep it from sticking to your counter.
The perfect pie crust is buttery and flaky, crisp yet tender. It is truly a delicate balance of flavors and textures which are all on the verge of ruining each other. The flakiness in pie crust comes from the layers of moisture and fat trapped between the layers of starch and gluten. When this moisture evaporates it produces steam which causes layers of flakes throughout the crust. Flour contains gliadin and glutenin, which when moistened and kneaded line up to form chewy strands of gluten. This is great for bread, but bad for pie crust. With too much gluten development, the gluten chains pile one on top of the other. This combined with the low moisture produces the feeling of toughness in the crust. With no gluten the steam simply escapes and everything just settles back down into one dense buttery mass. To produce the layers of steam from the moisture and fat we want their to be bits of butter that are not fully incorporated into the dough. We want layers of flakes caused by trapped fat between layers of flour. Therefore, we want to mix as little as possible for two reasons. One, to maintain flakiness and second, to minimize gluten development and thus toughness. In a pie crust we want the gluten development to occur in the pan while baking, not on the counter while kneading. In fact, you will not knead the dough at all. You will bring the dough together in a mass, divide it and refrigerate it. Too much water will also encourage gluten development. Reducing the moisture from water helps us accomplish this. The gluten will develop from the moisture of the butter as it evaporates within the dough. As for cooking you’re crust, your recipe should explicitly mention par baking. If it does then simply line your pie pan with your crust and prick it a few times with a fork on the bottom (this is called docking) then line it with parchment paper and fill it with dried beans. Bake it till lightly golden. You can see why it is difficult for a retail bakery to produce something as delicate as an all butter crust in large quantities without compromising either the flakiness or tenderness or both. For this reason, it is worth the effort as relatively few bakeries produce pie crust in this fashion. Give it a try. You will not be disappointed.