Ben's Perfect Pie Crust

There was a request in the comments of my pumpkin cheesecake pie recipe for one of my husband’s pie crusts. We don’t ship them, sorry, but Ben was nice enough to write up the instructions to share.

Makes 1 9″ crust.

This is a hybrid of the Flaky Pastry Dough recipe from The All New All Purpose Joy Of Cooking and at least two of Alton Brown’s pie crust recipes from I’m Just Here for More Food and from Good Eats plus a recommendation from Shirley Corriher’s Cook Wise. Also just a touch of je ne sais quoi from me.

You will need:
6 1/2 oz all-purpose flour
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt

4 oz (1 stick) unsalted butter, chilled in the freezer for 10 minutes

1 oz ice cold water
1 oz nocino or other alcohol*

a rolling pin
a food processor -or- a couple butter knives or a pastry knife

  1. If using a food processor:
    Toss the flour, sugar, and salt into the hopper of your favorite food processor and pulse 5-10 times to sift. Cut 2 oz of the butter into 1/2-Tbsp slices, add them to the food processor, and pulse until gone, about 5-10 more times. Cut the other 2 oz of butter into 1-Tbsp chunks. Add them to the food processor and pulse about 5 times, leaving the mixture very chunky. Add 1 oz of ice water and pulse about another 5 times. Wait 30 seconds for the water to be absorbed by the flour. Add the 1 oz of alcohol, then pulse until the mixture clumps together and starts falling off the sides of the hopper, about another 5 times.

    Old skool:
    Mix flour, sugar, and salt together and sift into a medium-sized bowl. Cut the butter into 1-tsp slices and add to the bowl, then use two butter knives, crossing over like in a cutting motion, or a pastry knife to cut the butter into a pea-sized texture. (A great way to get an extra flaky dough is to wait on the bowl until the next step, make a pile of flour and butter on your board and roll it with a rolling pin and scoop it back into a pile a few times to make the butter into gigantic flakes, then put in the bowl.) Add 1 oz ice water and mix with a butter knife until well combined. Wait 30 seconds for the water to be absorbed by the flour. Add 1 oz alcohol and mix with the knife (not a pastry knife) until well combined.

  2. Put the still-chunky-looking pie dough into a ziplock bag, baggie, or the middle of a large piece of cling film and wrap it up. Form the dough into a 4-5″ circle and put in the fridge for at least 20 minutes. An hour would be better, a day is okay…a week is probably fine.
  3. After the dough has chilled, sprinkle some flour on a large counter surface or a cutting board. You’re going to need about 20″ of space to work in, but more is always better. Cut open the bag or unfold the cling film and place the dough on the flour with the plastic bag or film on top. Roll out the crust by rolling the pin away from you, then toward you, then rotating the dough 1/8 turn and repeating. Be patient and be gentle; this is where your dough can start to look more like a map of the United Kingdom than a round pie crust. If the dough has been chilled for more than an hour, be more patient as it is very firm and will take some time to soften up a bit.
  4. As you’re rolling the dough out, you may need to pull the plastic off and lay it down again to keep the edges from curling up off the board like a lens. If at any point the crust starts to stick to anything, add a bit more flour. Keep going until you’ve rolled the dough into a 12″ circle-like thing. If you used the Old Skool method above, skip to the next step. If you used a food processor, fold the dough in thirds, and then in thirds again, the long way, so that you have a square of dough. (“But wait”, you say, “I’ve already made the perfect crust!” “Okay then”, I say, “go ahead and put it in the tin and roll with it, but it won’t be as flaky as it could be.”)

    You can probably get away with tossing out the plastic and sprinkling a bit more flour on the dough and rolling pin now. Repeat the rolling and turning as above until you have rolled out a circle big enough to fit your pan with a bit hanging over the edges. If this is a top crust, you’ll want to roll it out closer to the 9-10″ mark, if it’s a bottom crust, you’ll want to aim for something more like 13-14″ depending on the depth of your pie pan.

  5. Throw the bottom crust into your tin. If you like, brush it with an egg wash (1 egg + 1/4 cup water, whisked together (if you’re making a vegan pie crust, then you’re already fucked because you used butter (you could go with vegetable shortening, but it’s just not the same (some people like it more though; they say it’s more tender, but I don’t care; butter is yummy)))) to help keep it from getting gooey when you add the filling. Then add the filling. Then add the top crust, if you’re going to use one. If there will be a delay between rolling out and using any of the crusts, make sure to cover the crust and put it back in the ‘fridge until you need it again. Use your favorite method of sealing and crimping the crust(s) around the edges (brushing water on the bottom crust can help) and cut off the bits that hang over the sides. Decorate the top as you like with a knife for venting. I’m fond of cutting a nice π into it.
  6. Ahh…the bits. Sprinkle these with cinnamon sugar, slide them onto a baking sheet, and toss them in the oven for the first 10 minutes or so of baking. The time will depend on the cooking temperature for your pie. When they’re golden brown, they’re delicious.

* A note about alcohol: Using alcohol in a pie crust serves multiple purposes. From a chemistry standpoint, it will make the dough easier to work when you’re rolling it out, but it won’t help the flour create gluten. It also adds flavor you wouldn’t get from adding water. I like to use something that will harmonize well with the pie filling. You could use vodka, but I’d encourage you to think about whether you’re cooking for chemistry purposes or for eating. Whatever you use, you should adjust the sugar accordingly. Nocino is fairly bitter, so I’ve doubled the sugar to make up for it. If you’re using Grand Marnier or Cointreau or (OMG) Midori (for some reason) you’ll want to at least halve the sugar in this recipe. For something more neutral like rum or bourbon, you’ll want to exactly halve the sugar.

Ben's Perfect Pie Crust

9 thoughts on “Ben's Perfect Pie Crust

  1. 1

    Oh, my. I figure even *I* could follow these directions. I’ve already ordered pies for Thanksgiving, but I may try to make my own for Christmas.

    Many thousand thanks!

  2. 3

    @geocatherder: You’re welcome. I tried to make the instructions as complete as I could despite the large amount of “well…it depends” that factors into crust making. You should be good to go with this recipe though; it’s a pretty foolproof starting point.

    @johnmckay: I have also heard good things about lard, but never about bears. I don’t currently have any plans to hunt bears, but if I do, I’ll be sure to…try it out in pie crust…maybe…

  3. 5

    Okay, it’s just a regular vodka* pie crust like I learned to make over fifty years ago. It’s a good crust.

    *Other liquor besides vodka can be used. See Stephanie’s note.

  4. 7

    My own experience with pie crusts is that butter gives a better flavor than shortening, but shortening is easier to work. Going half and half is a nice compromise if I’m short on time. My mother eats kosher so lard isn’t an option for me.

    I’ve also found that refrigerating the pie overnight (at minimum) is best, as it allows the liquid and flour more time to meld and bond. If you can, roll the dough on a stone counter and chill the counter with ice before rolling out the dough. (I’ve actually read of a chef who had a slab of granite cut to the width of her fridge to keep it chilled).

    Pie crusts can be frustrating. Little things like the ambient temperature and the humidity impact how the dough behaves. If things start to get frustrating, just put it all in the fridge and walk away for a little bit.

  5. 9

    I only use shortening if it’s going to be a non-dairy or gluten free crust. It’s easier to work when it’s just the right temp but if it gets too cold in the fridge it crumbles when you try to form it in the pan. I heard of using alcohol in crust making from my dearly departed aunty years ago but she tended to imbibe it liberally while making the crust, not add it too the crust.

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