There’s no need to be intimidated by pastry if you follow the rights steps of how to make the perfect pie crust. Your granny might make the best apple pie, your mum’s peach tart may be to die for, and even your sister can knock out a stupendous chicken pot pie, but somehow you just don’t have their knack and your pastry just doesn’t cut the mustard. Despair no more. Here are the steps in how to make the perfect pie crust.
The first rule of how to make the perfect pie crust is you must use chilled fat. The colder the fat, the better your crust. Seriously – if you haven’t had time to chill the fat, this is not the day to make pastry. Your butter needs to have been in the freezer. And the chilling rule doesn’t just apply to the fat. Use iced water and chill the dough, both before and after rolling out.
Some pie makers will use a blend of butter and shortening. Others will use shortening only. Others prefer just butter. Butter has a lower melting temperature than shortening which makes it more challenging to work with, but it does give a better flavour to pastry than shortening. If you follow rule number one for how to make the perfect pie crust and chill your butter, it will work out fine.
There is no scientific basis for anyone to say that pastry made in a processor is not as good as pastry made by hand. If you have the time to rub the fat in with your fingers, then go for it; it’s incredibly therapeutic and eminently more satisfying than lobbing everything in the processor. However, if you can’t be arsed with that, and you have a processor, use it. Still follow the chilling rule though! Process until the fat and flour has made a mix of crumbs, large and small – someone described it as a mix akin to lentil sand couscous but no peas. As the various pockets of fat melt down in the baking, they will produce the flakiness that is so tasty.
You could add the water to the processor and use the pulse function to form the dough, but it works better if you transfer the crumbs to a bowl. Then use a fork to mix in the ice water. Do not use a stirring motion but more a tossing and cutting method to bring the dough together.
When your dough is ready to form the ball, as above, one of the most important tips for making a perfect pie crust is to not manhandle it. This is a not a bread dough and doesn’t need kneading. Kneading your pastry will activate the gluten and make your dough tough. Push and fold it together to bring it together. Once it all sticks and forms a nice ball, cover tightly in plastic wrap and put in the fridge to chill for at least 60 minutes. (You can freeze it at this stage or later use as long as you double wrap it in plastic film.)
The best results will come from rolling your chilled dough between two sheets of baking parchment or waxed paper. Dust it “lightly” with flour and every so often lift the paper to make sure it isn’t sticking. Do not press heavily because it will only spring back. Roll gently and with quarter turns of the dough to get a nice even roll. What’s the best thickness? - Aim for about 1/8 inch.
One of the absolute rules of making the perfect pie crust is to roll it out big enough to fit the tin. Do not roll it too small and then stretch it to fit once you’ve put it in the tin. This will result in it shrinking back during baking and could put you at the risk of losing the filling or not having sides high enough for the filling you planned. Take your rolled dough and fold in into quarters. Still folded, transfer it to the pie pan and then unfold it. If it is slightly too small press it in to fit (do not pull and stretch). If it is too small to press in, take it out and roll it out more thinly or use a smaller pie pan.
If you make a hole or tear in your dough it’s easily reparable. Wet the edges of the spot to be fixed with warm water on your finger tip and gently press a patch of dough over it, smoothing the edges together.
There are two camps of thought about trimming off the excess at this stage. If you do trim, there is a very real possibility that the pastry will shrink below the rim of the tin during blind baking. To avoid this, leave an overhang of at least half inch all way round and trim after the blind bake*.
Trimmed or untrimmed, your pie pan needs to now go sit happily in the fridge for at least another hour. Whether your pie needs blind baking will depend on the type of pie you’re making so that’s your decision /recipe instruction at this stage.
So now you know how to make the perfect pie crust, you need the perfect pie crust pastry recipe. What you need is:
12 oz flour
8 oz chilled butter cut into small pieces
4 oz iced water
Method – as described in steps 1-8. Here’s a quick recap - combine the butter with the flour until crumbs are formed (manually or in a processor). Add the water and combine to form a ball. Wrap and chill for one hour. Roll out between two sheets of paper. Fit to pie pan. Put pan in fridge for an hour before blind baking or filling. Bake to perfection!
Lots of people claim they can’t make pastry. One of the most common statements is “my hands are too hot for pastry making”. Now you know how to make the perfect pie crust involves chilling at every stage, you won’t be able to use the hot hands excuse! Who’s the queen of pastry in your family?
*Resource for how to blind bake