Approaching the Perfect Pie Crust

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READY IN: 48hrs 25mins

INGREDIENTS

Nutrition
  • 3
    cups sifted pastry flour (I like King Arthur) or 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1
    teaspoon salt
  • 14
    tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled (preferably the higher-fat European-style, like Lurpak or Plugra)
  • 7
    tablespoons rendered leaf lard or 7 tablespoons Crisco, chilled
  • 1
    large egg, well-beaten
  • 14
    cup ice-cold vodka
  • 2 -3
    tablespoons ice water
  • 1
    tablespoon white vinegar, chilled
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DIRECTIONS

  • Sift together flour and salt. Cut butter and lard into flour (some people swear by a food processor for mixing the fat and flour, but I’ve never had good luck with it—I prefer an old-fashioned pastry cutter) until the biggest lumps of fat are kidney bean-sized.
  • Combine egg, vodka, water, and vinegar (start with 2 tablespoons of water, and add more if the dough is too dry, which is more likely if you’re baking in a dry climate). Pour into flour mixture all at once. Blend with a spoon just until flour is all moistened.
  • Refrigerate at least 30 minutes (overnight is best). You want to keep everything cold during and after the mixing process because you don’t want the fats to melt and over-blend with the flour—you want to keep bits of it nice and separate. I even chill my mixing bowl and pastry cutter before using them.
  • Divide the dough into two balls and roll them out, one at a time, on waxed paper (you will need to sprinkle a fair amount of flour on the waxed paper and the dough to keep it from sticking). Try to handle the dough minimally and roll it lightly—too much handling develops gluten and makes the crust tough. If you can see big blobs of fat in the crust as you roll it out, you’re doing it right!
  • To place the crust in the pie plate, flip the waxed paper and peel it off carefully when crust is in place. Try not to stretch the crust as you’re putting it in the plate, or it will shrink back as it bakes. Trim about 1/4” past the edge of the plate and fold edges lightly under the rim. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes before baking (again, several hours or overnight in the freezer is better).
  • An unbaked bottom crust can be frozen in the pie plate until you need it. Freeze it until firm, then wrap in an extra-large Ziplock bag.
  • To pre-bake a bottom crust, prick it at 1/2-inch intervals before refrigerating. Adjust the oven rack to its lowest position. Place a baking stone in the bottom of the oven and preheat it to 400 degrees F. for at least 30 minutes. Press a doubled 12-inch square of aluminum foil into the pie crust, just covering the bottom. Weight crust with pie weights. Bake, until crust is firmly set, about 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees F., remove weights and foil, and brush with slightly-beaten egg white. Mask edges of crust with a pie shield or foil. Continue to bake directly on the baking stone until crust is crisp and rich brown in color, about 10 minutes longer.
  • To bake a filled single-crust pie in a crust that wasn't pre-baked, adjust the oven rack to its lowest position. Place a baking stone in the bottom of the oven and preheat it to 400 degrees F. for at least 30 minutes. Mask the edges of the pie with a pie shield or foil. Place the pie on the lowest oven rack for 15-20 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 degrees F. and move it down, directly on the baking stone (this makes gets the bottom crust really crisp). Follow the directions in your pie recipe for total baking time.
  • For a double-crust pie: Refrigerate the unrolled portion of the dough for the top crust until you are ready to roll it out. If the filling is going to be wet, brush the bottom crust with slightly-beaten egg white before chilling, to keep it from getting soggy. Fill the bottom crust and top with the top crust. Seal edges together with fingers or the times of a fork. To bake, adjust the oven rack to its lowest position. Place a baking stone in the bottom of the oven and preheat it to 400 degrees F. for at least 30 minutes. Mask the edges of the pie with a pie shield or foil. Place the pie on the lowest oven rack for 15-20 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 degrees and move it down, directly on the baking stone (this gets the bottom crust really crisp). Follow the directions in your pie recipe for total baking time.
  • Prep time includes time to chill dough.
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RECIPE MADE WITH LOVE BY

@MaryMc
Contributor
“This recipe combines my mother’s original pie crust recipe (she made the best pies in the world!) with some other experts’ tricks and my own experiments. The egg and the vinegar were Mom’s secrets. The vodka is an idea from Cooks Illustrated magazine—it lets you use more liquid for an easier-to-handle dough, without promoting the development of gluten, the way more water would. The 2:1 ratio of butter and lard comes from a story in the New York Times food section, where they experimented with all sorts of different fats and proportions. The lard gives the crust a flaky texture, and the butter gives it a wonderful flavor. Of course, you may not be as obsessive as I am. A lot of these directions and ingredients may seem a little over-the-top to you. You can take whatever shortcuts you like. Just don’t expect the results to be as good as if you did it the hard way! I’ve tested and compared all these nitpicky instructions to the easier, cheaper alternatives, and I’m convinced they really do make enough difference to be worth it. Try it my way just once and see if you don’t agree!”