I’ll be the first to tell you that this is not a special pie dough recipe. You can find all sorts of fancy recipes proclaiming the wonders of particular flours, cream cheese or even vodka. (Many of these use shortening or margarine, ick.) Don’t get me wrong, some of these are excellent recipes that work very well. But I wanted to find a basic, everyday pie dough that was made out of the most basic ingredients, simple hand tools and still came out with a flaky, tender crust. The word pie comes from the same Greek root as pasta and pâté. In medieval England the word took on the meaning of a collection of variegated objects (think magpie). I love the idea that pies are a collection of odds and ends. This illustrates what I believe to be a universal truth of cooking: if you put something in a pastry crust or dumpling, it will be irrisistable. It is an apropos principle for the resourceful cook wanting to use up everything. Given pie’s roots as an amalgamation, a fussy dough seems at odds with the ethos of pie, no?
The basic ingredients were set by my standards of practicality and taste. Fat=butter, flour=all purpose, liquid=water. I have a few extra things thrown in. The wheat germ is just for flavor ( I think wheat products should taste like wheat). And the vinegar is for texture (the acid softens the gluten and helps keep the crust tender). Where this recipe might differ from your usual pie dough is in the procedure. Most recipes call for using some sort of machine, and while it is certainly possible to make a good dough with a mixer or food processor, I think the very best doughs are made by hand. And since it’s way too easy to overmix a dough in a machine, why not use really simple tools to make a beautiful crust? The only specialized equipment I’m calling for is a plastic bowl scraper– since these retail at under a dollar, I don’t feel bad about encouraging an addition to your kitchen tools. Trust me, this little slab of plastic will be the best purchase you can make in a kitchen store.
makes(2) 9” pies, bottom crust only
2½c. all purpose flour
1 T wheat germ (optional)
1 t. salt
10T. (5 oz) butter, preferably cultured butter
½ c. water, very cold
½ t. apple cider vinegar, wine vinegar or lemon juice
plastic dough scraper
Divide and cut butter:
Measure out 4 T (2 oz.) of butter. Set aside at room temperature. Cut the remaining butter into small pea-sized pieces. Transfer the cut butter to a bowl and place in the freezer to chill while you measure the rest of your ingredients. You don’t want to freeze them solid, just keep them very cold. So don’t leave them in the freezer for very long.
Mix dry ingredients:
Measure out the flour, wheat germ and salt. Whisk together. Take the 4 T butter and, using your hand, work the butter into the flour. You want the butter to completely disappear into the flour. In the end if you squeeze a handful of the buttered flour, it will form a ball. Measure out your wet ingredients and set aside in a measuring cup.
Roll butter into flakes:
Pour out half of your dry ingredient mixture onto a clean work surface. Scatter half of the butter chunks that have been chilling in the freezer over your dry ingredients, then pour the remaining dry ingredients over the top of them. Roll over the whole mixture with your rolling pin, this will press the butter into little flakes. Scatter the remaining butter pieces over the mixture. Use a dough scraper to fold the mixture back into a roughly 8” pile. Roll over the mixture again- continuing to flatten the butter pieces into flakes. Once more (for a total of three times) fold the mixture back into a pile and roll out. The butter and flour will stick to your rolling pin, don’t worry. Just scrape off the excess with your dough scraper.
Carefully scrape up the flour/butter mixture and place on a large sheet of plastic wrap. Use your dough scraper to make some indentations in the surface, so that there are indentations to pour the liquid. Carefully pour out two thirds of the liquid ingredients onto the flour mixture. Using your hand, draw some of the dry ingredients from the outside of the dough pile, into the moist areas. Continue gently folding the dry ingredients to the moistened flour until all of the dough is moistened, adding more of the liquid if necessary. Do not overmix. The dough does not need to come together entirely, just to moisten all of the flour. Fold over the edges of the plastic wrap and use that to press the dough together.
Divide and Rest:
Divide dough into two equal pieces. Wrap each piece in plastic wrap and press into a roughly 6’ round slab. Let dough chill wrapped in the fridge for a minimum of 2 hours.
Let cold dough sit on the counter for a few minutes to warm slightly. With the dough still wrapped, press down on it with the rolling pin, rolling the whole thing out slightly. Keep pressing down (you can also whack the dough with your rolling pin) this manipulation helps to make the cold butter more pliable. Once the dough is soft enough to roll, unwrap and turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll dough in direct lines out from the center of the dough (avoid too much fussing or back and forth motions). If a portion of the dough starts to grip and cling to the counter rather than moving with each stroke, then it is time to flour the surface. I find it easiest to flour the top of the dough and flip the whole thing over frequently. Roll the dough out to have at least an inch of overlap all the way around the pie plate you are using.
Slide the dough on top of the pie plate. Gently lift the edges of the crust up, and as you place it back, press the crust into the corner of the pie plate. Don’t stretch the dough– it’s more like pressing extra dough to fit the pie plate shape rather than stretching the dough to reach the corners. Using kitchen shears, trim dough to ½” beyond the edge of the pie plate. If you’re making a double crust pie, leave the excess dough as-is and fill and finish your pie. For a single crust pie, fold the edge of the dough under ½” and pinch this overlap together, to make a thicker, rounded border all the way around the pie. Shape edge of dough as desired. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes before baking. Save your dough scraps! Neatly stack them and wrap in plastic wrap. The scraps from a pie or two can be rolled out to make a little hand pie. You can also save trimmings from a few pie doughs in your fridge until you have enough for another crust. But it’s better to not mix recipes here– hence the usefulness of a basic pie dough.