This post is a big deal. I should start by saying that I love pie. As much as I survive on everyday cakes, it’s a homemade, love filled pie that wins my heart. It’s a great way to use seasonal, fresh, local fruit in a satisfying way. Pie is always welcome, looks better the more rustic it is, and is the perfect ending to nearly any meal. Making pie is an event and it’s always been one of conflict for me because of that forsaken, finicky crust. Too many cookbook writers, experienced bakers, relatives, and whoever else writes the laws on this sort of thing, demand we use shortening in the crust. It’s practically foolproof with the stuff and guarantees a light, flaky crust with white flour. And thus begins the dilemma whenever I long to be the pie baker I know I’m supposed to be. In no other realm do I use shortening. I think the evidence is pretty non-negotiable that the stuff is terrible for you. But more importantly in the context of pie and pleasure, it doesn’t taste great. Or at least it just tastes like the hydrogenated vegetable oil that it is and keeps it’s users fixated on the texture it imparts, rather than taste. Butter can actually be good for you in moderation, especially when it comes from happy, grass fed cows. That point is not as widely accepted as I wish it were, but at least we can all at least credit that it’s better for your body than Crisco. And where there is butter, there is flavor. I just haven’t found a way to use all butter and all whole wheat flour that does anything for my pie crust. It was panic inducing, trying to pulse pulse pulse the food processor just right with the tablespoons of water just right… until now. I trust Deb at Smitten Kitchen like she’s my first grade teacher, introducing me to the order of the Earth. When I found this post, well written as is everything she does, on making an all butter, really flaky pie dough, I literally bolted to the kitchen and made it immediately. It took 5 minutes. It was different than any way I’ve ever made pie crusts and holy moly, we have a keeper.
All Butter, Really Flaky Pie Dough
Barely adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Makes enough dough for one double-, or two single-crust pies.
2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (8 ounces, 16 tablespoons or 1 cup) unsalted butter, very cold
Gather your ingredients: First, cut two sticks of very cold unsalted butter into 1/2-inch pieces and put them in the freezer for a few minutes while you get the rest of your ingredients going. Fill a one cup liquid measuring cup with water, and drop in a few ice cubes; set it aside. In a large bowl, whisk together 2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour, 1 tablespoon of sugar and a teaspoon of salt. Get out your pastry blender. If you have a marble rolling pin like I happen to, put it in the freezer to chill for later.
Make your mix: Take the butter out of the freezer and sprinkle the cubes over the flour and begin working them in with the pastry blender, using it to scoop and redistribute the mixture as needed so all parts are worked evenly. When all of the butter pieces are the size of tiny peas — this won’t take long — stop. Yes, even if it looks uneven; you’ll thank me later. This is where I realized I’ve seriously been overworking the dough with other recipes. The food processor would have been too aggressive.
Glue it together: Start by drizzling 1/2 cup of the ice-cold water (but not the cubes, if there are any left!) over the butter and flour mixture. Using a rubber or silicon spatula, gather the dough together. You may need up to an additional 1/4 cup of cold water to bring it together, but add it a tablespoon as a time. (I added 2 more tablespoons). Once you’re pulling large clumps with the spatula, take it out and get your hands in there (see how that big bowl comes in handy?). Gather the disparate damp clumps together into one mound, kneading them gently and quickly together. I couldn’t believe how wet and sticky my dough seemed at this stage, but it worked in the end. So go ahead, add that much water, even if it seems like too much at the time.
Pack it up: Divide the dough in half, and place each half on a large piece of plastic wrap. I like to use the sides to pull in the dough and shape it into a disk. Let the dough chill in the fridge for one hour, but preferably at least two, before rolling it out.
Do ahead: Dough will keep in the fridge for about a week, and in the freezer longer. If not using it that day, wrap it in additional layers of plastic wrap to protect it from fridge/freezer smells. To defrost your dough, move it to the fridge for one day before using it. I let mine chill in the refrigerator for 4 hours and it was quite cold enough.
While it’s chilling, make the pie filling. I read half a dozen recipes to get the gist of quantities and then made my own version.
1 recipe for a double crust pie dough (see above)
1/2 cup – 3/4 cup extra flour for rolling out the dough
1 tbs milk for brushing on the top of the crust before baking
4 cups fresh or frozen raspberries
3/4 cup sugar
2 tbs cornstarch
2 1/2 tbs quick-cooking tapioca
2 tbs lemon juice
2 tbs butter
1 tsp minced ginger
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cinnamon
Mix all the filling ingredients together in a bowl and let set at room temperature for at least half an hour. Mine waited patiently on the counter the whole 3 hours the pie dough was in the fridge. Just give it enough time to let the raspberries break down a bit and the tapioca to soften. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees when you’re ready to assemble your pie.
Now, to the crust. These instructions are also adapted from Smitten Kitchen, Pie Crust 103.
Start by getting your stuff out: You’ll want a small dish of flour, a rolling pin (a chilled marble one if you have it), your pie dough that has been chilling for an hour or two, but preferably longer, your pie pan and some sort of bench scraper or knife.
Flour the heck out of your surface, unwrap the dough and put it in the middle and flour that too. Be generous, you’ll thank me later.
Get rolling: Start rolling your dough by pressing down lightly with the pin and moving it from the center out. You’re not going to get it all flat in one roll or even twenty; be patient and it will crack less. Roll it a few times in one direction, lift it up and rotate it a quarter-turn. And that’s what you’re going to continue to do, roll a couple times, lift the dough and rotate it. Re-flour the counter and the top of the dough as needed–don’t skimp! You should be leaving no bits of dough on the counter and none should be stuck to your pin.
If the dough sticks to the board, use that bench scraper and run it tightly underneath the stuck part, peel it back, and flour the heck out of that area, before getting back to rolling, lifting and turning the dough.
Trim the dough: For a standard-size pie tin — that’s what this pie dough is scaled to, after all — you’re looking for a 12-inch circle. Trim your pie dough into a 12-inch circle with the tip of a knife.
Transfer your crust: Because your pie dough has been kept cool and loose on the counter, transferring it to the pie plate should be no trouble at all. Fold it very loosely into quarters and unfold it into the pie pan.
Fill the bottom crust with your pie filling.
For a lattice top crust, roll out the second half of chilled dough the same as the first. Once you have a 12 inch circle, cut the dough in 1 inch strips with a knife or pizza cutter. Lay half the strips parallel on top of the filling, with about 1/2-inch to 3/4-inch space between them. Fold back every other strip. Place one long strip of dough perpendicular to the parallel strips as shown. Unfold the folded strips over the perpendicular strip. Now take the parallel strips that are running underneath the perpendicular strip and fold them back over the perpendicular strip, as shown. Lay down a second perpendicular strip of dough next to the first strip, with some space between the strips. Unfold the folded parallel strips over the second strip. Does this sound confusing? Just think of weaving with construction paper in grade school.
Continue this process until the weave is complete over the top of the pie. Trim the edges of the strips flush with the dough of the underlying pie dish, which should be about half an inch over the sides. Fold back the rim of the shell over the edge of the lattice strips, and crimp to secure. Brush the top of the crust with 1 tablespoon milk.
I have these helpful aluminum pie crust shields and place one on top of the pie before baking. If you don’t have one, loosely secure a strip of aluminum foil around the crust edge of the pie.
Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes, then turn down the temperature to 350 and bake an additional 45 minutes. Remove from oven and cool completely on a cooling rack before serving. I let mine sleep in the refrigerator overnight before serving the next day, just to make sure it set completely. Serve little slices with a side of sweetened real whipped cream or ice cream. Try to share kindly.