Pie dough is one of those foundational recipes, that once mastered, opens the door to all sorts of bakes – pies, tarts, galettes, and even scones and biscuits. The process of making this all butter pie dough is actually called the biscuit method, but no matter what it’s called, the process to make them both is relatively the same.
SCIENCE OF PIE
The science of pie dough making is simple. Cold butter (or fat) is cut into flour (including any flavor mix ins – sugar, salt, herbs, etc.) in order to disperse little pieces of the butter throughout the dough. The flour coats the butter, and when baking, the water in the butter evaporates, creating steam. The steam causes the dough to puff up and create pockets which results in flaky layers. A small amount of cold liquid (usually water) is added to help bind the dough, making it easier to work with. Also, for gluten formation. Gluten is actually needed for pie crust but only very little, which is why so little water is called for in pie recipes. Too much water can equal too much gluten formation resulting in a tough crust.
Why do I use all butter? What about shortening, lard, or even oil? Really, you can use any of these fats you prefer. Or you can use a combination of them. But, I prefer all butter because the flavor is just unbeatable. Sure, shortening won’t melt while you’re working with it in a dough. And of course it’ll create a flaky tender crust. But it’s flavorless. I also prefer to not use shortening in baking if I don’t have to. Personal preference. Another win for butter? It helps aid in the browning process. There’s an insane amount of amazing flavor in a golden brown all butter pie crust.
HOW TO MAKE PIE DOUGH:
One of the most important things to keep in mind while making your all butter pie dough, is to ensure that your butter and liquid stays super cold. Warm and melting butter can react with the gluten in the flour which could make for a tough crust. It won’t react in the oven to create steam pockets. It also makes the dough hard to work with and unable to keep its shape.
Combine the flour, sugar and salt into the bowl of a food processor. I love using a food processor to make pie dough. I always struggled with doing it by hand with a pastry blender and I found that using a food processor cuts the butter into the flour perfectly, and also a lot faster. Once the flour, sugar and salt are in the bowl, pulse a few times to make sure everything is mixed together well. Add the chunks of cold butter to the bowl, and pulse until the butter is evenly distributed, with pieces about the size of peas. You should be able to squeeze some of the mixture together and it forms a solid clump.
Once it is at this stage, pour out the mixture into a large bowl. I know, it’s a bit annoying to have to dirty up another dish. You can continue to finish the pie dough in the food processor if you wish. Your pie dough will still come out amazing, delicious and flaky. But, once you get the butter to pea size pieces, that’s when it is ideal to add the water. Those pieces of butter continue to get smaller if you continue to use the processor to mix in the water, which means less lofty flaky layers. So, I like to continue to finish the dough by hand. I also I feel like I have a bit more control over the water when doing it by hand as well.
Use a spatula or your hands to mix in a tablespoon of water at a time until it starts to form large clumps, with no large pockets of dry flour remaining. Here’s the thing, the amount of water varies, and it’s something you have to gauge by eye here, not by the perfect measurement of water. The dough needs to just be able to come together to form a ball. The dough should not be very sticky, or wet.
Divide the dough in half, and shape each half into a disc about an inch tall. Wrap tightly with cling film. The dough needs to relax, absorb the water and firm the butter back up, so leave it to rest in the refrigerator for an hour before rolling out the pie dough.
ROLLING AND SHAPING:
You will need to bring your dough up to working temperature before rolling out. If your dough is too firm, it’ll crack when rolling. Too soft and it will get sticky and be hard to roll. One of my favorite tips – before removing the plastic wrap, roll out the dough as much as you can while wrapped. This helps give you clean edges, a perfectly round shape and a head start. Remove the plastic and place the dough on a lightly floured surface or non-stick mat. Take it easy with the flour – too much and it can make the dough tough, dry and begin to crack.
Roll the dough out to a 12″ diameter, or to about 1/8″ thick. When rolling, take care to not roll the pin over the edges of the dough. This flattens and tapers off the edges. Roll from the inside of the dough round outwards. I generally just loosely roll up the dough on my rolling pin and lay the dough into my pie pan. It’s important to note that you shouldn’t stretch your dough as this can cause shrinking when baking. If the dough cracks, use extra dough to patch the cracks rather than trying to stretch the dough back together. At this point follow the pie recipe for crust directions. Regardless, after rolling, the pie dough needs to firm up and chill again. The longer the better. I like to freeze mine if possible. Super cold dough helps prevent shrinkage and allows that butter to adequately do it’s thing while baking.
If you make this all butter pie dough, use it to make these Honey Cardamom Peach Galettes!
All Butter Pie Crust
- Food processor optional
- 3 cups (360g) all purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 cup unsalted butter, cold, cubed
- ½ cup ice water
- Whisk together the flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl.
- Add the cold, cubed butter to the flour mixture. Cut in, or blend in, the butter using a pastry cutter or a fork, until the butter is about the size of peas.
- Using either your fingers or a spatula, stir in the water, a tablespoon at a time. I used 6 and 1/2 tablespoons total. Stop adding water when the dough begins forming large clumps. The dough should be moist and slightly sticky, but not wet, with no big pockets of dry flour remaining.
- Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface. With floured hands, fold the dough onto its self until all flour is incorporated, forming the dough into a ball. Use a light hand to keep the butter from melting and to prevent too much gluten formation.
- Divide the ball in half. Flatten each ball into a disc and wrap tightly with plastic wrap.
- Refrigerate the dough for two hours or for up to three days before using.
- When ready to roll out the dough, let the dough rest on the counter to warm up a bit before using. The dough should still be cool when working with it. You want to be able to roll it out without cracking but not be too warm to melt the butter and become sticky.
- Place the dough on a lightly floured surface or a non-stick rolling mat. Roll from the center outward, rotating the dough 180 degrees, with your hands, every so often. This helps keep its round shape and prevents sticking. Add a little more flour if needed to prevent sticking.
- Roll the dough to about 1/8" thick and about 12" round. Lightly roll the dough up with your rolling pin, about halfway.
- Lay the dough onto the pie dish. Ease the dough, without stretching, into the dish.
- If making a double crust or lattice pie, refrigerate before proceeding with your recipe. If you're using the bottom crust only for your recipe, crimp or decorate the edges, then refrigerate.
- Refer to your pie recipe on how to proceed.