I’m sitting down with a cup of coffee and a slice of pie—could there be a better pair?
The other night, I met four friends for snacks and wine at The Roost. We talked holiday menus, fizzy drinks, and pie. One friend in particular said that she needed a tutorial on how to make a good piecrust. This stuck.
After I left the cafe and drove home, I wrote an outline, sketched a few scenes, shot multiple videos until I came up with this one. The song, by the way, is Tired Hippo by Yo La Tengo.
My favorite crust that uses a combination of spelt flour (mild and nutty in flavor) and all-purpose flour, butter, salt, and sugar. For those who believe in the all-mighty power of shortening to create a flaky crust, I’ve included it as an option.
I’ve tried crusts using all butter, all shortening, and a bit of both, and pure butter always wins for flavor. That’s me. Pie is personal, which is why I’m letting you decide.
To create a flaky crust, regardless of the type of fat you choose, I’ve included a pastry method known as fraisage, in which you smear pea-size pieces of fat into the flour to weave layers of dough and fat. As the crust bakes, the fat melts, creating steam pockets that leave behind the much-adored flaky texture.
Another trick that I use to make pie dough by hand is to freeze the butter sticks and then shred them on a box grater (as you would cheese) instead of cubing them. It’s a shortcut that keeps the butter from becoming overworked and from warming too quickly. No frozen butter on hand? It’s okay, simply cut and cube the butter as usual. For those who like a crust with some shortening, add up to 1/4 cup of organic vegetable shortening (such as Spectrum) in small pinches to the butter which makes the pastry a little more tender.
Either way, you’re ready now. Go make some pie.
Butter Spelt Piecrust
Yields two 9-inch crusts or one 9-inch double-crust
1 1/3 cups spelt flour (white or regular)
1 1/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon sea salt
16 tablespoons (2 sticks or 8 ounces) frozen unsalted butter, shred on a box grater (use the side with the largest holes) or cold butter, cut into (1/4-inch) cubes
1/2 cup ice-cold water
*optional for flaky shortening dough: reduce the butter in the recipe to 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) and add 1/4 cup vegetable shortening, such as Spectrum Organic Shortening to the shredded or cut butter and proceed with the recipe.
Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl. Cut the butter into the flour with a pastry blender or rub the butter between your fingertips, smearing the butter into the flour to create small pieces of fat until they are pea size. This will take 1 to 2 minutes.
Pour three quarters of the water over the flour mixture. Stir the ingredients with a fork or with your hands, adding 1 tablespoon more water if needed, until the mixture forms a shaggy dough that’s moist enough to hold together when pressed between your fingers.
Transfer the dough onto a work surface. For the fraisage method: pinch about 2 tablespoons of dough, set it on the table, and push the heel of your hand down toward the table and away from you. The idea is to smear the dough, flattening and elongating the butter so the baked crust will have a tender and flaky crumb.
Repeat with the rest of the dough, then gather and press the dough together. Form it into a disk with smooth edges, then separate the dough into 2 equal pieces. Wrap each piece in plastic and chill for at least 1 hour (2 to 4 hours is even better or you can wait up to 3 days), before rolling.
Let the chilled dough soften slightly (anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes) at room temperature (it should be cold and firm but not brick hard). Lightly flour the countertop or other work surface (such as a rolling mat or parchment paper) and position the rolling pin in the center of the dough disk. Roll away from you toward 12 o’clock with firm but consistent pressure (be sure to ease the pressure as you near the edge to keep the edge from becoming too thin) then return to center and roll toward 6 o’clock. Repeat toward 3 and then 9 o’clock, picking up the pin each time instead of letting it roll back to center. Give the dough a quarter turn now and then to keep it from sticking, dusting with flour as needed underneath, on top, or on the rolling pin. If the dough starts to stick, use a pastry scraper to carefully slide underneath the edges and loosen the dough from the work surface. Continue to roll the dough out like a clock until the dough is 13 to 14 inches in diameter and about 1/8-inch thick. Check it for any thick spots and even them out.
Fold the dough in half and then in quarters (to keep it from stretching and tearing when you move it). Transfer the folded dough to a 9-inch pie plate; place one quarter point in the center then unfold it into the plate. Fit the dough into the pan without stretching it; allow the dough to drape over the edges. Trim the overhanging dough to 1 inch from the edge of the pan. Roll the dough under so that it rests on the edge of the pan.
To crimp the edge, place one hand on the inside of the edges, and one hand on the outside, and use the index finger of the inside hand to push the dough between the thumb and index finger of the outside hand to make a “U” or “V” shape. Repeat this shape around the edge of the pie plate (each shape should be about an inch apart). Patch or fill any tears or thin dough with extra scraps, wet it with a drop or two of water, and press it into place.
Prick the sides and bottom of the crust all over with a fork. Refrigerate the dough until firm, an hour or overnight to relax the dough and to keep the edges from collapsing.
To blind bake the crust: position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 425F. Line the chilled piecrust with parchment paper or foil and fill it with dried beans or pie weights. Bake for 15 minutes; remove the parchment paper or foil and the beans or weights. Reduce the oven temperature to 375F. Bake until the bottom looks dry but isn’t completely done and the edges are light golden, about 5 to 7 minutes more. Cool on a rack while you make your favorite pie filling.