Did you know that in Medieval Europe anything baked in a oven was served in pie form? Cooks wrapped meat, fish, and vegetables in a heavy, wet dough and baked them in a pie shell. It served a couple purposes. First, medieval ovens didn’t have temperature dials so this clay-like wrapper kept the meat or vegetables from drying out. Second, for easy transport. These pies, with their doorstop-like crusts, could be baked in the morning, tucked into a bindle and cracked open for lunch. Once the contents were eaten, the shell would be discarded.
That last part is pretty telling. Nobody, not even medieval peasants, wanted to eat that gross crust. Which is not surprising because good pie dough is a pain in the ass to make. Or so I thought.
I had very good reasons for believing this. The first pie dough I ever attempted was a Martha Stewart recipe for chocolate pate sucree. Martha Stewart and her kitchen minions know what they’re doing, right? It’s kind of the raison d’etre of her brand. Well, not in this case. That pate sucree was so tough and difficult to work with, it should have been named Sister Therese after my high school disciplinarian.
Subsequent experimentation with dozens of recipes didn’t yield better results. There is a dizzying array of variables. Temperature of the ingredients. Temperature of the kitchen. Temperature of your hands. Do you use butter, shortening, lard or a mix? Do you use all-purpose flour, pastry flour, or a blend? What’s the right ratio of fat to flour? How much liquid? Wait, why does this recipe call for vodka? How long do I work the dough? Too much and you end up with something with the texture of an old boot. Too little and good luck just getting it to roll out.
So after numerous pastry disasters, I said the hell with it. For sweet pies, I used press-in shortbread or the always easy-breezy cookie crumb crust. For savory ones, store-bought puff pastry worked just dandy.
This all changed when I found the recipe below from the good folks over at Serious Eats. It could not be simpler: it’s done start-to-finish in 10 minutes, 90% of the work is done in a food processor, it’s made with all butter so it’s has great flavor, rolls out easy and smooth and somehow manages to be as flaky as a snowstorm. I use it for both sweet and savory applications, it’s perfect every time and always earns high praise. In the next few weeks, I’ll be using it for both chicken pot pie and a make-ahead double-crust apple pie recipes. I look forward to sharing them with you.
Foolproof Pie Dough
This pie dough seems to do the impossible: it's incredibly tender and flaky while only take about 10 minutes to prepare.
- 12.5 ounces all-purpose flour or 2 1/2 cups or 350 grams
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 10 ounces unsalted butter, cut into cubes or 2 1/2 sticks or 280 grams
- 6 tablespoons ice water
Combine two thirds of flour with sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse twice to incorporate.
Spread butter chunks evenly over surface. Pulse until no dry flour remains and dough just begins to collect in clumps, about 25 short pulses.
Use a rubber spatula to spread the dough evenly around the bowl of the food processor. Sprinkle with remaining flour and pulse until dough is just barely broken up, about 5 short pulses. Transfer dough to a large bowl.
Sprinkle with water then using a rubber spatula, fold and press dough until it comes together into a ball. At a certain point, it might be easier to use your hands to bring the dough together.
Divide ball in half. Form each half into a 4-inch disk. Wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before rolling and baking.
Note: Dough can be stored in refrigerator for 3 days or for up to 3 months in the freezer. To use, if frozen, thaw first in the refrigerator. Afterward, allow dough to come to cool room temperature before rolling.