Basic Piecrust

You can practice pastry skill by hand (tricky but fun) or machine (easy and foolproof).

CUT IN THE BUTTER In the food processor: Chop 16 tablespoons (2 sticks) very cold butter into ¼-inch bits. Put 2¼ cups all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon salt, and 2 teaspoons sugar in the machine and pulse once or twice to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the butter and flour are just barely blended and the mixture resembles cornmeal.
    To cut by hand: Combine the dry ingredients and bits of butter in a large bowl, hold a knife in each hand, and run the knives back and forth through the mixture. Or pinch bits of flour and butter between all of your your fingers, and crumble them back into the bowl until you’ve worked the dough into a cornmeal texture.

FORM THE DOUGH Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and add 6 tablespoons ice water. Use actual ice water—not just cold water. It helps keep the dough cold and the butter firm, which are crucial for a tender, flaky crust. Mix with your hands until you can just form the dough into a ball, adding another tablespoon or two of ice water if necessary (or a little more flour if you add too much water).

FORM 2 DISKS Divide the dough in half with a knife. Gently pat and shape each half into a thick disk between your hands, using your thumbs to maintain a round shape. Again, it’s important not to overheat, overwork, or knead the dough; squeeze it with enough pressure just to hold it together. Wrap the disks in plastic wrap and freeze for 10 minutes or refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before rolling. If you’re making a single-crust pie, freeze one disk for another time.

DUST WITH FLOUR Always start with a clean work surface. Pick up a large pinch of flour and, using a quick motion, sprinkle it first on the board and then on the top of the dough. The idea is to put a thin layer on the surface—enough to eliminate friction but not enough to dry the dough. If the dough starts to stick to the surface during rolling, loosen it with a spatula and dust a little more flour underneath. If it starts to stick to the rolling pin, dust the top or rub your hands with flour and run them over the rolling pin.

ROLL THE DOUGH Using firm, steady, but not overly hard pressure on the pin, start from the center and roll the dough outward into a circle. Avoid rolling back and forth; keep the strokes working outward from the center. If the dough feels hard, let it rest for a few minutes. If the dough is sticky, add a little flour; if it’s really sticky, return it the fridge or freezer for a few minutes. As you roll, add flour and rotate and turn the dough with a spatula as needed to form an even circle.

PATCH HOLES To repair tears, pinch off a ragged edge of dough, adding a drop of water while you press the patch into place. Continue rolling to work it gently into the crust. Don’t worry if you can see where it was; no one but you will ever know.
If you’re really having trouble with sticking, try rolling the dough between 2 pieces of parchment paper or plastic wrap.

FIT THE DOUGH INTO THE PIE PLATE When the dough circle is about 2 inches larger than the pie plate and less than ⅛ inch thick, it’s ready. Roll the dough up halfway onto the pin so it’s easy to move, then center it over the pie plate and unroll it into place. Press the dough into the contours of the dish—without squishing or stretching. Trim the excess dough to about ½ inch all around. (If you’re making a single-crust pie, tuck it under itself so the dough is thicker on the rim than it is inside.) Put the pie plate in the fridge. For the top of the pie, roll the second disk into a circle on a flat baking sheet (dusted with flour) and put that in the fridge too.

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