Flour, salt, fat and water

A chubby disc ready for rolling. Photo by K Cline

(1/12/14 Update: If you are looking for a printable recipe, here’s the link!)

I like to keep things simple in my life. Pie dough is no exception.

Flour, salt, fat and water.”

It’s a simple mantra that I repeat when making dough.

There are a lot of recipes out there for pie dough. I’ve had great success with this simple one. I teach it in all my classes. It’s simple and basic. So many have asked for it that I’d like to share it with you.

Equipment You Will Need
A big bowl, one that is big enough to get your hands into comfortably. A 6-quart size is great.
A knife
A fork (optional, use your hands if you like…really!)

Put the bowl and flour into the freezer.

“What?”, you say.
“In the freezer?

Pie Making Rule #1: Keep everything as cold as possible; bowl, flour, fats, hands.

I keep a mixing bowl in the freezer all the time along with a bag of flour and my pastry cloth.

I love King Arthur All Purpose Flour (Red Bag). After experimenting with different flours over the years, I can honestly say that there is none that I like better. King Arthur, in Norwich, VT has been around for 220 years so they know a thing or two about flour.

This is not to say that I’m not open to different flours. I would love a flour that is within my 100 miles and I’ve tried some that are. IMHO, none approach the quality of King Arthur. It’s silky, smooth and just makes a great crust.

I would like to give a pie class to wheat farmers in the Pacific Northwest and show them just what a pie maker needs. Can you imagine regional wheat grown specifically for pie with a big picture of an apple pie on the front of the bag?

OK, I digress. Let’s talk about measuring.

Measuring

This may blow your mind but I’m not an exact measurer. I don’t sift, fluff or mix the flour. I just dip in with a metal cup that I bought for five cents at a yard sale. It’s my cup. I’ve also found that a standard coffee cup (not mug) measures pretty close to one cup!

Exact measuring is needed for cakes, but pie dough…at least mine…is pretty forgiving. A little extra here or there…and it all comes out ok.

Put about 2-1/2 cups of flour in the chilled bowl. Add some salt, a half a teaspoon is about enough, and that finishes up the dry ingredients.

Fats

There’s much talk about what is the best fat to put in pie. My grandmother, Geeg, swore by “the- stuff-in-the-blue-can-which-shall-remain-nameless”. But as I came of age in the 1960’s, my “Mother Earth” leanings moved me swiftly away from that product. (Be sure to check this link out. It’s pretty funny!)

I use Kerry Gold Irish Butter, either the gold (salted) or silver (unsalted) package. If that is difficult to find in your region, use a foil wrapped European style butter which has a higher fat content and less moisture. Now, if none of these are available where you are, for goodness sake don’t let this stop you from making pie! But, do use butter real butter.

Cut the cube at about the 8 tablespoons mark and chunk it up into 6-8 big pieces.

Now add, an equal amount of leaf lard*. I dip into the leaf lard container with a tablespoon or a soup spoon from my kitchen drawer and add approximately 8 tablespoons to the bowl. If I make one tablespoon too big, I make the next smaller.

*If you prefer to make an all butter crust, 14 Tablespoons of chilled butter will do it!

Making the dough

Think good thoughts before you put your hands in the bowl and make sure they are cold! If it’s hot out, put a bowl of ice water out on the kitchen counter and dip your hands in for a minute to chill them out. Dry them off .

Cold hands+warm heart=good pastry maker!

Put your hands in and smoosh the fat into the flour. Highly technical language here don’t you think? Just rub the cold fat into the cold flour with your cold hands.

Work quickly. When the flour, salt and fats appear to have the sizes of cracker crumbs, peas, almonds and a few small walnut meats, you are finished.

Add water. Not too much and nor too little. Generally recipes call for somewhere between 6-8 tablespoons of water. In truth I found it to be anywhere from 3-15!

Have you ever made a dough and felt like YOU are the one who must be wrong because even though you followed everything that the recipe said to do, it just doesn’t turn out right?

You are not wrong. The recipe just did not give you enough information. This is the art of making a pie.

It seems that every day and every dough require a different amount of water even if it is the same recipe!

3-2-1

Add ice water. Start with 3 Tablespoons. Be sure that the ice doesn’t get into the bowl. If it does, when your finished dough is chilling, the ice will have melted and you will find a “mookie-mess” inside the dough. (Another highly technical term!)

Sprinkle the water over the dough in the bowl and then move it around in the bowl with a fork or with your hands. Don’t spend a lot of time in there. You aren’t making cookie dough; you are just moving the water around so that it is in all parts of the bowl.

Squeeze a handful of dough with your hand to see if it holds together. If it doesn’t hold together in one place, it’s probably not going to hold together in another place and all you will be doing is warming up the fat so just one squeeze. Remember Rule #1.

Sprinkle 2 Tablespoons in the bowl and move the water around. Squeeze a handful. Does it hold together easily?

Sprinkle in 1 Tablespoon and move it around with your fork. Keep adding a spoonful at a time until your fork starts to feel a bit sluggish in the bowl. The dough should keep together in your hand and feel moist.

Pull it all together and compress into a big ball. It should feel like cool clay or play-dough.

Now, cut it in half and shape it into two chubby discs. When Saveur Magazine printed my recipe, they changed chubby to thick. Chubby makes me think of my son’s sweet apple cheeks when he was a little boy and is a very happy word for me, so chubby it is!

Wrap the disks tightly in plastic wrap. Let rest and chill in the fridge for about an hour.

During that time you can make the filling for your pie and have a cup of tea.

Rolling Out the Dough

Bring the dough out of the fridge. If it feels hard and solid, let it rest at room temperature until it feels a bit pliable.

Now some of you may be trembling at the thought of rolling out pie dough. Dough wants to please you. If you say to it, “My pie dough always falls apart”, indeed, you have given it it’s marching orders.

Instead, think about other things: A beautiful rose, a stunning sunset, the first time your baby smiled at you…let the dough know that it is going to be just perfect no matter what.

Not to worry. There is always a way.

Dough is kind of like life. The path isn’t always smooth. Sometimes what feels like an insurmountable boulder blocks our path but we always find a way over, under or around. It may not turn out exactly as planned, but it will be perfect none the less but perhaps in a different way than you expected. Just keep going and it will be fine. Try and keep this in mind as you approach the dough.

I roll out on a pastry cloth but really most anything is fine. Marble, wood, plastic, freezer wrap or wax paper.

As for a rolling pin, I use a French tapered pin but again there are many options. Wine bottles, canning jars work just fine, too!

Place a generous hand-full of flour onto the pastry cloth. Unwrap one chubby disc and set it down on the flour. Turn it over so that both sides are covered with flour.

Rolling out the dough. Photo by K Cline

Now take your pin and thump the dough a few times on each side. I call this “waking up the dough.” I like to let it know that the main event is just ready to start.

Roll from the center away from you and leave a bit of an edge, say 1/2 inch, unrolled. Lift the pin and re-place it in the center of the dough. Now roll towards you leaving that 1/2 inch edge again unrolled.

Turn the dough a quarter turn and do it all again. Repeat this until the dough is large enough to roll out from the center like spokes of a bicycle wheel. Move it around a bit to make sure it isn’t sticking on the surface. Remember to think happy thoughts!

Roll the dough only as large as it needs to be, about 1-1/2 to 2 inches bigger than your pie pan. It should be about as thick as glass.

If it has torn, don’t worry; we can patch it back together with a little ice water. Take a few drops and put it on the back of a patch, pat it in place and move on. Don’t obsess. We want those fats to stay chilly. Remember Rule #1.

Once it is big enough, brush off the extra flour. I use a 69-cent brush from my local hardware store. If I don’t have one, I wad up a piece of dry paper towel and brush the flour off with that. Works just fine.

Place the rolling pin in the center of the dough and drape it over the pin. Brush off the back side of the dough and gently lift the pin and brush off the back side.

Slide the pie plate on to a clean spot on your counter, place the rolling pin with the dough on it in the middle of the pan, put your hands on the wood end of the pin, and quickly and deftly, roll the pin to the edge of the plate. I can’t tell you just how much fun this is when you do it.

Adjust the dough in the pan as if you are covering a sleeping baby. Dough has a memory so we don’t want to stretch it. In the baking it will stretch right back. Just let the weight of the dough ease itself down into the pan.

Filling and Finishing

OK, get your filling and pour it into the pan. You can pop everything into the fridge at this point while you roll out the top crust in the exact same way.

Place it over the filling, get your scissors or knife and give your pie a haircut. Trim so you have about an inch overhang.

Quickly turn both edges up all the way around the pan. It’s probably time to remember Rule #1. Too much fussing will just make the fats melt. Don’t worry if it isn’t pretty yet. That’s still to come.

You can pop it back in the fridge to chill up for a few minutes if it is feeling a bit soft.

A chubby disc ready to roll. Photo by K Cline

Finishing

Now, make whatever kind of edge that you want; fork crimp or scalloped, the main purpose of the edge and crimp is to make a sealed reservoir to keep the juices of your pie inside and not on your oven floor. Yes?

Cut a few vents. Paint with an egg white wash and sprinkle sugar over the top.

That’s it!

Make pie, Be happy!

Kate’s Best Gluten Free Pie Dough

 

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Comments

  1. Tammy says

    I am 43 years old and have just “attempted” to make my first pie crust.I ended up with “pie rage” as the other person put it.Eventually I got it in the pan and just topped the pie with lattice style crust.Thanks for making this website and for all your tips.With all the “store brand” commercial pies out there, it is great to have a site like yours.Too many people have turned the beautiful art of cooking into a sad pop- it- in- the -oven and I’m a chef world.Practice makes perfect and a dash of patience is definitely needed.Thanks Again~Tammy

  2. says

    What a thoroughly marvelous site. I am so very pleased to have found it. I love making pies, and well do I remember watching my mother, aunts and grandmothers at work in the kitchen when I was little. I recall that one day when my Aunt Anne was visiting, “I want to make a pie.” I said. “OK,” came the response. They remained seated at the kitchen table. Quickly I realized I was all in for this one. They told me just what to do, from start to finish – from the butter and lard to the McIntosh apples (my mom’s preferred variety.) The pie was wonderful, and the three of us devoured it before anyone else returned home. What fun. I have not thought about that afternoon in many years. Thanks for reminding me!

    • says

      Adri-What an absolutely wonderful memory and so perfectly PIE-like! Thank you for finding my site. I hope you will visit often. If you have questions about pie making, I’m here! Kate

  3. Adriana says

    Hi Kate, After taking your class, pie has become my go to desert. I think I’ve made more pies in the last year than in the rest of my life. I’m going to be making three pies in close succession, and I want to make my crust in advance. If I make 3 crusts, how long can I keep my chubby disks in the fridge or freezer before using them? Thanks keep up the good work

    • says

      Hi Adriana- How wonderful to hear that you are making pies since your class! Yes, you can make three crusts and hold them for about 3 days in the fridge although you will want to make sure they temper a bit for easy rolling. I freeze doughs up to one month. Then I let them defrost in the fridge overnight. I love this work! Be Happy, Make Pie! Kate

  4. says

    I just tried your recipe, and my chubby disks are in the refrigerator. I had fun with the smooshing! What size pie pan will this work for? I need to make pies in 7″ aluminum pie tins. Thank you for you pieblic service.

    • says

      Hi Laura-
      You will definitely have enough dough for your tins! I sized this recipe for a double crust pie in a 9″ deep dish pan.
      Yay for smoothing! Let me know how it turns out. Kate

  5. Mary Glendinning says

    Hi Kate – my friend Mary Walker passed along your website. I am so excited to be making pie from scratch again! As a young girl my mom taught me how to make pie crust using lard and butter and vinegar (as I recall). Like so many I have gone the “easy”route and just purchased pie crusts. But NOTHING is as good as a home made pie crust. Cant wait to get started again and thanks for your help.

    • says

      Welcome to Art of the Pie, Mary! Any friend of Mary Walker is a friend of mine. I don’t use vinegar in this dough because I find it plenty flakey but it would be fine to add some. Vinegar slows down the growth of gluten. Looking forward to your comments!

  6. ieatsigrins says

    Thank so much for sharing your recipe which is obviously the result of much experimentation. The time, thought, and determination that have gone into finding the right balance are apparent, and your willingness to educate the rest of us is admirable and deeply appreciated.

    • says

      Thank you so much for your very kind words. Although it took a long time, 2.5 years of experimentation, the process was fun and I learned so much along the way. Not everyone can be in my kitchen with me, and I want to share what I learned with as many as possible. Writing this detailed entry is as close as I can get to having you in one of my workshops.
      Be happy and make pie!

  7. Lora says

    Hi I would like to thank you for the great article! I am 32 years old and made my first pie about a year ago, and it was absolutely delicious! It has been agreed by all of my family that I definitely have a “knack” for making some pretty good pie crust. However, the one thing that gets me every time is trying to roll it out. This is where I get what I call “pie rage”. It usually leads to me telling my daughter that she has to leave the kitchen until Mommy is done having “pie rage”. I am just about to whip a up a couple apple pies, since my neighbour gave me a very large bowl full of apples off her tree, I thought I’d make an extra one to give back as a thanks. I can’t wait to try your rolling techniques, (especially the part about thinking happy thoughts!). One quick question, is it okay to double a pie crust recipe, so that I can make two pies as once? And can I bake both pies at the same time as well? Thanks again for the great article!

  8. john cavazos says

    never been able to make a crust like my mom’s. can’t wait to try yours. Do I bake pie at 350?

    • says

      Hi John-put your fruit pie in at 425F for 20 minutes. Turn down the oven to 375F and bake for 30 to 40 minutes more depending on what the filling needs. Use an oven thermometer.

  9. Emily Phillips says

    Hi Kate,
    I found your blog a couple weeks back and your pie crust recipe. Years ago I tried all kinds of fat combinations to come up with a perfect pie crust. I then had several people taste test and the winner was coming up from the blue can recipe. I still had very fond memories of my mothers pie crust made from 100% lard but no one else enjoyed this crust as much as I did. Armed with your recipe I set off and found a local farmer who sold me some leaf lard fat, rendered it into pure white snow and I made my first crust yesterday for an apple pie. Wow, I used your recipe with Kerry gold butter, it rolled great, easy to work with and the end result tasted great. I will probably try a straight lard recipe to see if I can duplicate my mother’s crust but I will keep your recipe to fall back on. Have you ever used straight lard and milk for the liquid? My brother-in-law claims milk used in dough will make your end result tough. Thanks so much for your expertise and sharing it with all of us!
    Emily

  10. Jim Woolley, DDS Atlanta GA says

    Kate, I was wondering where you keep you leaf lard and was it cold when you used it? I would assure so since you emphasized keeping Everything as Cold as possible! I was amused when you mentioned putting everything in the freezer. I started making whipped cream recently after Years of NOT making anything but Frozen dinners in the microwave. The recipe mentioned keeping everything Cold & using an ice bath to mix it in>which was entirely too much for me to handle so I put EVERYTHING in the freezer 1st…my KitchenAid mixing bowl, mixing whip, spatula, measuring spoons etc etc and the whipping cream came out fantastic the 1st time. Thanks for your help too. I still haven’t tried making pie crust but I will…eventually! I’d made my own leaf lard & was keeping it in the freezer but just checked & someone threw it out?? I made it in 2009 so maybe it was time to toss it out? By the way had you heard of replacing some of the water with 80 proof vodka in order to use more liquid without using any more water If needed? Have a Beautiful Day Kate!

    • says

      Hi Jim- Yes, I keep my leaf lard in the freezer but take a pound out at a time and defrost it in the fridge. That’ll do for 4 pies with the addition of butter. Sorry you lost yours! Yes, I’ve tested the Vodka crust recipe. It’s an easy dough to work with and most everyone will have success with it especially if they are novice pie makers. Kate

  11. says

    I’m posting this a bit late, looking at the original date of the article, but I see someone asked about using coconut oil. I have tried using coconut oil as a butter or lard replacement in recipes before, and it does work texture-wise, however I found that when it’s a high percentage of the finished product the coconut taste really comes through, and not in a good way. I love coconut, but the taste of the oil baked in things can be a bit overpowering. I used coconut oil that wasn’t refined, so perhaps if you used one that was ultra-refined it would cut down on the coconut taste.

    • says

      Thanks for checking in, Samantha, and for your great comments about working with coconut oil, especially the taste factor.

      Someone told me that bear-fat is an old time shortening. I’m wondering if anyone who follows this blog has had experience with that and has a reliable resource for it. . I’d love to give it a try.

  12. says

    Kate, you just changed my life. I will never face making a pie crust the same ever again. You infuse such a simple process with such joy, such fun, such love. Perfect. Ah, I do wish I could bake with you.

  13. Georgia Aebi says

    If you are able to find leaf lard can you substitute something else. Or should you use all butter

  14. mercy says

    thanks for such a fully described and worded blog, the kind words give the clear way to preparing the pie, good that u have given one or two options needed if alternatively you luck a way out, incredible Kate.

  15. says

    Really excellent descriptions in your blog. Your crust looks fantastic and you describe how to work a butter just the way butter deserves to be worked. I’m new to this scene and am thinking of attending NOLA, if you’ve attended IFBC in years past Id love to hear about you’re experience and get some feedback from you on my site too, if we do have the pleasure of meeting there I am looking forward to a piece of any of your pies! Best, Gary

    • says

      HI Gary- Thanks for the kind words. I will be in NOLA for IFBC. I went last year in Seattle and enjoyed and found the conference very positive, fun and a great way to network. Hope to see you there. K

  16. says

    Please don’t delete this before I finish but I used to used refrigerated dough for pies. I’m so sorry, I know it’s sacrilege so hope I can be forgiven because I have learned my lesson. Well, a lesson. It’s not that hard. The results are more than worth it. That’s all.

    It’s always good to see someone else in action too. I don’t use lard but use all butter; I’m not even sure where to find lard but think it’s time I made that next step!

    • says

      Barbara, I would never delete your comment. I started with refrigerated dough, too, because I didn’t know how to make a good crust. It took a lot of testing and re-testing until I got it just right. Kind of like “Simple Gifts” where the words say “by turning, turning we come round right.” Thanks for checking in!

  17. Deb Weller says

    Hi Kate, am planning to take one of your classes in March, and I can’t wait!!
    Regarding the flour – my dad ran a flour mill in Cheney until retiring a few years ago, and they made all sorts of custom mixes for different purposes. There is a great co-op called Shepherd’s Grain in Eastern Wa that I can put you in touch with – it’s a group of farmers that use no-till methods and produce specific kinds of wheat; I bet they would love your idea of a specific Art of the Pie piecrust flour!

  18. Salanth says

    What if you want to make a vegetarian crust? Any recommendations for lard substitutes? Would coconut oil be okay?

    • says

      Hi Salnath- I have tried the Earth Balance sticks, both the shortening stick and the butter stick. The crust is good although not as good as the butter lard combination in my opinion. Cut back the fat 13-14 T if you use other than butter/lard. I haven’t used coconut oil but would love to hear your results with it.

  19. Sally Logan says

    So excited to try your recipe! I won a pie contest with my “Georgia Peach Pie” when I lived in Oklahoma and I really haven’t kept up with the scratch pie crust like I used to, but I can’t wait to try your scrumpious crust!! I am on a search now for the Leaf Lard and as soon as I find it, I am in the kitchen!!

  20. says

    Kate, you inspired me to rework my pie crust. I’ve been happy with it for years. But after reading your blog and a few other articles (and hearing about your classes), I decided to make sure mine was up to snuff. I too am a King Arthur Flour lover. Despite the locavore movement, I won’t part with my KAF flour. Glad you’re out there teaching pie!

  21. says

    I just found your blog and LOVE it. Among my circle of friends, I’m considered the pie lady so I have been reading with great interest. Your description of making pie crust is perfect. I learned some things too. I’ll be back to read more and catch up.

  22. says

    This is the best pastry-making guide I’ve ever seen. My poor mother is terrified of making her own crust, but I bet she’ll give it a try armed with these words of wisdom :)

    • says

      Thank you Ann! Let me know she needs help. A little encouragement and positive attitude go a very long way in making a successful crust. Be Happy, Make Pie!

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