Pie crust is made actually made up of tiny particles of fat each encased in a dough of flour and water (or another liquid). It is this combination of flour and water that actually makes the dough elastic enough to roll. Problems arise if the butter gets too soft while you are cutting the ingredients together. It will start to coat the flour particles (instead of the other way around), causing them to actually repel the water and not form the dough properly. Even if you manage to bring it together into a disc and chill it, the resulting dough will be greasy and difficult to work with. It won’t be elastic enough to roll and as the butter softens again it will bleed out and stick to your work surface. Believe me, I learned this the hard way.
Don’t worry, it’s not as difficult as it sounds. The biggest challenge in making all butter pie crust is simply keeping the butter COLD. The less you handle the dough the better, since the heat from your hands will cause the butter the melt. This is where a food processor comes in really handy since it makes quick work of cutting the ingredients together, thereby reducing both the amount of contact you have with the dough and the amount of time the butter is at room temperature. If you don’t have a food processor, use tools like a pastry cutter (don’t bother with the wire kind, which won’t cut through ice cold butter) or a bench scraper to cut the ingredients together. Then use a rubber spatula or plastic bench scraper to blend the dough. I actually go with the hand method most of the time because cleaning the food processor is such a pain anyway. If you need to, just chill your ingredients in the freezer between each step to make sure everything stays nice and cold.
Ingredients for a single 9″ pie crust:
(for a double pie crust, simply double the recipe)
1-1/4 c. flour
1/2 tsp. table salt or 1 tsp. coarse kosher salt
1-1/2 tsp. sugar (optional, for sweet pies)
8 Tbsp. butter, diced
3-4 Tbsp. ice water, plus more if needed
1. Chill the pieces of butter in the freezer.
2. Cut the ingredients together, starting with the butter and flour:
Using a food processor: Combine the flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Sprinkle the butter cubes over the flour mixture and just pulse a few times until it starts to resemble to texture of wet sand, with pieces of butter no bigger than a small pea. Pulse a few times more, adding just enough ice water for the dough to start to clump together.
By hand: In a bowl or on a flat work surface, sprinkle the pieces of butter over the flour and salt mixture. Using a pastry cutter, or bench scraper, quickly cut the butter into the flour until there are pieces no bigger than a pea. Check to make sure the pieces of butter are still firm, and chill the mixture in the freezer if needed before adding the water. Sprinkle the water over the butter flour mixture and cut it into the dough, adding more as needed until the dough begins to clump together.
3. Fraisage. Though it is not necessary, using a technique a known as fraisage to blend the dough will help you achieve a flakier crust when using only butter. The traditional way is to turn the dough out onto a floured surface, and using the heel of your hand, to smear the dough a little at a time against the board. I find the heat of your hand causes the butter to melt too quickly so I prefer to use a plastic bench scraper. You can also transfer the dough to a large bowl instead, and use a rubber spatula to smear the dough against the side of the bowl.
4. Rest the dough. On a lightly floured surface, gather the dough into a disc (or two, for a double crust pie) by gathering up the sides with one hand while pressing on the top with the other. Wrap the disc in plastic wrap. You can flatten the disc a little more once it’s wrapped – the plastic wrap helps to hold it together. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes before rolling.
5. Roll your crust. If the dough has gotten too hard from chilling, let it sit for a few minutes at room temperature. Unwrap it, and on a lightly floured surface, use your rolling pin to press gently on the disc from the middle outward. Flatten it out until your knuckles touch the work surface. Then, starting from the middle, roll first away from you, then toward you. Rotate the dough (or your rolling pin) 45 degrees and roll again, from the middle outward. Continue rotating and rolling until the dough is about 1/8″ thick.
6. To transfer the dough to the pie plate, you can either roll it onto the rolling pin and unroll it over the plate, or fold the dough in half, then half again and unfold it over the pie plate.
7. For best results, refrigerate the prepared pie plate and let the dough to rest for another 30 minutes before filling or blind baking. This will also improve the texture of the crust and reduce shrinkage during baking.