When I first started baking pies I always used a store bought crust. Still do every once in a while. Sometimes it's just faster and you need the slack somewhere. (My Grandma told me she does too, so as far as I'm concerned, that means it's totally ok.)
When I have the time though, I try to make the crust from scratch. The homemade dough is flakier, more delicate, and just generally tastier...not to mention it's free of a few extra pesky chemicals. You'll notice the last time I made a pie on here I told you to just use your favorite crust though. That's because I was waffling around several different versions and wasn't sure which was "the one". I know over the course of this blog I will probably change my mind, but for now, I think I have one recipe that is consistently delicious. It's an amalgamation of a few posts floating around online from Martha Stewart, Michelle at Brown Eyed Baker and Deb at Smitten Kitchen. I took step by step pictures to show you what it looked like throughout the process. Tomorrow I'll show you what I ended up making with this batch of dough!
The key to a really great crust seems to be keeping the butter cold. You want those chunks of butter to steam while it's cooking, not melt while it's outside the pan. Keeping it cold is especially hard this time of year, so this first step made a big difference. After you cut the butter-put the plate in the freezer for at least ten minutes. Some people even suggest that you put EVERYTHING in the fridge...flour, mixing bowl, etc. I think this might just be overkill for me, but if you find it makes a huge difference, let me know!
You can make it with a food processor or a pastry cutter. I don't have a pastry cutter, so obviously I prefer this method. It also seems a lot less intimidating if you are putting it in a machine. If you don't have a food processor, but you do have a pastry cutter, check out Deb's post on Smitten Kitchen. She prefers to do it by hand.
The next step is to get all the dry ingredients into the food processor and blitz it for a few seconds to combine them.
Then you want to add that nice cold butter and blitz for 5-10 one second pulses. The ultimate goal is to have the chunks in the mixture be the size of a pea, but since you still have the ice water to add you want to have slightly bigger chunks at this point. They probably won't be uniform either. Add the 4 tablespoons of ice water in, and pulse again for very short bursts until you see those pea sized chunks. If you need to add more ice water, do it slowly, but it seems to be better to err on the side of a wet dough than dry. You will be adding flour to the dough as it gets rolled out, so keep that in mind if your dough is really dry at this point.
Once you hit the consistency you want, pour the mixture out of the food processor and form into two discs. Wrap in clear plastic wrap and put them in the fridge for at least an hour.
When you are ready to roll the dough out, lightly cover your surface with flour and slowly begin rolling the dough out. Patience is key here, and if you need to stick it back in the fridge multiple times to keep it cold while you roll it out-do it. It's easier to take the breaks than to deal with the constant frustration of tearing and sticking dough.
After you get the right size, fold it in half or thirds and peel off the rolling surface. Lay in the pie pan and gently unfold and set in place. Follow the pie recipe you are working with for the filling and baking.
(makes enough for a pie with a double crust-halve the recipe if you only need a bottom crust)
Adapted from Martha Stewart, Smitten Kitchen and Brown Eyed Baker
2 sticks of cold butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
2 1/2 cups flour
4 tbs ice water (you might need another 2-4 tbs, but add one at a time)
Cut the butter into 1/2 inch pieces and then pop them in the freezer for about 10 minutes.
In the bowl of a food processor, briefly pulse together the salt, sugar and flour. Add in the butter and pulse 5-10 times for 1-2 seconds each until the mixture there are some large and small chunks. Add in the ice water and pulse again in short bursts until the chunks are approximately the size of a pea.
Form the dough into two discs and wrap in plastic wrap. Place in the refrigerator for at least an hour (and up to 3 days) before rolling it out.
To roll it out-prepare a clean surface (I like to use parchment paper) and dust with flour. Gently roll into the shape and size you need. If the dough is starting to tear or stick to the rolling pin, put it back in the fridge for a few minutes (as many times as you need to). Once it's the right size, peel off the paper and fold gently over before transferring it to the pie pan where you can unfold and shape it.
Bake as directed by your pie recipe.