Perfect pie crust

It took some practice, but I think I’ve arrived at the perfect pie crust. Pie is transformative. It’s one of those miracles of the kitchen: Taking the most basic of ingredients — flour, butter, water — and transforming them into a flaky, satisfying crust is such a satisfying experience. And once you’ve done it, it all seems so simple that you have to wonder why people pay $6 a slice for something so easy and cheap to produce.

At its most basic, the perfect pie crust requires the mixing together of 1 stick of butter, 1 cup flour, 1/2 tsp. salt and 2-ish tablespoons of ice-cold water. But that tells you nothing about how to do it well. To make your pie crust well, follow the steps after this jump.

If you’re feeling inspired, I made a sweet potato pie this week. Follow this recipe (the filling part at least) to do the same.

Note: I’m trying to describe this recipe in great detail, so you’ll notice many steps as you go through it. They really aren’t that complicated, but making pie crust is all in the technique. Once you’ve done it a few times, you’ll find that you have committed most of this to memory and can truly get up in the morning and fix a crust for a quiche without much trouble. It is not that hard, so please don’t be daunted.

To make the perfect pie crust, start by cutting up your stick of butter into 32 cubes: Cut it lengthwise and width-wise to create four long logs, and then chop them up into 8 pieces each. Store the cubes in the freezer and proceed.

In a small food processor (mine is a 3-cup one), pulse the cup of flour with the 1/2 tsp. of salt. Just a few pulses will do to get the salt incorporated into the flour. Remove the butter cubes from the freezer, toss them into the processor, and pulse for 15 to 30 seconds — just until the butter breaks into pea-sized pieces.

Text the mixture by pressing it between your fingers. If it sticks together, stop here. If it is still piecemeal, add ice-cold water one tablespoon at a time, just until the mixture comes together when pressed.

Dump the entire mixture in a gallon-sized freezer bag. Press it together (through the plastic) into a ball with your hands, and then flatten that ball into a disc. Freeze.

When you’re ready to make your pie crust, defrost it on the countertop until it is soft enough to roll but still cool. Sprinkle a little flour onto a countertop and a rolling pin.

Gently roll the crust out until it is less than 1/4″ thick, but not paper thin. Make sure it is big enough to fit your pie pan, which in my case is a 10″ pan. (A 9″ pan will yield you a thicker crust, which is no problem. Nobody minds more butter.)

To lift the crust into the pan, gently use a spatula to release it from the countertop. I like to roll the crust onto my rolling pin slightly, but you can also fold it over to carry it into the pan.

Once the crust is in the pan, unfold or unroll it. Take excess dough off the edges and use it to fill any holes. Leave a border on the dough and pinch it with your fingers to make it look relatively uniform.

Poke the crust base with a fork all over and refreeze.

Preheat an oven to 400 when you are ready to bake the crust. Place a piece of foil on the crust and fill it with dry beans. This prevents any bubbles from forming in the crust. Bake for 30 minutes.

Lower the oven temperature to 375. Remove the foil and bake the crust for an additional 15 minutes until it is golden brown. Cool and fill with appropriate filling, whether that be the aforementioned sweet potato or a savory turkey stew. Either way, people will love you.

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