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Basic Pie Crust Dough (pâte Brisée)

Pâte Brisée: Making Basic Pie Crust Dough

You can make pâte brisée by hand or in a food processor. Hand mixing teaches beginners how to recognize the moisture needs of the flour better than using a food processor. Once this skill is mastered, a food processor can be used. The following instructions are based on mixing by hand.

Pie Crust Dough Equipment:

  • Stainless steel pastry blender with sturdy spokes--spokes should not be flexible or move easily
  • Whisk
  • Measuring cups or food scale
  • Measuring spoons
  • Large shallow mixing bowl--glass or ceramic is best
  • Small mixing bowl--glass or ceramic is best
  • Cutting board
  • Chef's knife
  • Plastic wrap or parchment paper
  • Sheet or hotel pan
  • Pie weights (if you are blind baking)

Pie Crust Dough Ingredients:

  • 3 cups of all-purpose flour (approx 15 oz.)
  • 2 teaspoons of Kosher salt (reduce to one teaspoon if using table salt)
  • 3 tablespoons sugar (optional)
  • 20 tablespoons of unsalted butter (2 1/2 sticks or 10 oz.)
  • 2 cups of ice water

Pie Crust Dough Recipe: Step-By-Step

  1. Place butter in the freezer for at least 20 minutes.
  2. Fill a small mixing bowl with ice and cover the ice with water. Set aside.
  3. Measure flour, salt, and sugar into a large mixing bowl and whisk to evenly distribute.
  4. Remove butter from freezer and cut into 1/2" cubes, add to the flour mixture.
  5. Using the pastry blender, "cut" the butter into the flour mixture by pressing the pastry blender into the butter, forcing it to break apart and be covered by the flour. Repeat this motion, pulling flour in from the sides of the bowl, until the butter is barely broken.
  6. Add four tablespoons of ice water to the mixture and continue to cut in the butter with the pastry blender until the water is fully absorbed. The butter should be left in a variety of sizes ranging from 1/4" to 1/2" pieces.
  7. Add two more tablespoons of ice water, mixing with the pastry blender until fully absorbed by the flour. Check ingredients for temperature--if the butter feels too soft, place everything in the cooler for at least five minutes, or in the freezer for three minutes.
  8. Check the mixture to see if it's binding together well by scooping a small amount in one hand and compressing it in your palm. The dough should just barely hold together, resembling damp sand. It should not split, fall apart, or appear crumbly when you open your hand. If the dough crumbles, it requires additional ice water.
  9. At this point, the addition of ice water should be carefully monitored--this is the make or break part of the mixing process. If your dough felt crumbly, and there is 1/4 cup or more of loose crumbs in the bottom of the bowl, add one tablespoon of water at a time, cutting in with the pastry blender until absorbed. Once the water is absorbed, test the binding of the dough again by compressing a small amount in your hand.
  10. When the dough holds together, stop mixing, even if there are a few additional loose crumbs in the bottom of the bowl. You should be left with a slightly crumbly-looking dough that holds together when compressed, and has lots of varying sizes of butter chunks.
  11. Bring the dough together in the bowl with your hands, gathering any loose pieces or crumbs by gently compressing them into the mass of dough.
  12. Divide the dough in half and wrap each piece in plastic wrap or parchment paper.
  13. Let the dough rest in the refrigerator to relax any gluten that may have formed during mixing. The longer the dough can rest, the better--overnight is best, but as little as 30 minutes works in a pinch.

Rolling the Pie Crust Dough:

  1. After the dough has rested, remove one of the halves of dough from the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for five or ten minutes. This allows the solid fats to warm up a bit and be more cooperative during the rolling process.
  2. Lightly flour a flat, sturdy work surface, such as a counter or table, and lightly flour all sides of the piece of dough you are rolling out.
  3. Using a rolling pin, gently roll from the middle to the edge of the dough, rotating a quarter turn between each roll. Add flour as needed to prevent the dough from sticking to the rolling pin or work surface. If you notice the dough is becoming too soft, return it to the cooler for five minutes.
  4. Continue this process until the dough resembles a large disk, between 1/8" to 1/4" thick.
  5. Roll the dough onto the rolling pin, similar to a roll of paper towels, and transfer to your favorite baking dish, pie plate, or tart pan.
  6. Starting at one end of the pan, unroll the dough across the pan and gently push it into the bottom of the pan.
  7. If your recipe calls for a top crust, repeat the first five steps with the second half of dough that's still in the refrigerator, add your pie filling, and roll the disk over the top of your filling.
  8. Crimp the edges of the top and bottom crusts with your fingers and add a decorative edge if desired.
  9. If you want sheen, lightly brush a simple egg wash of one egg and cream or one egg and water over the crust before baking (optional).

Blind Baking a Pie Crust:

The term blind-baking refers to the process of pre-baking the pâte brisée without any filling. This method is used for stirred and baked custard pie fillings, or when the filling has a shorter bake time than the crust. When blind baking, place the dough into a pie plate or tart pan and trim the edges. The bottom and sides of the dough are sometimes pierced with a fork to prevent it from rising too high. Cover it with parchment paper and place weights in the form of dried beans or ceramic marbles over the parchment to prevent the dough from shrinking in the oven. Shrinkage often happens if the resting time was too short or the dough was over mixed.

Chef's Notes:

  • From my experience with pie dough, I've found that adding an acid, particularly apple cider vinegar, makes a noticeable difference in a flaky all-butter pie crust. The amount, however, should never exceed one tablespoon for a double crust recipe because the flavor of the vinegar overpowers the entire crust.
  • Resting the dough overnight produces the best crust.
  • In experimenting with different amounts of sugar, I found that adding up to three tablespoons did not affect the texture of the dough. I found the additional sugar added a wonderful caramel flavor, when using organic and raw sugar, and a nice balanced sweetness with tart fruit pies. More than three tablespoons greatly changed the texture and flavor, rendering it more like a cookie or tart dough.
  • Don't give up! It takes practice to recognize when your ingredients are hydrated enough to stop the cutting-in process. You can do it!

About the Author

After receiving degrees from the University of Wisconsin and the Culinary Institute of America, Andrea Rappaport moved into a full-time career in the restaurant business. For over 12 years, she worked in various culinary jobs, including as a cook for Wolfgang Puck at Spago, and ultimately as the executive chef and partner of the highly revered San Francisco restaurant Zinzino. For the past seven years, Andrea has worked as the private chef for one family in the San Francisco area, and continues to expand her culinary portfolio by catering, teaching, and consulting.