Without the crust, a pie would just be a blob of fruit. Or pudding. Or custard. You get the idea.
Creating the perfect crust is both an art and a science. Once you've mastered the basics, take your crust to the next level with these tips from some of our favorite professional pie masters.
Play with your fats. We've said it before, and Allison Kave of First Prize Pies in New York backs us up: Butter is the binding base of any dough. She opts for a European-style cultured butter for a rich and flaky crust. But Joy Wilson, the celebrated baker behind Joy the Baker, uses cold cubed coconut oil instead of butter. "I like finding delicious alternative fats to accommodate different diets," Wilson says. For those seeking a particularly delicate, flaky crust, Kave uses a mixture of butter and leaf lard, the premium fat collected near a pig's kidneys.
Wetter is better. Most pie dough recipes call for drizzling a few tablespoons of ice water into the flour and fat mixture while you're blending them together to keep everything cool. But Wendy Achatz, co-founder of Achatz Handmade Pie Co. in Michigan, recommends pouring all of the liquid into the flour-fat mix at once, and then kneading everything together. The dough will become wet, so she lets the whole thing sit and absorb the moisture, which makes it easier to roll out into crust. Buttermilk is also an appealing alternative to the ice water. "I love its luscious texture, slight tang and the tenderness it creates," says Wilson.
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Keep your cool. All three experts agree that it's important to keep the dough as cold as possible. "We need our fats and liquids chilled to incorporate the dough," Wilson explains, so that everything is just mixed together instead of becoming overworked and hard. She chills her filled crusts for at least three hours before baking, so that the fats solidify. "That way, when they hit the hot oven, they evaporate quickly and create a flaky crust," she says. . When you're rolling the dough, Achatz suggests taking the temperature of the room into consideration. If the kitchen is too warm, the dough will sweat, so find a place with AC if you can.
Make it pretty. Tools are key for concocting Instagram-ready pie designs, according to Kave. For an elegant lattice, use a pastry wheel with a crimped edge. Cookie cutters are useful to create shapes, too. "You can either lay the cutouts along the edge of the pie," says Kave, "or leave the hollowed-out shapes on the surface of the top crust. Or both!"
If at first you don't succeed... Mistakes are inevitable. Achatz urges new pie makers to mix twice the amount of dough they think they need to avoid running out. "Make enough to screw up the first round," she says.