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Perfect Piecrust Every Time

Martha Stewart Living, November 2004

I know firsthand how intimidating making a pie can be. Shortly before I came to Martha Stewart Living 10 years ago, I was the pastry chef for two restaurants and a retail bakery. The most daunting task was to produce about 25 pies from scratch every day. I learned through trial and error how to make delicious, winning pies with buttery, flaky crusts -- and they even hold up well, tasting almost as good the second day as the first. This endeavor earned me the title "Pie Queen" at the bakery.

My technique has been broken down into the following tips. And here's one more: You know how recipes always say to cover the edges of a pie with foil if the crust is browning too quickly? And have you tried to press little strips of foil around the edges of a hot, baking pie? Instead, before you begin, press a piece of foil onto an empty pie plate to shape it. Then trim the outer edge and cut out the center, making a ring that's about 2 inches thick to cover the rim of the pie. If you try this and my other instructions, I feel confident that you will be crowned pie queen, too.

 -- Susan Sugarman, former Deputy Food Editor

When making dough, the butter-flour mixture should have pieces ranging in size from crumbs to 1/2 inch. Add water; look for a crumbly texture. When squeezed, the mixture should hold together but not be sticky.

Divide dough. Place each half on plastic wrap. Gather wrap to shape into balls. Flatten slightly. Unwrap; rewrap loosely, leaving 1/2-inch air space around dough. Roll to 1/2 inch thick, filling space.

Start rolling, working from center. If dough loses circular shape, place end of pin near the crooked edge and roll, working that area by pressing with one hand while holding the pin loosely with the other.

Keep the work surface floured so the dough doesn't lose its shape, stick, or tear: Every few passes, release the dough by running a long offset spatula underneath, then throw more flour under it.

As you go, run your fingers around the edges of the dough to feel if the thickness is even (and if not, to find where you need to roll more).

Fit the dough into the pie plate (pushing down the sides without pressing into the corners); use scissors to trim, leaving 1/4 inch.

Add top crust, trim to 1/2 inch, tuck it under edge of bottom crust, and crimp with fingers, as shown.

More Tips
Before you begin: For a light, flaky, and tender crust, make sure your butter is very cold. Wrap the dough around your rolling pin, brushing excess flour from the bottom, to transfer it to the pie plate. Pile it high with fruit for lofty results. Use a narrow pastry bush to get the egg wash -- which gives a golden, shiny finish -- into every cranny.

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The right supplies make a big difference. Here's what you'll need:

Narrow Pastry Brush
A 1/2-inch brush lets you get the egg wash into crevices without making pools. It's also used for brushing water on the rim of bottom dough before adding the top.

Pastry Blender
If you don't have a food processor, working butter into flour with a pastry blender simplifies the process. Some bakers prefer this method.

Glass Pie Plate
Heat disperses well in a tempered-glass pie plate (such as Pyrex), allowing for more even browning; the clear glass also lets you see the color of the bottom crust.

Large Offset Spatula
As you roll dough, it inevitably starts to stick to the work surface. To release it, slide an offset spatula at least 10 inches long underneath. Do this repeatedly while rolling.

Rolling Pin
There are many kinds of rolling pins. This 1 1/2-by-18-inch one gives the most control -- I can feel the dough under it as I work.

Ruler
Why guess if the dough is the right size? Use a ruler to make sure; 13-inch circles are just right for a standard 9-inch pie plate.

Scissors
The perfect tool for trimming dough -- a knife is just not exact enough, and scissors are easier to work with.

Parchment Paper
Roll dough on parchment (I cut a big piece, fold it over the edge of the counter, and lean on it as I roll to keep it from sliding); that way, you can transport the rolled dough to refrigerate or freeze.

Wide Pastry Brush
Use a 3- or 4-inch-wide pastry brush to remove excess flour before transferring the dough to the pie plate.

Cookie Cutter
A vent in the top of a pie lets steam escape. Instead of making slits with a knife, I use a shaped cookie cutter. You can add the cutout to the dough as a decoration.

Comments (2)

  • 24 Oct, 2012

    Darn it, this is SO frustrating! I've tried these pie crust recipes and still end up with a tough, greasy, half-raw result. This time I baked it for the 20 minutes at 450 plus a whole hour at 375, following the recipe exactly and it still came out tough as heck, shot throughout with translucent butter where the dough hadn't baked. It's borderline edible. I give up.

  • 8 Jan, 2009

    I just bought an oven and would really like to try how to bake that's why I'm collecting recipes. I think yours will really help me a lot.Thank you!