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We know homemade piecrust can be tricky, but it's the bedrock of the classic Thanksgiving dessert, and it truly is so much better than anything you can buy at the store. For most single- and double-crust pies (including these latest, greatest stunners!), our food editors rely on their favorite tried-and-true pâte brisée recipe. It calls for just five basic ingredients in the food processor—flour, salt, sugar, butter, and ice water—and is a textbook example of a sum being greater than its parts. The 42 Burners crew agrees that one of the most important factors for pie dough success is temperature. Of course your butter should be cold, says deputy editor Greg Lofts, but it doesn't hurt to start with all cold ingredients, even flour—that way you're less likely to overwork the dough. For more test-kitchen piecrust wisdom, follow our step-by-step tutorial below.
1. Don't overprocess the dough: It should be loose and crumbly but hold together when squeezed. Then turn it out onto plastic wrap.
For a flaky, crunchy crust with enticing bubbles and bumps, you want the large pieces of butter to be about the size of small peas, and the rest to be smaller and more thoroughly mixed in. "You don't want the butter bits to break down too small," says Greg. "The dough should have an almost marble-like appearance when rolled out—that's a sign that the larger pieces of butter are intact." Bigger pieces of butter mean more steaming, which equals flakier crust. If you do pulse the dough too much in the food processor and end up with smaller pieces of butter than you intended, don't fret. According to editor at large Shira Bocar, "your crust will still taste delicious. It'll just be a little more tender versus flaky."
If it's your first time tackling piecrust, or your food processor is otherwise occupied (hello Thanksgiving!), recipe tester Riley Wofford recommends making it by hand, either with your fingers or a pastry cutter. She says, "If you're just starting out, you might go too far and overprocess the dough because the food processor works so fast, or you might add too much water because you don't know what texture you're looking for. It's easier to spot if you're working by hand."
2. Use the edges of the wrap to gather it, bringing it in from the sides and pressing down.
"Work the dough a little bit and make sure everything is incorporated before you wrap it in plastic," says Shira. "Don't just dump the mixture onto the plastic and immediately wrap it up—the dough will have uneven bits and be a nightmare to roll."
3. Once you’ve formed a disk, wrap and roll it into a larger disk. This will prevent cracks when you roll it out after it chills.
When you're ready to roll out the dough, you want to put down enough flour so that the dough doesn't stick, but not so much flour that the crust is tough when baked. Start with a generous dusting, about 1 1/2 tablespoons. Rotate the disk of dough a little each time you roll to make sure it’s not sticking, and flip it over every 10 to 15 passes. Whenever you start to feel it sticking, add more flour to your surface, and don’t worry: It won’t work its way into the dough, because you’re not kneading it. And you can (and should!) brush off any excess before you bake.
Pay attention to the temperature at this step, too. "Don't roll out your dough right away. Let it sit for a few minutes first," advises senior editor Lauryn Tyrell. "If the dough cracks when you're rolling it, it's probably too cold." Ever the California girl, she adds, "And don't be in a really hot room"—this definitely won't be an issue for the rest of the team!
Watch food director Sarah Carey demonstrate how to make piecrust by hand: