Easy as Pie
Making piecrust can leave a cook feeling like a magician. Combine flour, water, and butter with just a bit of sugar and salt and -- presto! -- the result is a tender, flaky pastry that elevates just about any filling. The trick, of course, is in the method -- a simple but precise series of steps that, through baking thousands of pies, our test-kitchen staff has trial-and-errored down to a science. When it comes to making pastry, it takes more than just words in a recipe to master the technique. Follow these visual cues for an easy, can't-miss crust.
Freeze About Three-Quarters of the Butter
Refrigerate the rest. The frozen pieces stay chunky after being pulsed, creating steam pockets when baked (the key to flakiness); the refrigerated bits get worked into the pastry, giving it a tender texture.
The Processor Should Be Off When You Pour In the Water
Running the processor while pouring in the water can result in an overworked (read: tough) dough. Instead, pour in all the water, and immediately give the mixture a few quick pulses to combine.
The Dough Should Look Like This When You Squeeze It
With this method, there is no guesswork for the amount of water. The dough should remain crumbly but come together when pressed. Don't pulse it so long that it forms a ball. If it does, it's overworked.
The Processed Dough Should Resemble Uneven Crumbs
When you empty the mixture from the food processor out onto the plastic wrap, some pieces will be tiny, others will be in clumps. This is exactly what you want. You're on your way to a light, flaky crust.
Press the Dough This Way to Form It into a Rough Round
Bring the edges of the plastic wrap together to form a round mass, and press on top of the wrap to form a disk. You're simultaneously gathering the crumbs into a cohesive dough and shaping it.
Roll the Dough into Rounds About This Thick
A round that is 1/2 inch thick and 8 inches in diameter -- as opposed to the standard hockey-puck size -- will chill more quickly and soften more uniformly when removed from the refrigerator.