To make a successful pie dough there is one simple rule to follow: keep the dough cold. From the time you begin making the dough until it hits the oven, everything about it must remain cold. Cold butter, cold lard, cold flour, cold water, cold room, cold hands.
Flakiness is achieved through the tiny pieces of fat that are suspended within the flour. Butter and lard contain water. In the heat of the oven, that water turns into steam, which creates pockets of air within the crust.
If the ingredients are not cold, or they are allowed to warm up, the tiny pieces of fat will cream together with the flour, rather than remain in separate chunks. That creates tough, hard crusts, not tender, flaky ones.
Remember that fat softens with heat. Think about the way butter feels directly out of the fridge, versus how it feels after it’s been allowed to sit out for a while. Fat gets soft and sticky as it warms. If you keep the dough cold while you are working with it, it will be easy to roll out. The warmer it gets, through room temperature or over-handling, the harder it is to roll. It sticks to the counter, the pin, your hands, and it becomes the source of much frustration. To combat the problem, work quickly. As soon as the dough shows signs of warming, throw it in the fridge.
Once the dough is in the pan and the pie is ready to bake, the fat is still there and it can still melt. Keep it very cold before baking to ensure that your decorative crimping keeps its shape. Better yet, freeze it solid and bake it directly from the freezer. If the fat is frozen, the protein in the dough will solidify before the fat has a chance to melt.
1/2 cup ice water
1 TB. cider vinegar
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
2 TB. sugar
8 oz. (2 sticks) butter, diced and chilled
- Combine water, vinegar and set aside. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, salt, sugar and mix well. Add diced butter and cut-in to pea-sized pieces. (See Cut-In Technique) Add half the water, and stir with a fork to moisten. Add enough additional water to just hold the dough together. Press it into a disc, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 1 hour. The dough should look marbled, with visible patches of butter and flour. Dough can be refrigerated for 2 days, or frozen for up to 1 month.
- To roll out dough, divide into 3 even pieces. Work with only one piece of dough at a time, keeping the remaining dough refrigerated. Knead the dough briefly to soften, and form into a disc. Place on a floured surface and, with a rolling pin, roll over the center of the dough in one direction. Turn the dough 90˚ and roll in the center again. Turn again, and repeat this pattern until the dough is an 8-inch circle. Turning the dough in this manner keeps it round, and alerts you right away if it starts sticking to the counter. Spread flour under the dough as necessary to prevent sticking. Work quickly to prevent the dough from warming up.
- Transfer dough to pie pan by rolling it up onto the pin, or folding it in half. Place the lined pie shells in the refrigerator while rolling out remaining dough and preparing filling.