The holidays are right around the corner, which means it’s time to plan those holiday pies! There’s no better way than learning to make your own homemade holiday pie crust. With the right technique and ingredients, making pie crust from scratch can be done!
This post is sponsored by Hayden Flour Mills. As always, all opinions are my own.
To me, nothing says that holidays more than pie. I can’t remember when I started making pies from scratch (versus letting someone else do it) but there was a gradual progression.
First, I’d buy store-made pie crust and a can of filling. Then I started making the filling from scratch, using a store-bought pie crust.
And then somewhere around the time that I hosted Thanksgiving for the first time, I started doing everything for my pies from scratch, from the pie crust to the whipped cream on the side.
Now I can’t even remember the last time I bought a store-bought crust, especially for holiday pies.
Recently I took a perfect pie class at Sur la Table. I was really excited about taking the class so I could learn more about making good pies.
Like I said, I’ve been making my own pies from scratch for a few years now but I’ll be honest, they’re usually quite ugly.
No one usually cares as long as they taste good, but as a food blogger I know that people 100% eat with their eyes first. And I wanted to know how to make a better-looking pie.
There are three important factors when it comes to making great pie crusts from scratch. Temperature, technique and high quality ingredients.
One of my favorite components of taking the cooking class was learning some of the science behind pie crusts and why certain ingredients and techniques are important.
Why temperature matters for pie crusts
Temperature is HUGE in making flaky, tender pie crusts. The tip I learned is to always remember HOT oven, COLD butter.
I know for a fact that the reason I have struggled with pie crusts being difficult to work with or cracking in the past is because I haven’t had cold enough butter in my dough.
Living in Arizona this is especially difficult, but no matter where you live, the same thing is true:
Your hands are warmer than refrigerated butter, so each time you interact with the dough, you’re heating up that butter which will change the way that the pie crust bakes.
I will say that baking pies is not something you can rush through.
I know this year I will be making my pies the day ahead (or two days ahead) of Thanksgiving day.
In the past I’ve been trying to make it the morning of and it’s just bad news. To have the best pie crust you want to give yourself lots of time so that your dough can be properly refrigerated to keep that butter cold.
You can also make your pie crusts ahead of time (like up to months ahead of time!), freeze them and roll them out the day you make your pies.
How to make a pie crust
Okay, let’s talk about technique now. There are a few ways you can make a pie crust happen. The first is in a food processor.
The second is by hand with a pastry cutter. I’ve done both and usually prefer the pastry cutter method but that’s just because I like getting my hands in on the action.
The food processor method works great too and it’s a lot quicker without sacrificing the quality of your pie crusts.
With either method, there is one particular note that is more important to remember than the method you use.
Whichever method you use to combine your flour and butter, you want to ensure you only combine them until you have PEA-SIZED pieces of butter. If you break the butter down smaller than that, your pie crust will be more sticky and difficult to work with.
The best ingredients for pie crust
Finally, the quality of the ingredients you use is SO important in making pie crust.
It’s not just about making a good looking pie crust, it’s also about making one that tastes good AND is easy to work with. You have three main ingredients in a pie crust.
Flour, butter and water or another colorless, odorless liquid (more on that in a bit). There are two options for flour, either an all-purpose flour or a pastry flour.
But, with either option you want to choose something that is high quality.
The best flour for pie crust
That’s why I love using flour from Hayden Flour Mills, a local flour mill we have in Arizona that also has an online shop so you can try it too! I’ve shared their flour products before with my peach raspberry mini pies and sweet potato pancakes.
It may sound weird, but you can totally smell the difference in the quality of the flour products from Hayden Flour Mills. For this pie crust, I used the White Sonora All Purpose Flour.
The best butter for pie crust
The second important ingredient is butter. I used to be in the school of thought that all butter is created equal, but after making pies with regular cheap butter and high quality butter, there is definitely a difference in the taste and texture.
I have switched now to using unsalted Kerrygold butter in my pie crusts and I’d highly recommend using either that brand or something of similar quality.
Vodka vs. water for pie crusts
Third thing I mentioned is water. Now you don’t have to use anything fancy here BUT I did learn that you can also use vodka in place of water. The basic scientific reason for choosing to use vodka is that it has a lower boiling point than water.
When you’re baking pies, you are looking for steam which is how the pies are actually cooked. Because vodka has a lower boiling point than water, you get steam faster meaning you get a more tender and flaky pie crust. This is not necessary, water will work just fine but it’s totally worth experimenting with!
Alright, now that we know the hows and whys about pies, it’s time to make our own!
Remember these tips for pie baking
- Use COLD butter that is high quality
- Use a high quality flour
- Use PEA SIZED butter in your flour mixture.
Remember those three tips and you’ll be set with a buttery, flaky pie crust NO one will think for a second is store bought.
- 1 ¼ cups Hayden Flour Mills White Sonora All Purpose Flour
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, cold, cut into ½-inch cubes
- ¼ to ⅓ cup ice water (or vodka)
- Cut butter into ½-inch cubes. Place in small bowl and put in freezer for at least 10 minutes.
- Measure ice water and put in freezer (check frequently that it isn't freezing into ice) until ready to use. If using vodka, do the same.
- Measure flour into food processor. Add in salt and sugar and pulse three times to blend.
- Add cold butter to food processor and pulse until there are PEA SIZED butter pieces.
- Slowly stream in water or vodka until dough comes together. See notes.
- Transfer dough from food processor to Saran wrap. You want to shape your dough into a round disc, using the Saran wrap to form it, NOT your hands.
- Once your dough is formed into a disc, wrap it up completely and stick it in the freezer again for 20 minutes.
- Remove from freezer and Saran wrap onto a lightly floured workspace. You just want sprinkles of flour on the workspace. If the dough is still frozen, leave out at room temperature for just a few minutes until the dough is thawed enough to work with. Sprinkle flour on a rolling pin and roll until dough is about ⅛ inch thick.
- Place into a greased pie pan and trim overflowing edges of pie crust off. Follow fluted edges of pie pan or create your own flutes by hand or with a fork.
- Fill with filling and bake per instructions for pie filling.
Test to see if your dough is ready by grabbing a small handful and squishing it between your palm and fingers. If the dough forms together, it's ready. If it crumbles, it needs a bit more water. If it feels sticky and wet, add a small amount of flour to dough to help dry it out.
You can double this recipe to make two pie crusts at once. If you're not going to use both now, split dough in half, wrap in plastic wrap in a disc shape and freeze for up to 6 months.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 8 Serving Size: 1 slice
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 103Total Fat: 2gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 6mgSodium: 123mgCarbohydrates: 18gFiber: 1gSugar: 3gProtein: 3g