It’s Thanksgiving, so let’s talk about pie crust, y’all. I started making pie crust with my grandma – affectionately called Yakima Grandma, because, well, she lives in Yakima, WA. Yakima is in the agricultural heart of Washington state, so I grew up making apple, peach, and other fruit pies with her. We always used a shortening-based crust. That’s just how I learned. I remember the finesse with which she moved her hands and manipulated the dough, and how perfect the pie came out – every freaking time. As I got into cooking myself, I became attracted to the science-based work of Alton Brown and Harold McGee, and eventually, Rose Levy Beranbaum. I think actually Shuna Lydon first led me to Beranbaum, but I’ve never looked back. I’ve got at least two of her cookbooks, and my copy of The Pie and Pastry Bible is well-worn and commonly spotted on the counter. I can’t get enough of it. She really knows the hows and whys of flour and all the great things you can do with it. And her pie crust recipe works for me, every time. It’s specific, hoo boy, but if you follow it, the payoff is great. I’ll re-post her recipe here, with some details, tips, and tricks to guide you through the process. This recipe does require a food processor. I’ve tried to do without, in a pinch, and it really just doesn’t work the same. If you don’t have a food processor, stick with whatever recipe is working for you so far!
Rose’s Favorite Flaky and Tender Pie Crust
(An update of Rose Levy Beranbaum’s original cream cheese pie crust from The Pie and Pastry Bible)
Enough for two single-crust pies, or one double-crust pie
6 oz frozen butter (12 T)
10.5 oz frozen pastry flour
4.5 oz cream cheese
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking powder
3 T heavy cream
1 T cider vinegar
A note on ingredients: there are only 7 ingredients in this recipe, which means each one counts. You should get the best of each one that you can manage, but definitely buy the absolute best butter, heavy cream, and cream cheese you can find and afford. The better taste will reward you in the final product, I promise.
A note about the coldness: It’s your pie crust’s best friend and the secret to all your success here. The ingredients really do need to be as cold as possible. Start by slicing your butter into cubes, then put the cubes on a small plate and freeze them for about 20 minutes. Make sure your heavy cream and cream cheese are coming straight from the refrigerator. As for your pastry flour, I just keep a small bag in the freezer for pie crust time. It’s easy and convenient.
Measure your flour, salt, and baking powder, then combine them in the bowl of your food processor. Run the processor for about 10-20 seconds to combine the dry ingredients thoroughly.
Slice the cream cheese into 3-4 small chunks, and add them to the bowl of the food processor all at once. Close the lid, leave your hand over the spout to keep the processor from bouncing all over the counter, and turn it on. Let the processor run for about 20 seconds. You want the cream cheese to get fully integrated at this point, the the final product will look like damp sand, and you won’t be able to find any cream cheese chunks. You want chunks of butter in the pastry, not chunks of cream cheese. The cream cheese just ups the flavor and fat content of the dough.
Once the dough looks like it does below, you’re ready to add the butter. See how it looks fluffy, like fresh snow or damp sand? You can’t see any cream cheese, but you know there’s something adding moisture and fat to the flour mixture, which is exactly what you want.
Next, add the frozen chunks of butter to the food processor. Generally, I add about 2/3 of the butter, pulse for about two seconds, then add the second batch. From here, you’ll want to pulse it somewhere between 10-20 times or so, total. Start with 5, then take the lid off. Grab a fork, and toss the mixture around a little. Does it look like there are massive boulders of butter in the bowl? If so, you’re not done yet. Pulse again 5 more times, and toss. Keep going until the pieces you can see are, as Beranbaum says, the size of peanuts. Below, we are about at the peanut stage. You don’t want to over mix, so go gently and carefully along, a few pulses at a time, tossing and checking.
Once you get to the stage here, with the butter peanuts, it’s time to add the liquid. Take the lid off the processor, and add in the heavy cream and the cider vinegar. Pulse a few times (say, 3-5) to combine. Toss with the fork and check to make sure all the liquid is integrated. Scrape down the sides and the corner edge of the food processor bowl, because liquid can collect there. Give it 1-2 more pulses, and you’re done. That’s it! What? It doesn’t look like pie crust? It looks more like crumble topping? I know, I know. This is where the magic happens.
Take a small chunk of the crumbly mixture in your hand, and squeeze. Does it hold together in a ball, like play-doh? If it crumbles apart, you should run the processor for 1-2 more pulses and check again. If it still won’t hold, add a half tablespoon more heavy cream and pulse 1-2 more times. Once it will hold together, you know you’re golden. It should look like this.
Since the recipe we just made is for a double crust pie, you’ll need to divide the dough into two separate ziploc bags. I am a fanatic, and I weigh the contents. This dough will come out to around 21-22oz, so approximately 11 oz per bag is where you want to be. Dump your portioned crust into the ziploc bag, and start kneading – hands on the outside of the bag, dough on the inside. Use your palms and knuckles for this job. You’re incorporating the moisture further, and also developing gluten, which will help it hold together and become flexible and workable when rolling. It will take about 2-3 minutes of kneading to get the dough to form into a ball, and you’ll be surprised and impressed when that bag of crumbs turns into a disk, almost as if by accident. Once you can make a ball with the dough, you will want to flatten it into a workable disk. You can then take the disk, wrap it in plastic wrap, put it back in the ziploc bag, and store it in the freezer for several months. Or, since Thanksgiving is in a few days, just throw this bag into the refrigerator and pull it out 15 minutes before you need to start rolling your crust.
Did I answer your questions? Are you now a newly competent and confident baker? Do you have other worries? Let me know in the comments!