Everything you always wanted to know about pie crust but were afraid to ask

Jun 8, 2016

David Leite and Splendid Table listeners have questions about the perfect pie crust. Art of the Pie's Kate McDermott has all the answers (and 98 pie pans).

David Leite: Julie via Twitter asked, “When first forming the pie dough into a disc, how dry or wet should it be? Mine is always crumbly and dry.”

Kate McDermott: This is an excellent question. Julie, I think what you should do is have it so it feels it's a little moist. Cool and moist like clay, perhaps, but there are some key things to know. I have found that it only takes four ingredients in a good dough. You need flour. You need salt. You need some fat. You need some water.

You want to keep all your ingredients chilled. So when we are putting the water in, for my recipe, which is about two and a half cups of flour, a half a teaspoon of salt, and eight tablespoons of butter, eight tablespoons of lard, I'm usually going to be putting in for that much about eight tablespoons of ice water. But I start first by putting in about five tablespoons and I mix it with a fork. Then, if it's immediately feeling like it's starting to get sluggish, the sluggish is what I'm looking for.

DL: What does sluggish mean?

Kate McDermott (Photo: Andrew Scrivani)

KM: I'm taking that fork through all the ingredients in my bowl, and my dough feels a little heavy as I push the fork through. Usually what I find is it's going to take me about eight tablespoons of water. Sometimes it may take me up to nine or ten tablespoons of water.

Once you have that done, then you want to take a little squeeze of it. Can you see an indentation of your fingers in there? Does it fall apart or does it stay together? Pull it together if it does and push it together into a big softball, and that should feel cool. It should feel slightly moist, sort of like cool clay.

DL: T. Jones, also from Twitter, asked, “What's the right temperature and time for pre-baking crusts?”

KM: When you're pre-baking, pre-heat your oven to 425 degrees. Put some parchment paper in and put pie weights in your rolled-out dough. Then you bake for about 20 to 25 minutes at that hot temperature, pull your weights out, and put it back in the oven at 375 for about six minutes or so, until it gets the right color and dries out a little bit.

DL: Alexandra, also from Twitter, asks, “What kind of pan is worthy of the perfect pie crust?

KM: Alexandra, I use every pan out there. I use ceramic pans. I use metal pans. I use glass pans. You just really need to know the properties of all of them.

The glass pans will bake the fastest. The metal pans, you want to make sure that you have one that is not shiny because shiny will deflect heat. And the ceramic pans, I love their even heat distribution and heat retention. All of them are great, and I use them all. I have 98 pie pans, if you would believe that.

DL: I believe that from you. Here's a great question from Deborah via Facebook. “Is all-purpose flour the best for pie crusts?”


Art of the Pie

KM: Yes. All-purpose flour is the best for pie crust, because it has a good ratio and balance of all different flours to give it the right protein content.

DL: From Facebook, we have Lisa, and she asks, “Can I use coconut oil in my pie crust?"

KM: You can. It has a lower melting point. It will be a little more difficult to deal with, and you will have a coconut flavor in your pie.

DL: We have a question from our editor and technical director, Jennifer Luebke. So Jen, what's your question?

Jennifer Luebke: I heard you talking about mixing your pie dough with a fork. Is that really the best way to do it? Because I'll admit it, I use a food processor.

KM: Well, I am a make-it-by-hand girl myself, because that's how my grandmother taught me. But yes, you can use a food processor. You just want to be really judicious when you're touching the pulse blade, so that it's breaking up the fat. Once you get it all together, I put it into the bowl and finish it off by hand, so I put the last little bit of water in there.

A true pie geek is going to find that you lose about three to five percent on tenderness on there, but that's really just going to be somebody like me or maybe David.