How to Make Pie Dough by Hand

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How to Make Pie Dough by Hand

Pie lovers know that a shortbread crust is the gold standard for puff pastry and flavor.

Sure, shortening have their place, but you really can't go wrong with butter.

But butter melts easier. Yes, therein lies the problem! Butter starts to melt around 89.5°F, but the average body temperature is 98.6°F.

Many hopeful pastry chefs have been frustrated by a pie crust that has become greasy, sticky, or soft enough to crumble when touched, manipulate it.

That's why food processors have risen to prominence as the tool of choice: They reduce the amount of time your hot hands spend stirring dough.

The food processor method is how I learned it, really.

But over the years, I've gained confidence and learned a few key secrets to making pie crust by hand, which I find easier and faster than using a food processor.

Temperature is everything

Have you ever heard the saying “cold hands, warm heart”? Its origin has nothing to do with cake, but it illustrates an important point.

The natural temperature of your hands will determine how easily you can make a butter crust.

My average body temperature seems to hover around 97°F and my hands in particular are always a little hotter than a dead body ear of corn.

Generally speaking, the less hands-on you are with the pie crust, the better. But this is especially true for those who are hot.

Your hands are natural machines for melting butter. How, then, do you have any hope of making a butter crust out of them?

Tips to stay calm

The tips are the coolest part of your fingers. Use your fingertips to bring the dough together, rather than using all of your hands.

Trust the tools if they help you. For the passionate, the devices can save lives.

Dough cutters are made to cut butter into dough without using your hands. Or just use a fork.

Their fridge and freezer are big pluses.

Keeping your ingredients and batter cold at all times during the process will make the path to the perfect pie crust a smooth one.

If your dough becomes soft or greasy, place it in the fridge or freezer for 15 minutes to firm up again. While you wait, take a deep breath.

Pie batter can tell you when you're in a hurry or anxious. Remember, it's just cake!


1 1/4 cups (160 g) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar, optional
1 stick (113g) cold unsalted butter
3 to 6 tablespoons ice water (see recipe note)


To make the dough

Prepare your ingredients and work station:

On a clean counter, place a piece of plastic wrap about 12 inches long.

Mix the flour, salt and sugar in a large bowl. Put it aside.

Cut the butter into 1/4-inch cubes or, this is my preference, quickly grate it with the coarse holes of a box grater.

If the butter starts to soften, place it in the freezer for 10 minutes.

Work the butter into the dough:

Add the butter chunks to the bowl of dry ingredients and mix well.

Using your fingertips, crush and squeeze the small cubes of butter to make pea-sized crumbs and flakes.

Place the entire bowl in the freezer for a few minutes if the butter starts to get greasy.

Add cold liquid:

Sprinkle about 3 tablespoons of ice water (or any ice cold liquid of your choice) over the mixture and toss everything together like a salad (do not puree).

Continue stirring and adding liquid, 1 tablespoon at a time, until it all comes together to form a rough, shaggy dough that holds its shape when you press into a clump.

Err on the slightly sticky side instead of dry and crumbly if you're not sure when to stop.

Cool 30 minutes before rolling:

Shape into a ball, place in pre-cut plastic wrap, and flatten into a disk about 6 inches in diameter. Wrap the disc securely and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before rolling.

To roll the dough

Gather your tools:

This is best done in a cool kitchen, which prevents the dough from breaking down and becoming brittle and greasy.

If your kitchen is hot, consider working early in the morning when it's cooler.

Generously flour a clean countertop or pastry cloth.

Dust the rolling pin and dough well on both sides with flour.

If the dough has been in the fridge for more than a few hours, let it rest for 15 minutes before rolling it out.

Start scrolling:

Working from the center of the dough, roll away from you and then towards you, turning the disk of dough a little at a time as you roll.

This helps prevent sticking. Dust the dough and/or countertop with more flour as needed to prevent the dough from sticking.

To line a 9-inch pie plate, you'll want a circle of dough that is at least 14 inches in diameter.

Transfer rolled dough to plate:

Brush excess flour from the dough with a clean, dry brush or by hand.

Lift the rolled dough onto the plate by wrapping it around the pin and letting it fall over the center of the plate.

Carefully press the dough to line the bottom and sides of the pan.

Shape the crust:

Trim excess from the sides of the pan. If you want to create a tight folded edge, leave about an inch of overhang.

If the dough is too crumbly to fold easily without breaking it, simply cut it so the crust is flush with the edge of the pan.

To make a fluted edge, gently fold in the overhanging inch of dough so you can fold it over, making a neat thick edge.

Then use your thumb and forefinger to pinch and fold the edges.

Don't worry about a perfect crust! Blemishes usually disappear once the cake is baked.

To blind bake the crust (completely bake the crust without the filling), proceed as you would with any other pie crust.

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