Pie crust has intimidation written all over it. So let's bring it down to where it belongs -- you only need a few key pieces of information. For me, it comes down to three tricks plus one master formula. Trust me, you can do this. Just take it step by step -- and then show off like crazy.
Trick No. 1: Don't over mix. Toss the wet and dry ingredients together with a fork (in the mixing bowl) or with a very few pulses (in a food processor). You want it clumpy. You do not want it to look like cookie dough. Allowing the butter to remain in big flakes makes for a flaky pie crust.
Trick No. 2: Chill, chill, chill. Every time you mix or handle the dough, chill it again. That's how it gets tender. Chill down the utensils you use make the crust, the bowl, the blade of the processor, cool down everything you can. Once the dough is mixed, gather it in a ball and flatten it into a disk, wrap it in plastic wrap and chill 30 minutes to overnight. Once you've rolled it out and put it in a pie pan (use shiny metal, not dark or glass), or a cookie sheet, chill it again 30 minutes to overnight.
For one single-crust 9- to 10-inch pie, which holds 4 to 6 cups of fruit, you'll need:
1. If you're using a food processor, put all ingredients into the work bowl fitted with the steel blade (if they've been chilled, all the better). Pulse until you get a really rough mixture that looks like big peas on steroids in crumbles of flour.
2. If you're making the crust by hand, put everything into a mixing bowl, and smoosh the butter chunks and flour mixture together quickly with your fingers until the mixture looks like what's described above (work fast because you don't want to melt the butter; you want it in big flakes).
3. Next, we add something wet: 4 to 5 tablespoons ice water, and 1 tablespoon vinegar (which helps make the crust tender).
4. Roll out the dough, chill it, and then pile lots (4 to 5 cups) of sweetened fruit in the center. Flip the sides of the dough over the fruit, and bake at 400ºF until the juices are bubbling and the crust is rich golden brown.
That's it -- you have pie crust dough.
And remember, to make a pie, you don't even need a pie pan. You could use a skillet, or a cookie sheet, or an upside down roasting pan -- any flat metal surface will do.
This recipe appears in Eating In with Lynne Rossetto Kasper, Issue 1, which is available as an e-book.
"Often you find that there are ways you can improve techniques or recipes," says J. Kenji López-Alt, author of The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science.