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Ah, the pie crust. A light, flaky, buttery bite of goodness that supports and adds flavor to whatever filling it nestles inside. Be it savory or sweet, fruit or custard, the filling is only as good as its crust. The difficulty lies in how to make a perfect pie crust, as it requires more than just mixing a few ingredients. With patience and practice, even the most novice of bakers can master the art of the crust.

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Pie Crust: The Basics

A pie crust is the shell holding in the filling. The essential ingredients for the crust are flour, salt, water, and fat. These ingredients are blended either by hand, in a food processor, or with a mixer. Other ingredients can include eggs, milk, sugar, lard, or anything else that enhances the crust's texture and flavor.

Pie crust ingredients fcafotodigital / Getty Images
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Using a Food Processor

The easiest and most foolproof tool to prepare pie crust with is the food processor.

  1. Blend the flour, the salt, and sugar.
  2. Next, add one tablespoon of fat at a time.
  3. Blend until the mixture looks like coarse sand.
  4. Add cold water one tablespoon at a time until the dough holds together.
food processor Lebazele / Getty Images
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Making Pie Crust By Hand

There's something satisfying about mixing the dough by hand, which is why many experienced bakers still choose this method.

  1. In a bowl blend the flour, sugar--if using--and salt with a spoon.
  2. Add the fat.
  3. Using 2 knives or a pastry cutter, cut the fat into the flour mixture. Once the fat has been incorporated, the mix should look like coarse sand.
  4. Add water until the dough holds together.
Mixing pie crust by hand PeopleImages / Getty Images
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Using a Stand Mixer

For the baker who doesn't want to rely on the hand method or doesn't own a food processor, there is always the old standby: the stand mixer.

  1. Fit the mixer with the flat beater.
  2. Blend the flour, sugar, and salt in the mixer bowl.
  3. Add the butter, one cube at a time, tossing with a fork to coat.
  4. Mix on medium-low speed until the mix looks like coarse sand.
  5. Add water.
  6. Blend on low speed until the dough holds together.
Stand mixer, paddle attachment kostsov / Getty Images

Steps After Pie Dough Holds Together

Once the dough holds its shape, the baker can either chill first or roll out. Bakers and other food experts can't seem to agree which method is best.

  1. The chill method is simple: roll the dough into a ball, cover with cling wrap, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.
  2. The roll out method gets a little sticky. The butter has softened, so be sure to sprinkle flour on the rolling pin, work surface, and dough. Flatten the dough into a disk on the floured work surface, dust with more flour, and roll out into a rough circle about 12 inches in diameter and 1/8 inch thick.
Rolling out pie dough Linda Raymond / Getty Images

The Classic 9-Inch Single Pie Crust

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup butter, chilled and cut into small cubes
  • 1/4 cup ice water

Directions using the chill version:

  1. Mix ingredients using one of the methods from above.
  2. Chill for at least four hours.
  3. Once completely chilled, roll out the dough.
  4. Press into the bottom and sides of the pie plate.
Unbaked pie crust, rolling pin LCBallard / Getty Images

Double Crust For Sweet Pie

Most fruit pies need a bottom and top crust. You can simply double the ingredients for the crust above or try a different version. Below is an alternative recipe: Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 sticks of chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • Ice water

Use your preferred mixing method. Follow the directions for single pie crust rolling out two pie crusts.

Double crust apple pie bhofack2 / Getty Images

Savory Crusts For Meat Pie

Not all pies are sweet. In fact, some of the tastiest ones are savory--meat pies, hand pies, and a crowd favorite, chicken pot pie. For these pies, the process is the same but ingredients vary. Ingredients for a one pie shell savory crust:

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 tablespoons or 1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons of ice water

Use your preferred mixing method and either chill or roll right away. For savory crusts, it's the ingredients that change, not the preparation.

Meat pie, crust Anikona / Getty Images

Blind Baking

Some recipes call for blind baking--a method involving baking the pie crust before the filling. This process ensures that the crust is cooked through and not soggy. If blind baking, be sure to place pastry weights or raw beans into the uncooked crust to keep it from rising during pre-bake.

Pie shell with raw beans TomekD76 / Getty Images

Pie Crust Disagreements

It's not only the chill or roll methods that stir baking discourse. Some bakers use butter, shortening, a mix of both, and most recently lard. Lard is made of animal fat, and it was the pie crust staple until the 1950s when it was replaced by shortening, which was later on replaced by butter. Now, lard is being used again. Even in baking, history truly does repeat itself.

Proud baker with pie Big Cheese Photo / Getty Images

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