Once you you feel comfortable making pie dough, the world opens up to you. Any of the much-loved pies of your family you want to make are yours. What you need: cold butter and flour, quick hands, and a calm heart. And a lot of practice. Oh darn, you’re going to need to make a lot of pies.
Chill the butter. Cut the butter into 1-inch cubes. Divide the shortening into spoonfuls. Put them both on a plate in the freezer.
Pulse the flour and butter. Add the flour and the salt to a large food processor. Pulse them together until the flour is fluffy and aerated. Add the chilled butter cubes and shortening to the food processor and pulse 10 times. The flour and butter should look like a sandy mixture, with some butter chunks still visible, about the size of lima beans.
Finish the dough. Whisk together the sour cream and 4 tablespoons of ice-cold water. Pour this water into the food processor and pulse 5 times. The finished dough should not yet be gathered into a solid ball. Instead, it should look like curds of dry cottage cheese. You should also be able to pinch some of it between your fingers and have it stick together. If the dough is dry, add more cold water 1 tablespoon at a time. It’s better to have a dough a little too wet than a little too dry.
Form the dough into discs. Dump the dough onto a clean, cool surface, such as a marble board or a piece of parchment paper. Press the heel of your hand onto one end of the shaggy mess of a dough and gently press down and away from your body. This technique, known as fraissage, will create long, buttery flakes throughout the flour, which makes for a flakier dough. When it is all evenly pressed together, gently gather fold the dough over itself, several times. (A bench scraper is an enormous help here. You can also do this by folding the dough over itself with the help of the parchment paper.)
Working quickly, cut the dough into 2 roughly even piece. Make half the dough into a ball and flatten it into a plump disc, about 2 inches tall. Wrap it in plastic. Repeat with the remaining dough. Transfer the dough discs to the refrigerator to rest for at least 30 minutes. (You can also make the dough the night before you want to make the pie.)
Get ready to make a pie. When you are ready to bake, take the dough discs out of the refrigerator. Let them sit on the counter or at least 10 minutes to allow the dough to come to room temperature before you attempt to work with it.
Roll out the dough. Put 2 pieces of lightly greased parchment paper on the kitchen counter. (You can also use parchment paper, a floured marble pastry board, or a floured countertop, if you wish.) Put one of the discs of dough between the pieces of parchment paper. Pat down the disc a bit and lay the rolling pin on it. Imagine the dough is the face of a clock. Roll out once at 12 o’clock. Then, lift the rolling pin and roll out the dough at 12:10. Moving in “10-minute” increments, roll out the pie dough to slightly larger than your pie pan. Don’t rush. Think of this as pie meditation. Roll out the dough evenly.
Lift the top parchment paper. Put a 9-inch glass pie pan upside down on top of the dough. Flip the pan and dough over together. Carefully, strip away the remaining piece of parchment paper. Pat the dough down into the pan, gently. If some of the pie dough sticks to the parchment paper, no worries. Peel off that dough and pat it into the rest of the pie dough. There’s no gluten so the pie crust won’t get tough.
Crimp the edges. Flour your fingers. Crimp the edges of the pie crust by pressing from the inside of the pie pan with the thumb and first finger on your left hand while pressing between those from the outside with the first finger of your right hand. Go slowly and enjoy it.
Now, you are ready to fill your pie.
Feel like playing? Ready for this? There are SO many ways to play here.
If you have access to good lard (meaning not-grocery-store lard but leaf lard rendered by a good butcher or farmer), and you’re not a vegetarian, use lard in this pie crust. Lard makes pie crusts even more flaky and tender than an all-butter crust can. We use 150 grams of butter and 80 grams of lard, giving the pie dough a butter taste but the flake of lard. You really can’t beat that pie crust.
You can easily skip the food processor and make the dough by hand, and you probably will once you feel confident. Simply spread the flour out in a rectangle on a clean, cool surface. Lay the pats of butter all over the flour. Use a bench scraper to swoop and cut, swoop and cut, moving the butter into the flour. Beat the egg and pour it over the dough and move it into the dough with the bench scraper. Flick the water over the surface of the flour. And then, fraissage that dough.
You can easily substitute the sour cream with anything that adds a little fat and protein to the dough, such as 3 tablespoons of thick yogurt, coconut milk, or 1 egg yolk. You can also use more water. The dough will be a little leaner, making it a bit tougher to work with for beginners. But you’ll get the hang of it.
If you can’t eat butter, you can substitute non-dairy buttery sticks instead and use them the same way here. Of course, some people swear by vegetable shortening for pie dough in general. Or you could make an all-lard crust.
If you are a beginner, and you don’t want to go through the process of making a pie dough this way, use 10 tablespoons of coconut oil instead. Coconut oil will melt quickly in your hands, so you won’t achieve the same level of flakiness as you might with a butter pie. Simply rub the oil and flour together until you have a sandy mix that looks like little pebbles. Gather the dough together and refrigerate it the same way you do the butter dough. Work quickly when you roll out the dough. When that dough grows warm, it seeps.
Play. Make a pie every week and see what works best in your kitchen.