Here are six crust musts
Pie dough is one of those things, like poaching eggs and making biscuits, that can trip people up. Do it right and it's a perfect buttery, flakey shell for pies of all kinds. Do it wrong and it's a greasy, soggy mess that won't come out of the pan. There are thousands of articles out there with all sorts of pie dough advice, whether it's making it in the food processor or by hand, using shortening instead of butter, and even using vodka instead of water. Every pie baker has their favorite way to do it, but there are a few things that, no matter what method you choose to make pie dough, will always cause problems. Luckily, you can avoid them pretty easily if you remember what to look for. Here's how.
Your Ingredients Are Too Warm
When you make pie dough, cold is your friend. Like biscuits, pie dough is an application where you want as little gluten development as possible, which means that kneading and warmth are the enemy. You want your flour to be cold, your butter or shortening to be cold, and your water/vinegar/vodka/whatever liquid you're using to bring the dough together to be cold. If it's a hot day, throw everything in the fridge before you make the dough. If the fat starts to melt as you cut it into the flour, throw it in the fridge or freezer until it firms up again. Melted fat won't give you airy, flakey crust.
Your Fat Particles Are Too Big
When you cut the fat into the flour to make the dough, either by hand or with a machine, you want the pieces to be about the size of lentils or peas, smaller than you would need for biscuit dough. If the pieces are too large, the butter will melt and leave holes in the dough when you bake it. Too small, and they won't give you the tender flakiness you're going for.
Your Dough Is Too Wet
You want things to be "tacky not sticky." That's the mantra for pie dough I learned from my dad. It's shorthand for ensuring that your dough isn't too wet. If it's sticky, it's going to be really difficult to roll out. If you add a bit too much water, it's easily fixed by a little more flour. But if you add way too much liquid, you need to start the dough again, because adding a lot more flour will throw off that fat-to-flour ratio that you want to make a nice crust.
You Aren't Letting the Dough Rest
In an ideal world, you would make your pie dough way before you're going to bake it to allow it to chill and rest before rolling it out. We don't live in an ideal world, but you should still allow your dough to chill for at least 15 to 30 minutes before you roll it out. It will chill the dough again, ensuring that manipulating it into shape won't get it too warm, and allow the liquid you added to the flour and butter to become more evenly distributed. You can freeze dough and then allow it to warm in the refigerator before you use it, or keep it in the refrigerator for up to three or four days before you use it. After four days, the dough will start to oxidize and get an unattractive color.
Your Dough Is Sticking When You Roll It Out
So your dough is nice and chilled and rested, but when you roll it out on the counter you find that it sticks and is hard to transfer to the pie plate without tearing. There are several ways to make sure that doesn't happen. The first is making sure that the rolling pin, the dough, and whatever surface you're rolling out the dough on have a liberal sprinkling of flour. The flour will stop it from sticking to itself. The caveat here is that you want to make sure to brush away excess flour from the crust before you fit it in your pie plate or it'll burn, and if you add way too much flour on the surface of the dough, and the dough will dry out and crack. You can also use a pie bag, a handy invention for those of us lacking counter space. My favorite method by far is putting the dough between two generously sized pieces of plastic wrap and rolling it out between them. No mess, no fuss, no fancy equipment required.
You're Stretching Your Dough In the Pie Plate
When you fit the dough into your pie pan of choice, a common mistake is to stretch the dough and tuck it into the edges of the pan. That poses a problem when you bake it, because the dough will spring back. The better method is to drape the dough over the plate, then pick up the edge to tuck them into the edges of the pan.
Once that part's done, you can either blind bake the crust or fill it with whatever filling your heart desires.