Easy Pie Crust from Scratch (vegan or all-butter)
Making pie crust from scratch can be daunting, but I have a recipe for you (vegan or all-butter) that will take away your apprehension and show you how easy it is to achieve tender, flaky pie crust without the fuss.
I have a confession. Until recently, I was terrible at pie crust. I was too much of a snob to refuse to try anything other than an all-butter crust, but I struggled to roll out the too-stiff dough, and I could never seem to get it to stay cold enough, and I’d always end up with a tough (albeit flavorful) crust. And pies are kind of my favorite thing so it’s been a huge frustration in my life, honestly. I kept resorting to simplified press-in crusts, and preferred making tarts because though they have a lot of the same issues, they have a coarser, sandier resulting texture that can stand up to a little more abuse than a classic American pie crust.
But like I said, that was until recently. I was determined to make hand pies (recipe coming next) with my kids, and I needed a method or recipe that was delicious and tender and flaky and required less skill … for the kids’ sake, of course;) So I researched and studied and came up with what I think is a real winner.
First, let’s talk some simple food science here. Wheat has 2 proteins: glutenin and gliadin. When combined with liquid and get agitated, they bind together to make gluten. Gluten is what gives good bread that strong, held-together texture, which is why we like a wet dough or we knead and knead and knead. But in pie crusts specifically but also cookies and biscuits and cakes, we don’t want sturdy. We want flaky or craggy or fluffy. The challenge here is finding the happy place between not overworking the dough so as to prevent the development of gluten, but creating a dough that’s pliable enough to roll out (i.e. more liquid), and we want pockets of cold fat that steam and puff in the oven to give us those glorious flaky layers. Too much liquid means more chance of gluten development. Too much agitation means more chance of gluten development. See why I hated making pie crust for so long? It seems like an impossible problem to solve.
The magical answer is vinegar. It comes down to the science of it. Vinegar adds extra liquid, but the acid prevents gluten development. Win-win! And you only need a tiny bit so it doesn’t change the flavor. So simple, but so effective, it’s almost heroic. And even pie-failures like myself can confidently bake completely from scratch without having to gnaw through the bottom layer of an otherwise delicious apple pie.
In my recipe I give you the option of coconut oil, butter, or a mixture of both. Coconut oil is amazing. It doesn’t need to be chilled, so it’s easier to work with than butter. But for some reason when you’re done baking and it’s cooled completely, you don’t taste it. Which makes the dough totally versatile. I prefer to use about half and half for richness (because I love butter) and for a more pliable dough, but I’ve tried all coconut oil and all butter, and thanks to our hero vinegar, all of them turned out beautifully. Just make sure you use cold ingredients (except the coconut oil can be at room temperature), and work relatively quickly. If you feel like your dough is getting warm, pop it in the freezer for 5 minutes and get back to work. Even if you are way more pie crust competent than myself and you have your great-grandma’s recipe that you’ve mastered, give this a try.
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 12 tablespoons coconut oil*, butter, or a combination of both, cut into small pieces and chilled
- 1 tablespoon raw apple cider vinegar
- 6~8 tablespoons ice water
- In a medium bowl, combine the flour and salt and whisk to combine. Add the oil and/or butter and cut the fat and flour together** until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs, with some pea-sized pieces remaining.
- Sprinkle vinegar over the mixture, and add 4 tablespoons of the water. Gently mix together until the dough starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl. It should hold together when pressed, but not wet. If it seems too dry, add more water, 1 tablespoon at a time. Do not overmix.
- At this point, if the dough still feels cold, you can roll it out immediately on a floured surface to your desired shape or you can shape it into a disc about 8 inches in diameter, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and place in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
- *the coconut oil doesn't need to be chilled, it just needs to be at a "scoopable" texture. I like to use my 1 tablespoon cookie scoop to measure.
- **you can use a pastry cutter, fork, or 2 butter knives.
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