11/03/2011 05:21 pm ET Updated Aug 31, 2012

How to Make Pie Crust

To make a tender, buttery pie crust, you'll need to start with all-purpose flour (sifted), butter, water, salt, and sugar. Chef Dianne Rossomando of The Culinary Institute of America begins by making a mound of 2 cups of sifted flour on the counter, then adds 8 ounces of cold cubed butter to the center of the mound. She sprinkles 1 teaspoon of both salt and sugar over the butter, then uses a bench cutter (a flat stainless steel blade with a plastic top for gripping) to work the butter into the flour. The goal is to coat the butter in flour, not to incorporate it completely, so look for pea-sized butter lumps to appear after about 5 minutes.

She then makes a well in the center of her mound and adds 1/4 cup of cold water, slowly working it in with the bench cutter and keeping the mass contained with her other hand. (Reserve a tablespoon of the cold water to make sure you're not using too much.) She's extremely gentle with the dough to ensure she doesn't overwork it -- that can result in a tough crust. When the mixture forms a "shaggy mass," she begins to combine the drier areas with the wet areas, working in small batches and pressing the two together with the heel of her hand. When all of the dough contains equal moisture, she gathers it up into a ball, kneads it once or twice, then covers it in plastic wrap. After it chills in the refrigerator for 3 hours, it can be rolled out.

For 60 years, The Culinary Institute of America has been setting the standard for excellence in professional culinary education. In this video series, experienced chefs and educators show you how to tackle essential cooking techniques.

Video Transcript

Hi, I'm Chef Rossomando from the Culinary Institute of America, and I'm going to show you this kitchen basic: how to make pie crust.

Today we're going to make pie crust. The basic ingredients you'll need are all purpose-flour, sifted; butter; water; a little salt; and a little bit of sugar.

I'm going to take about two cups of flour and dump it out on the table, and then I'm going to take eight ounces of cubed cold butter and place it in the center of my flour. You want to make sure your butter is really cold, so that it doesn't start to melt in the mixing process. And I'll sprinkle my salt and sugar into the dry ingredients - we have about a teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of sugar.

The process we're going to do now is called a cut-in butter method. You want to make sure the butter is completely coated in the flour, but not incorporated into the flour itself. I'll use a bench knife at this point, a steel-bladed bench knife. I'm just going to press my knife into the flour-butter mixture, chopping through the mixture. I'm working my way across the surface, making sure it stays contained.

The difference that we're seeing now is that the butter is cut throughout the entire mixture, not in big chunks. You're going to see a pea-sized consistency show up. This process takes about five minutes, to get your butter to the right size - so just take your time, and make sure you're working with cold ingredients.

Now I have the correct consistency we're looking for - the flour is covering the butter in small pieces - so I'll go ahead and add in my water. I've made a small well in the center of my mixture, so that my water is contained and protected and it doesn't spill out over the tabletop. You never want to overhydrate the dough, and the only way you're going to tell if you're overhydrating is when you're mixing it, so we'll reserve maybe a tablespoon of our cold water, and we'll make that adjustment at the very end. Now we're starting to incorporate our water into our mixture. I've used a quarter cup of water, and we're just allowing the water to hydrate the flour. Make sure you're using cold water; if you're working in really warm climates or on a hot summer day, you may need to use ice water. You'll see it starts to combine a little bit, and it starts to kind of clump together or hold its shape. I'm actually going to add in that last little bit of water now, because I still have quite a bit of dry ingredients on my tabletop.

This is the point where you need to be very gentle with your dough because you do not want to overwork it. We'll just bring it together into something that's called a shaggy mass, which is basically what it sounds like: it is a mixture that has some real rough edges to it. I'm going to take some of the wet mixture and some of the dry mixture, and I'm going to start pressing them together. I just use the heel of my hand to incorporate them, so I'm not actually creaming the butter in there, I'm making sure that it's in layers. Usually I'll put the wet mixture on top of the dry mixture and just use the heel of my hand to incorporate that. I do this piece by piece so that I don't overknead in any area, and I don't put too much muscle into it. I'm trying to be really tender and gentle with it so I'll have a beautiful flaky crust. The key to this is: don't handle it too much. Now we've combined all our pie dough together. Any of those last particles can get incorporated, and this is the last little bit of kneading I would do; just press with the heel of your hand and flip over, and that's our pie dough.

You can't actually roll out this dough at this point. It's too soft and too warm. We need to refrigerate it for roughly three hours, and then you can take it out and work with it.

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