People tend to get somewhat dogmatic about pie dough. The butter must be very, very cold. The water must be very, very cold. Actually, everything must be very, very cold. Maybe you should use vodka in additional to water. Etc.
I take a more lackadaisical approach. The expression "easy as pie" exists for a reason: pie is not particularly complicated or difficult to make. True, it can be finicky, but troubleshooting becomes second nature with enough experience. The trick, really, is not to get discouraged if you don't get your pie dough right on the first try. Just keep at it. It gets easier, I promise.
Here's my method for making pie dough. I don't obsess about chilling the fat. I use an admittedly unorthodox method for cutting the fat into the flour. I don't add any vodka. It turns out perfectly every single time.
- 8 ounces flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 4 ounces butter, lard, or some combination
- 2 ounces cold water
A note on the ingredients: as you can see, I measure my ingredients by weight. Why? Mostly because I don't have to pull out my measuring cups, which means less dishes to wash. Of course, weight measurements are also more accurate, but I'm mostly moved by laziness. If you don't have a scale, just use 1 1/2 cups flour (8 ounces should be closer to 1.75 cups, but flour tends to get overpacked in volume measurements, so I recommend using a bit less) and 8 tablespoons of fat (if you're using butter, that would be one stick).
Mind the Fat
The primary reason why pie tastes great is that fat makes things taste super good. I'm operating under the assumption that you're using a high quality fat. For a long time, I preferred a 50/50 combination of butter and lard, but these days I find myself reaching for all butter. Lard leads to a flakier crust, but butter tastes better.
Remember how I said that pie tastes good mostly because butter tastes good? It's also true that pie dough made from margarine or shortening won't taste great, because margarine and shortening don't taste great. You may disagree, but when was the last time you spread crisco on a piece of baguette? I'm guessing never. So really, don't use margarine or shortening. You can certainly substitute some of the butter with duck fat, though. If you're concerned about the amount of butter in this pie crust, I suggest giving duck fat a try.
Another note: this butter is cold. Not super crazy cold, just normal "stored in the fridge" cold. I work quickly enough that it doesn't really melt. If I use lard or duck fat, I usually cut that into small pieces and toss it in the freezer for fifteen minutes or so, because that softens much more quickly at apartment temperature.
Instructions for Pie Dough
Start out by measuring 8oz of flour in the bowl of a standing mixer. Yes, I said standing mixer. No, that wasn't a mistake. I always use a mixer with the flat beater, and it always comes out exactly right. Actually, my mixer method always worked better than using a pastry cutter, and I haven't noticed any improvement using a food processor. Plus, the mixer is easier to wash than a food processor, and, as I mentioned earlier, I like to do as few dishes as possible.
Anyway, once your've gotten the flour in the mixer, toss in the salt and mix it up to combine. Then, cut your fat up into little cubes, like so:
Alright, now you're ready to turn your mixer to the lowest possible speed and start adding the fat. Seriously, the lowest possible speed. What you'll do is add the fat one piece at a time.
Like I said, one at a time. Watch your dough like a hawk as you do this: you want the fat to slowly get cut into the flour until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. This is something you need to get a feel for; if you have a pie-making grandmother available, it might help to ask her what it should look like.
Once your fat is fully incorporated, remove the bowl from the mixer. The next step is to add the water, which you really need to do by hand. If you use the mixer, the dough will get overworked, meaning additional gluten formation which leads to a chewy pie crust. Pie crust needs to be flaky, not chewy, so you want to do this carefully.
Form a small well in the flour, then drizzle in 2oz cold water. Using your hands, slowly begin to mix the water with the flour until it comes together. At first, it will seem like you don't have enough water, but trust me, it will come together. You can add a tiny splash of additional water, but be careful: it should not be wet. Form the dough into a disc, wrap it in plastic wrap, and let it chill in the fridge for at least an hour.
Once you're ready to bake, set up your rolling station. I typically use a large cutting board and my favorite wooden rolling pin. I wouldn't necessarily recommend using a wine bottle to roll out pie crust, but I have before and it does work in a pinch. Dust everything with flour to keep the dough from sticking. Roll from the center away from you to the edge, then turn 90 degrees and repeat until the pie crust is the right size.
Once it's done, turn it into something delicious! I used this crust for a lemony asparagus quiche with goat cheese. Yum!