Perfect Piecrust Primer

If you have problems with sticky or cracked dough, it may in part be because of a few things happening while mixing the ingredients and during rolling. Here are few tips that will give you perfect piecrusts every time.

Think Cold: Keep everything connected with pie dough well chilled. Dough becomes sticky when it is too warm. The tendency is to throw more flour on the countertop or to add more flour to the dough, which always results in a tough crust and problems with rolling it out.

The Ingredients: Shortening (called butter here), a key ingredient, acts as a spacer between the gluten strands in the flour and will produce a flaky crust only if it has not melted before you put it in a hot oven.

1. For very flaky pastry, chill the fat 15 to 20 minutes in the freezer before mixing. Make sure the water you use is ice-cold; some people even freeze the flour for 15 to 20 minutes as well. Cut your well-chilled butter into small pieces and quickly distribute it through the flour and dry ingredients. Use a fork to toss the flour mixture while adding the MINIMUM of cold water. Work quickly or the shortening will become soft and sticky, which will result in a flavorless tough crust.

2. After mixing and before forming into a disk shape, the perfect piecrust dough pieces should look crumbly and dry -- you may not have added all of the water; it's okay. A good test to see whether your dough is ready to be formed into a disk is to pinch a few pieces together and see if they stick together without dry cracks.

If your dough is too sticky, because the fat has warmed too much, place it back in the freezer for 15 to 20 minutes, and then resume. If it is still sticky, add more flour a little bit at a time and work it quickly into the dough pieces. Do the pinch test. Form a disc shape as a last step.

If your dough is too dry, the pieces will not stick together and it will crack during rolling. Sprinkle drops of cold ice water on the dry, shaggy crust ingredients and mix quickly again. Redo the test. Then form a disc (not a ball).

Wrap the dough in waxed paper; plastic wrap makes the outside of the dough sticky.

Remember, a perfect piecrust dough looks crumbly, and the pieces stick together when pressed between your fingertips. If the dough is too dry and formed into a ball or disk too early, it will crack during rolling. If you have added too much water or it has not chilled sufficiently, it will be sticky when you are trying to roll it out.

3. When preparing the dough before rolling, make sure it has properly chilled in the coldest part of the refrigerator (the center of a shelf) for 1 to 24 hours, or else the dough will become sticky when you roll it out. Remove the dough for 10-20 minutes before rolling; do not let it get too warm. When the dough is too cold, it will crack and break up during rolling. Let it rest a few minutes to warm up, patch it and resume rolling.

Rolling: Flatten the well-chilled disk by beating it with a rolling pin on a lightly floured board. Always roll from the center out away from you to the opposite edge. Stop the rolling pin as it nears the edges. Roll again towards the center. Move the dough away from you, and sparingly dust the spot with flour. Turn the dough about 30 degrees and roll again. Repeat until you get the right size and thickness. Or roll the flattened disk between two pieces of waxed paper.

Looking for pie recipes? Browse our Recipe Finder.

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