Pie Dough


If I have one image of my mom in the kitchen when I was growing up, it is of her sprinkling the countertop with flour, apron on, with a rolling pin at-the-ready, preparing to turn a ball of dough into a pie crust. Many years later, when I would see the iconic image of LeBron James throwing chalk up in the air in a clap of dust at the start of his basketball games, I would imagine my mom on a poster on the side of an arena, tossing flour from the bag into the air as a pre-game ritual before her majestic pie dough rolling would begin.

My own pie dough making routine is much less dramatic, and it has taken a long time for my performance to be ready for center court. Seeing my mom make so many balls of pie dough (I believe she made at least one a day for 20 years or more), it’s hard to believe that I had to work so hard to develop my own pie dough recipe.

When I first began making pies and I asked her for the recipe, it was very vague. I know she used Crisco, because I always remember seeing the large tub (the largest one that was available at the store) on the counter top. I know she used a hand held pastry blender. I know she would keep a glass of water nearby. This pie dough recipe, however, was more like an extension of her being than it was a recipe. It had more to do with movement, texture, timing and visual appearance than an ingredient list.

I was on my own. The first thing I changed was to substitute butter for vegetable shortening. There may be health reasons to do so, but my reason was because I always had butter in the refrigerator. The next thing I changed was to learn to make the dough in the food processor. There may be efficiency reasons to do so, but my reason was that I didn’t have a pastry blender.

When I set out to make the dough, for a long time it didn’t work. I tried to cut back on fat and it usually turned out like a big cracker. Now I use as much butter as I need (but I make up for it by eating a smaller piece of pie!) I often couldn’t get the consistency correct. Sometimes it was too soft and didn’t roll out properly. Many bakers told me it that was because I wasn’t using ice water in the recipe. My final adjustment was to chill the pie dough in the freezer for 20 minutes before rolling it out.

This isn’t a sentimental recipe that’s been passed down for generations. It makes a darn good pie dough, though. And, it’s passing down something even better than the actual pie dough recipe—the memory of a mom, at the counter, flouring a surface, rolling out dough, and loving a family with warm apple pies.

makes one 9-inch pie crust

1 cup flour

½ teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons cold butter

ice water

Combine all ingredients, except ice water, in a food processer and pulse into crumb. Add ice water a teaspoon at a time and continue to pulse until dough forms into one ball. Cover with plastic wrap and put in freezer for 20 minutes before rolling out and using with your favorite pie filling recipe.

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