A great pie crust is all about technique. In this context, technique does not only mean how you handle the materials, but also how you prepare those ingredients before you use them. Pie crusts need very cold water and very cold fat. You can use either shortening or butter, but I recommend not using margarine. You need a higher amount of fat content to make the layers of the crust rise.
Before you think about actually preparing the crust, you need to prepare your ingredients. Make sure that your butter is very cold, and that you have ice-water ready. You will also need high quality flour and clean hands. You will need a pinch or two of salt, as well as kitchen tools such as measuring cups (both for solids and for liquids).
Assemble the necessary ingredients:
1 cup cold butter, cut into 1″ cubes or smaller
1 cup granulated white sugar
2 1/2 cups white flour, unbleached
a pinch of salt
Keep your measuring cups on hand, especially since you will be adding the cold water gradually. Remember, making anything that involves flour and baking will depend on your elevation as well as the humidity and ambient temperature. That is why not all recipes will work for everyone.
Make sure that all of your ingredients are very cold. You can prepare all of your ingredients the day before and leave them in the fridge, or you can quick cool everything by putting it all in the freezer for a half hour.
First, have your chopping block on hand. If you have a slab-style countertop (made with granite or marble, or smooth stone), you can knead the dough directly on it.
Place the 2 1/2 cups of flour on your surface. Add the sugar and pinch of salt. Start cutting in the butter. “Cutting in” means that you are trying to combine the flour and butter in such a way as to create layers. Your fingers are your best friends, at this point. Just rub the butter and flour together. After 2-3 minutes of mixing the butter and flour, add 1 tablespoon of ice water. Continue rubbing together the ingredients, and after 2-3 minutes, add another tablespoon of ice water. Continue until the mixture starts to come together. The dough ball should not be sticky. Otherwise, you will need to add a bit more flour (but remember, you want to avoid adding anything extra).
Refrigerate the dough again for another half hour, and then it will be ready to use.
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