All-butter pie dough bakes up into a flaky, tender dream. And nothing beats the rich flavor of a buttery pie crust. Why, then, do so many pie dough recipes call for shortening instead of butter?
It’s because in conventional dough recipes, shortening is easier to work with. It has a higher melting point than butter and remains pliable when cold, so it rolls out more readily than cold butter does. Conventional all-butter dough is less supple and tends to crack and tear. However, our innovative “waterproofing” technique creates foolproof all-butter pie dough that’s extremely easy to roll out and encircles pie filling in layers of golden, supertender flakiness. This dough is our go-to recommendation for all home bakers regardless of skill level.
Traditional pie doughs involve combining flour and other dry ingredients, and then cutting in pieces of cold butter just until pea-size nuggets form. Then you add ice water—the amount called for is typically alarmingly vague and variable—and mix until the dough comes together in a crumbly mass with visible bits of butter throughout. Too little water and the dough will be impossible to roll out and the baked crust will fall apart; too much water and the dough will roll out easily, but it may shrink while baking and will certainly be tough.
With our technique, you process cubed butter with some of the flour all the way to a homogenous paste. The fat coats all these flour particles, “waterproofing” them. Break that paste mixture into chunks, pulse the chunks with the remainder of the flour to create smaller pieces, and add grated butter. Then sprinkle on ice water and, thanks to the waterproofing step, the water is absorbed only by the second portion of flour.
Our waterproofing technique allows for gluten development (which provides structure), but it keeps it in check by limiting the ability of the flour proteins to hydrate too much and thus form a too-strong gluten network (which would lead to a tough crust). The grated butter enriches the dough without affecting gluten development; the small pieces disperse throughout the dough and melt in the oven as the pie bakes, leaving small voids. As moisture in the dough turns to steam, that steam expands the voids to create impressively flaky layers.
1 Grate 4 tablespoons butter on large holes of box grater and place in freezer. Cut remaining 16 tablespoons butter into ½-inch cubes.
2 Pulse portion of flour with other dry ingredients in food processor; add cubed butter and process to homogeneous paste.
3 Break paste into chunks and redistribute in bowl. Add remaining flour and pulse into 1-inch or smaller pieces.
4 Transfer to medium bowl, add grated butter, and toss with forks until butter pieces are separated and coated with flour.
5 Drizzle half of ice water over mixture. Toss with rubber spatula until evenly moistened. Drizzle remaining ice water over mixture and toss. Press dough with spatula until dough sticks together.
6 Divide dough in half and transfer to plastic wrap. Draw edges of plastic over dough and press firmly on sides and top to form compact, fissure-free mass. Wrap in plastic and form into 5-inch disk. Chill.