What makes a great piecrust? In a word: butter—even better, really good butter. Sure, lard or shortening produces a tender, flaky crust, but they can’t compete with butter’s flavor. Creamy, rich European-style butter is especially good. It has a higher fat content (and less water) than most American butters, so it’s tastier and more supple to work with.
The good news is that a butter crust can be just as flaky as one made with lard if you make it the old-fashioned way—by hand, rubbing cold chunks of butter between your fingertips and into the flour. No pastry blender, no mixer, no food processor. This technique allows you to monitor the size of the butter pieces in the flour and creates flakes, rather than lumps, that remain in the dough when you roll it. As the crust bakes, the butter melts, creating steam pockets that leave behind a flaky texture. It’s a classic method and one well worth bringing back.
We take you through this easy technique step by step and then show you how to roll out the dough, transfer it to a pie plate, and blind bake it. From there, it’s a simple matter of choosing the filling. Or maybe not so simple, since the choices range from coffee-toffee pecan, to spiced pumpkin, to pear and dried cherry, and finally cranberry-apple. Delicious indecision.
Make the Dough
Put the flour, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl and stir with a rubber spatula or a fork to combine. Add the butter to the bowl. Rub the cold chunks of butter between your fingertips, smearing the butter into the flour to create small (roughly 1/4-inch) flakes of fat.
Drizzle 3 Tbs. ice water over the flour mixture. Stir with the spatula or fork, adding 1 Tbs. more water if necessary, until the mixture forms a shaggy dough that’s moist enough to hold together when pressed between your fingers.
With well-floured hands, gently gather and press the dough together, and then form it into a disk with smooth edges. Wrap the dough in plastic and chill for at least 1 hour, but preferably 2 to 4 hours, before rolling.