Handmade Buttermilk Pie Crust Tutorial

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

It's funny how one random thought leads to another when you're cooking and a good idea is born. As I was mixing up a batch of pie crust dough and using a newly learned technique for strengthening the dough, I realized how similar the process was to folding biscuit dough. It dawned on me that I had definitely stumbled upon some buttermilk crust recipes during all the research I did over the summer. And just like that, the light bulb went off. Why not just replace the water in my pie crust with buttermilk? So I did exactly that, the only other change being less shortening (buttermilk contributes some of the fat already and tenderizes the dough.) I'm wondering if I can forego the shortening altogether - if anybody tries that please let me know. But as for now, the result? An even flakier and more flavorful pie crust than I could have ever imagined. Seriously guys, this one is it. Just think of everything you love about biscuits and imagine that dough transformed into a pie crust.

Let's just pause and take a moment to pay homage to buttermilk.


Just when I thought homemade pie crust couldn't get any better, along comes buttermilk. I should have known. I really should have known. I can't think of one thing I've baked, fried, marinated or emulsified over the past couple years that hasn't improved with the use of buttermilk. The stuff is magical...liquid gold in my kitchen. It simply doesn't need more of an introduction, so allow me to show you how I made this fantastic pie crust.

Buttermilk Pie Crust

2 c. all-purpose flour
1 c. cake flour, plus more for dusting
1 tsp kosher salt
1 c. frozen salted European style butter
1/4 c. frozen butter-flavored shortening
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1/2 c. cold buttermilk*

Servings: Makes enough dough for 1 double crust or 2 single crust pies; ideal for up to 9½ x 2" pie plates
Prep Time: 15 min, plus 1 hour minimum rest in refrigerator
Cook Time: 0 min
Equipment: Plastic wrap & resealable plastic bags for storage recommended. A dough scraper is pretty helpful for this technique.

*Note: I used the closest thing I could get to real buttermilk, at 5 grams of fat per cup. You should be fine to use "low-fat" buttermilk if that's all you can find. The flavor contributes to the crust, so I don't recommend making a buttermilk substitute with lemon juice and milk in this application.

Below you'll find some recommended cooking tools that I've personally selected. If you follow an affiliate link and go on to purchase that product, I will be paid a small commission (however your cost will always be the same!)

After baking at least a pie a week since writing my original recipe, I've figured out a couple ways to be more efficient! As you'll see below I'm using my baking sheet to contain the mess these days for quick cleanup. Measure your flour using the "scoop and sweep" method and whisk in the salt.

Whisk together the vinegar, egg and buttermilk until smooth.

Use your dough scraper to chop up the frozen butter and shortening over the flour.

Continue chopping the butter and shortening into smaller chunks, about an inch wide or so. As you do this, toss it into the flour so that it's all completely coated.

Once the butter is broken down a bit, you can get in there with your hands. Use the heels of your palms to flatten the butter chunks. I work sections at a time, pushing the flour over with my dough scraper as I flatten. You'll end up with large flakes of butter as seen below. If your butter starts to melt at all, slide everything into the freezer for a couple minutes to firm it back up before proceeding.

Drizzle half the buttermilk mixture over the flour and butter.

Use your dough scraper to toss everything around a bit so that it's evenly moistened. Try to isolate any pockets of flour that are still completely dry.

Drizzle just enough of the buttermilk left to adequately moisten the dough. It should stick together when you pinch it between your fingers, but not be terribly wet or sticky. In my trials, I used all of the buttermilk and not a drop more.

Gather the dough together when it will form a loose ball. It will still be slightly crumbly at this point which is okay. As the dough rests it will become more cohesive, so you've just gotta trust it and let time do its thing.

Wrap the big ball in some saran wrap, and transfer to your freezer for 30 minutes. After resting, return to your work surface.

If you use a big enough piece of plastic it's possible to do this next step completely on the opened plastic wrap - otherwise, just lightly flour your surface. The less flour you introduce to pastry the better, so I always like to find little ways I can to cut back.

Use your rolling pin to flatten out the dough ball. It will still feel very jagged with rough edges, especially since it just came from the freezer. Don't worry.

Using your dough scraper to assist, or by lifting up the plastic, fold the dough onto itself a few times until it's stacked. This is almost exactly what we do with biscuit dough, if you're familiar with my recipe.

Now use your rolling pin to flatten everything out again. The dough will feel a lot smoother this time. You can very lightly dust it with flour if it's a bit sticky.

Fold up the dough again just as you did the first time.

Now flatten it out just a bit until you get a uniform rectangular shape, and slice it in half. You can see all the lovely layers created in the dough, which will contribute to a flaky pastry shell later!

If you want to be precise, you can measure the halves of dough. They'll be about 400 grams each. Depending on what you plan to do with the dough, you might want to split it up a different way. Once your dough is divided, wrap it in plastic and shape into discs. Allow it to rest at least another 30 minutes in the fridge before using. The more time you can give it the better though, so I try to prepare my pie crusts at least a day in advance for best results. The wrapped dough can also be stored in plastic freezer bags and frozen for several weeks. It just needs to be thawed in the fridge the day it's needed.

Once again I'd like to give credit to Chez Pim for inspiration behind the pie dough folding technique!

Rolling Out the Dough

This pie dough rolls out so beautifully if you take the time to condition it using the folding technique above. For years I always wondered how the chefs on tv have pie crust that rolls out so effortlessly - well now I do too!

Set the pie dough out for a minute or two to take off the chill from the fridge. I use my rolling pin to pound it flat while still in the plastic as a head start.

Place the unwrapped dough on a floured surface and flour the dough itself too. Make sure your pie plate is nearby and ready to use.

Use a lightly floured rolling pin to roll from the middle of the dough, outward. Lift the dough up and make a quarter turn, then roll from the center outward again. This will ensure that you're not overworking any areas of the dough.

Keep turning and rolling out the dough from the center until it's about the diameter of your pie plate. At that point it's a bit cumbersome to keep turning so just keep it stationary and roll out the edges until it's about 1/8" thick. To measure that it's big enough for a bottom crust, turn your pie plate upside down over the dough - you want it to be at least a couple inches wider in diameter.

If you're using a deep dish pie plate, you'll have a little less overhang than the standard pie plate shown below.

To transfer the dough easily, fold it in half and then in half again.

Now you can easily lift the dough and transfer it to your pie plate so that the pointed end is in the center.

Unfold the pie crust so that it is draped evenly over the pie plate. Working your way around the pie plate, lift the edge of the dough up slightly with one hand while using your other hand to press down on the dough inside the pie plate. You want to be sure that it's all firmly pressed against the bottom and sides of the pie plate and not leaving any big pockets of air. As you get more experience working with pie crust, you'll learn to do this all very quickly and without much thought, but in the meantime if your dough warms up just pop the whole thing in the fridge for a couple minutes to firm it up again.

As you can see there is some considerable overhang because I'm using a standard pie plate here. If you're rolling out 2 standard crusts with my recipe, there's actually enough dough left to also roll out a mini (5") pie crust as well. Just throwing that out there, I try not to waste anything so I like to get that 3rd little pie in when I can and give it to somebody as a gift (or use it to test a new recipe!) Otherwise, you can use the excess dough to add some decorative touches to your pies - or just sprinkle some cinnamon sugar on the scraps and bake it for a snack!

Use kitchen shears to trim any overhang in excess of an inch or two.

Tuck the edges of the pie crust under itself. If you're rolling out a top crust, you'll likely need to stop here so follow the instructions for the recipe you intend to use.

If you're using a single pie crust, finish with the decorative crimping of your choice. It does puff up considerably when it bakes so don't get too fancy with intricate details. Again, if the dough softens up on you just pop it into the fridge for a few minutes before continuing.

Once you're done forming the crust edges, freeze the pie plate for 30 minutes or until the dough is frozen solid, and then proceed with your recipe.

I really hope y'all enjoy this one. I'm excited to put it to use. So far I've made a pot pie and several dessert pies with great success!

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