Not that long ago, I wrote on this very blog that I was kind of a wuss when it comes to pie crust. I am proud to say that that’s no longer true. In the months since I discovered Heidi Swanson’s rye pie crust, I’ve made more pies than I think I ever had previously in my life. There are a few recipes that every cook needs in their back pocket, and this pie crust has rapidly become one of mine.
I like this recipe for several reasons. One, the proportions are easy to remember. Two, it’s very forgiving–this is the one pie crust recipe I’ve never screwed up. It’s sturdy enough to roll and cut and move around without fear, but still bakes to a perfect flaky-crumbly texture. Three, it’s delicious in a totally unexpected way. Most pie crusts are all butter and no bite, fatty and bland and forgettable (more or less by design, I suppose). But the rye flour in this crust gives it a mysterious soft tang that cuts right through the richness of the butter. The flavor is incredibly subtle–it just makes whatever’s on top of it sing out more, somehow. And yes, it’s equally at home in sweet and savory pies.
There are a whole lot of ways to combine flour, butter, and water to make pie crust. You could use a food processor, or a pastry cutter, or a couple of forks, or this elaborate butter-smashing dough-folding technique. I really like doing it by hand, crumbling the butter into the dough with my fingertips. It’s meditative, in a way, and I can feel exactly when the butter is broken down enough to start adding liquid. I also like using sparkling water instead of still water to moisten the dough–maybe it’s my imagination, but I think it makes for a lighter and flakier final product. Whichever water you use, though, make sure it’s ice-cold.
Many recipes call for a partially or fully pre-baked crust; I’ve included instructions for both in the recipe below. Pre-baking, or blind baking, requires something heavy and heat-conducting to weigh down the crust. You could buy pie weights, but everyone–including me–will tell you to save your money and use raw rice or dried beans. They’re cheap, and can be re-used thousands of times. Sending them through the oven ruins them for cooking, so buy a few pounds and set them aside for baking only. The first time I pre-baked a crust, I went to the dollar store and bought three one-pound bags of black beans, which now live in a jar next to the sugar and salt. Easy as…well, you know.
Rye Pie Crust (makes one 9-inch pie crust)
Note: If you don’t want to do the pie crust by hand, you can use this food processor technique, which calls for freezing the butter first.
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
Scant 1/3 cup light rye flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup (1 stick/8 tbsp/4 oz) cold unsalted butter, cubed
3 tbsp ice-cold seltzer water (sparkling water), plus more as needed
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together all-purpose flour, rye flour, and salt. Add butter cubes and use a pastry cutter, two forks, or your fingertips to mix the butter into the flour until it’s completely incorporated and crumbly (some lima bean-sized chunks, some pea-sized chunks). Sprinkle 3 tbsp seltzer water evenly over the butter-flour mixture, and use a wooden spoon or flexible spatula to mix it in. Squeeze a handful of the dough in your palm to see if it sticks to itself; if it doesn’t, add more seltzer water, 1 tbsp at a time.
Gather the dough into a ball and knead it in the bowl a few times, just to bring it together. Form the dough into a disc and wrap it in plastic wrap (if you’re doubling this recipe for a double-crust pie, make two discs–one for each crust).
Refrigerate the dough for at least 30 minutes, and up to 2 days, before rolling it out. You can also freeze the dough for up to 2 months, then thaw in the refrigerator before using.
To partially bake (par-bake) the crust: Remove the disc of dough from the plastic, and transfer it to a lightly floured surface. Roll the dough out into a round large enough to fit your chosen pie pan with about 1 inch to spare. Drape the dough over the rolling pin and transfer it to the pan; trim the excess dough and use it to patch any uneven spots, leaving about 3/4 inch of overhang all around. Tuck the overhanging edges under, creating a double-thick rim, then flute the rim decoratively if you like. Prick the crust five or six times with a fork. Place the pie pan in the fridge or freezer for at least 10 minutes, to let the dough relax and prevent it from shrinking when it bakes.
Preheat the oven to 425º F, and place a rack in the middle position. Line the inside of the pie crust with parchment paper or aluminum foil, making sure the paper is large enough to leave an overhang you can grab hold of later on. Fill the pan with pie weights, raw rice, dried beans, or pennies. Place the pan on the middle oven rack, and bake for 15-18 minutes, or until the crust is set and just starting to brown. Remove the pan from the oven and use the overhanging parchment paper to lift the weights out of the crust (they’ll be hot, so be careful). Let the crust cool completely in the pan, then use as directed in your recipe.
To fully pre-bake the crust: Follow the instructions for par-baking above. After removing the pie weights, reduce the oven heat to 375º F and return the crust to the oven. Bake for another 10-12 minutes, or until the crust is golden all over. Remove from the oven and let the crust cool completely in the pan, then use as directed in your recipe.