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. 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, dried beans, or pennies. They’re cheap, and can be re-used thousands of times. Sending beans or rice 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)
Adapted slightly from 101 Cookbooks
Update: Since posting this recipe, I’ve figured out that the ingredient list called for too much water. I’ve fixed the mistake below.
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
2 tbsp ice-cold sparkling water, or 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 (approximately the texture of coarse breadcrumbs). Sprinkle 2 tbsp sparkling water 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 sparkling water, 1 tsp 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.