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Alton Brown: Easy as Pie

Culinary wizard Alton Brown emphasizes the science of cooking, with tasty results in mind.
Culinary wizard Alton Brown emphasizes the science of cooking, with tasty results in mind.

The holidays bring parties, presents and lots of food. Sometimes even the ardent non-bakers among us are called upon to contribute some of that food -- or feel compelled to try, at least. In the first of a series of baking tips for the holidays, Alton Brown, host of The Food Network show Good Eats and author of I'm Just Here for More Food, shares the secrets behind a perfect pie crust. He talks with NPR's Jennifer Ludden.

Basic Pie Dough Recipe

A pie dough comes together exactly like a biscuit only there is very, very little liquid and no leavening involved. Other than that, the same rules apply. My best advice: handle the dough as little as possible. It's no coincidence that folks who make good biscuits tend to make equally good pie dough.

The Dry Goods:

170g / 6oz (1 ¼ cup) All-purpose flour

3g / <1/8 oz (1/2 teaspoon) Salt

The Fat:

85g / 3oz (6 tablespoons) Unsalted butter

28 g / 1 oz (2 tablespoons) Lard

The Liquid:

57g / 2oz (1/4 cup) Ice water


Cut the butter and lard into small pieces and stash them in the freezer while you amass the rest of the hardware and software.

Take the flour and salt for a spin in your food processor (3 to 4 quick pulses should do the trick).

Add the butter and pulse 8 to 10 times, until the mixture looks uniformly lumpy.

Add the lard and pulse another 5 to 7 times.

Remove the lid of the food processor and spritz the surface of the mixture with just enough H20 to uniformly moisten. Replace the lid and pulse 3 more times.

Wait about 30 seconds, spritz and pulse 3 times again.

Drop the mixture into a large zip-top bag and use the plastic to shape the mix into a disk about 5 inches across. Seal the bag and refrigerate for half an hour.

Place an oven rack in position C and preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

When you retrieve the dough from the chill chest, stash a sheet pan or cookie sheet in the freezer along with 2 matching pie tins.

Now, lay the bag containing the dough disk on the counter, open the bag, reach in, and scoot the dough disk to the middle. Then roll it – that's right, inside the bag – until the disk is roughly 10 to 12 inches across. The best way to do this is to roll from the center straight out, then rotate the bag 10 minutes and repeat. Once you've worked your way all the way around a couple of times, you should have a relatively uniform sheet

Fetch the pan from the freezer and slide the dough, still in the bag, onto it. Aluminum is a mighty fine conductor, so it'll suck any heat out of the dough lickety-split, thus keeping the fats inside in a solid state.

Now is the time for the bag to throw itself on your sword. Use a paring knife to cut the bag down one side, then the other so that you can peel back the part that covers the dough.

Bring hither the chilly pie plates.

Place one of the plates (right side up) on top of the dough. Holding this pan in place, slide your other hand under the baking sheet and flip the whole thing over. Now take the sheet away and you should be looking at a piece of dough lying across an inverted pie pan.

Place the other pan (inverted) on top of the dough and push gently downward. You should now have one pie dough sandwiched between two pie tins that are both facing down. Odds are good there will be at least an inch of pie dough sticking out of this union all the way around. Use your paring knife to trim the ragged edge away, leaving a half inch of dough all the way around, if possible.

Carefully flip the whole thing back over again.

Remove pan number 1 and – behold – a perfect pie dough perfectly positioned in a pie plate.

Note: This isn't nearly as hard to do as it is to read. That's why there are pictures. ( did not reproduce the images from Brown's book.)

Excerpted from 'I'm Just Here for More Food,' 2004. Used by permission of Alton Brown and Stewart, Tabori & Chang.

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