The secret to a tender, flaky crust is handling the dough as little as possible.
When you knead bread dough for a long period of time, you are developing the stretchy gluten fibers. This is exactly what you don’t want to do with pie crust. That would result in a tough, bread-like crust.
You can make a great crust by hand using a pastry blender or two knives, or with a food processor. The basic technique is very much the same.
Recipe for a 10” double crust pie:
2 cups all purpose flour
½ cup cold butter PLUS 4 Tablespoons cold solid shortening, cut into small pieces
OR ¾ cup total cold butter, cut into small pieces
1 teaspoon salt
5 Tablespoons ice water
By hand: Place the flour, salt, butter and solid shortening in a medium sized bowl. Using a pastry blender or two table knives, cut the fat into the flour until the mixture resembles very course meal. The little pieces of butter should be about 1/8” across.
Dribble in 5 Tablespoons of ice water and mix quickly using your fingertips. The dough will look like a bowl full of moist crumbs. Turn the dough out on to your counter and firmly press it into a low mound. Using a wide knife or bench scraper, cut the mound in half, pick up one half, place it on top of the other half and press down to reform the flattened mound.
The dough will still look terribly crumbly at this point and will look very unpromising. Don’t worry. Keep repeating the cutting, layering and flattening process until the dough comes together into a solid mass. Since you have not been pulling and stretching the dough, it won’t have developed the tough gluten in the flour, and it will bake up into a delicate, flaky crust.
Cut your lump of pie dough in half and press down on each of the halves to flatten them out slightly. Wrap the two pieces of dough in plastic or waxed paper. Refrigerate them for 10 to 15 minutes. Roll the pie dough out on a generously floured surface, using a floured rolling pin.
Proceed as directed in whatever recipe you are using.
Using a Food Processor: Place the flour, salt, butter and solid shortening in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse 4 or 5times, or until the fat has been cut into pieces about the size of peas.
Pour 5 Tablespoons of ice water down the feed tube. Process just until the dough starts to look damp and clump together. This should only take a few seconds. Don’t over-do it.
You may want to add a tiny bit more water if you think the dough is taking too long to come together.
Turn the dough out on to the counter and proceed as described in the instructions for making pie crust by hand.
You can store your dough in the refrigerator for later use. If you do, just be sure you let it sit at room temperature for a little while to soften before rolling.