Recipe: Barb’s Butter Crust

Barb's Butter Crust

Barb’s Butter Crust

This recipe is from my friend Barbara Swell.  I first “met” Barbara when I bought her book The Lost Art of Pie Making Made Easy, a sweet little paperback manual that first summer seven years ago when I was making a pie a day all summer.  It’s filled with recipes and lore.  I quickly understood that this was a woman who loved nothing more than talking to older folks about pie tradition and passing on those traditions.  We ended up meeting in person this year when she invited me to co-teach a pie camp at the John C. Campbell Folk School. Barb’s the real deal.  Her joy is to cook on her wood stove in her off the grid log cabin in Madison County, North Carolina tucked in a holler of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Check out her blog.  Barb’s the most pie centric person I’ve meet besides myself so we quickly became sisters-in-pie.  She hosts a yearly pie contest at her home in Asheville that regularly attracts close to one hundred people.

When we started teaching pie camp we were surprised at how similar our dough recipes turned out to be.  I love hers for the simplicity and directness of the instructions.  She takes half the butter and completely mixes it into the flour so that every grain is covered. That tamps down the pesky gluten and gives you a simultaneous flaky yet tender crust. At least once bake your pie without lacquering the top with an egg wash.  That way you can really see the bubbles and shards created by such a lovely dough.  This would make Barbara crazy, but this is a very good recipe to make in a food processor.  But just to mix in the butter.  Process the first addition of butter until all the flour is coated.  Then pulse in the remaining frozen chunks until it’s the size of small peas.  Then dump the mixture in a bowl and continue by hand according to Barb’s directions below.

Barbara Swell

Barb at her log cabin

Barb’s Butter Crust

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour (350 g., or 12.3 oz.)
1 tsp fine salt
Pinch baking powder
1 cup (8oz/2 sticks) COLD unsalted butter
1/2 cup (4 oz.) ice water
2 tsp lemon juice

This makes two pie crusts.
Mix the dry ingredients.  Cut butter into 1/2-inch cubes and divide into two piles.  Put one pile in the freezer.  Cut the remaining half of the butter into the flour with a pastry cutter or TIPS of your fingers, until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs (for tenderness).  Now fetch the rest of the butter from the freezer and mix it into the flour until it’s the sie of small peas (for flakiness).  Be sure to work fast!  You want your fat to stay cold.  If it melts, your crust won’t be flaky.  Now for the tricky part.  Add the lemon juice into your ice water, and sprinkle the water into your flour, one tablespoon at a time, tossing the mixture with a fork. You want the dough to stick together when squeezed but it will be a bit dry.  Too much water makes a tough crust.  Too little and your dough won’t hold together.  Divide into two balls, flattening them a bit.  Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate for a minimum of 30 minutes or, even better, overnight.  Don’t skip this step!

When you’re ready to roll, put dough onto a barely floured board and let it sit out about 15 minutes until workable, but cold.  Roll it out as thin as you can from the inside out, giving dough a quarter turn with each couple rolls.  You want it to be 1 1/2 inch bigger than the top of your pie pan all the way around.  (Lay your pie pan on you dough upside down and trim the jagged edges of your dough with a knife)  When you place your crust in your pan, be sure not to stretch it to fit.  The dough “remembers” it’s original shape and will shrink itself back down when baked.

Authors Note:  The acid in lemon juice prevents gluten from developing, as does covering each speck of flour with a little fat when the first half of the butter is added.  The 1930s pie Aunts taught me that baking powder gives the crust a little lift, making it more flaky.

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2 thoughts on “Recipe: Barb’s Butter Crust

  1. Thank you SO much for posting this. Barb’s book is my Pie Bible…We moved from NC to Florida, and I haven’t found the cookbooks yet in the boxes. You saved my Thanksgiving, because hers is my go-to crust recipe. 😊

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