A flakey, fluffy pie crust was certainly the sign of mastery in my house growing up. Watching my Mother make pie dough was always such a mystery to me then. It seemed like the less she fiddled with the mixture, the flakier it would become. Her recipe called for ice cold butter, lovingly mixed in pea sized pieces into the flour which did seem to take effort, yet the shaggy dough always ended up looking somehow flawlessly smooth and velvety in no time at all. She called it her "Never Fail Pastry". Never fail my foot! I've failed with that recipe dozens of times!
Well, this is not that dough!
If you have the time and the patience, a more complicated dough can certainly be rewarding but in my busy life, I'd prefer a sure thing. This is my Hot Water Never Fail Pastry. Before your eyes, melted, watery butter that looks like barely anything at all will transform into a flakey dough that will stand up to the heaviest of pie fillings. As I knead the piping hot mixture together on my counter, it's impossible to believe that this dough will work since the halo of melted butter left behind would seem to hint at defeat. Do not give up! This dough will never let you down.
I think the thing I like best, besides this dough's reliability, is it's versatility. If you are using this dough for a sweet pie, you could increase the sugar to a tablespoon or flavour it with some cinnamon with great results. If you'd like to add more dimension to a savoury pie, you could adjust the salt to be a flavoured salt, like a truffle infused salt or fresh herbs which could add to any meat pie or quiche. Either way, this recipe will hold up to the challenge. I've even used this dough for hand-held pies such as a Cornish Pasty or an Aussie Meat Pie. You can rely on this dough to not leave you with a crumbly mess in your lap.
MAKE AHEAD AND FREEZE FOR LATER
This recipe lends itself well to freezing. Portion out the fully chilled dough and wrap tightly in cling film. You could toss it in the freezer just like that, but defrosting a thick, dense dough ball will take awhile. It's must faster to roll the fresh pastry out and line a pie dish first, then wrap and freeze it if you have room in your freezer which will save you a step later. But if space is at a premium, just roll the pastry out to whatever shape your freezer dictates and wrap and freeze that way. Then, when you take it out, it will easily defrost on the counter by just coming up to room temperature in an hour or so. You can then finish rolling it out to the shape you need for your recipe.
Hot Water Never Fail Pastry
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
2/3 cup water
3/4 cup butter
2 1/2 cups flour
Step One: Put the water, butter and salt into a wide saucepan and bring to the boil. Remove from heat.
Step Two: Sift flour into a bowl then add all at once to the still very hot water. Mix together to incorporate the ingredients. Once the mixture has come together, turn it out onto a floured board. This will be hot, but knead as best you can until the dough is smooth and elastic. Do not use this pastry right away. Once the dough is finished, wrap it tightly and leave it to chill in the fridge for at least an hour.