Flaky, tender pie crust: two quick tips

IMG_6831

Who makes perfectly tender, flaky pie crust, time after time after time?

OK, don’t all raise your hands at once!

Making wonderful pie crust is one of those skills learned, honed, practiced, lost, and rediscovered over a lifetime. If you’re one of the lucky bakers who has the process down pat, congratulations – and bear with the rest of us, who are still on the path to enlightenment.

After over three decades of pie baking, I still occasionally produce a flop: a crust that’s hard as concrete, solid as sheet rock, and not at all worthy of its filling. But there are two things that, when I remember to do them, produce a reliably excellent crust.

OK, are you ready? Here goes.

1) I use this recipe: Classic Double Pie Crust.

And what’s so special about this particular recipe?

•Its combination of two fats – butter and shortening. Shortening gives the crust structure, keeping those pretty crimps in shape and preventing the crust from sagging. And butter adds its signature flavor. Both fats contribute to flakiness.

•Its amount of flour – enough to roll out two generous crusts, crusts that’ll fill your 9” pan without having to be stretched, which is the root of all kinds of evil – did you know stretching is the chief reason crust shrinks as it bakes?

•Its amount of water. Read: not much. Water is the enemy of flakiness; the less water in your crust, the better.

2) Water is added sparingly, using a spray bottle.

Well, don’t you just kinda stir it in?

Yes, but simply adding water to your bowl of flour and fat encourages you to add too much. The dough won’t come together, so what do you do? Add another couple of tablespoons of water.

In my ongoing experience, if you add enough water for the dough to be lovely and silky and pliable – you’ve added too much.

So what’s the solution?

IMG_6259

A spray bottle.

Once your flour and fats are combined, and you’ve added enough water that large clumps have started to form – but the dough isn’t holding together yet – dump everything out onto a sheet of parchment or waxed paper.

pie2

Spray the crumbly dough with a light mist of water, paying special attention to any dry/floury spots.

Using the paper, fold the dough over on itself a couple of times to make a rough rectangle. Fold the ends into the center, too, to make a fatter rectangle.

IMG_6262

Divide the dough in half.

pie3

Shape each rough square into a disk. The dough will still feel dry; little pieces will keep flaking off. Just gather them up and gently squeeze them back into the mass.

Wrap your dough disks in the paper or in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

pie4

During this step, the gluten in the flour will relax; the water will redistribute itself; and the fats will harden.

The result?

The relaxed gluten will allow you to roll the crust without it shrinking back and fighting you. The dough that seemed so dry just 30 minutes before will feel much smoother. And the hardened fats will work with the flour to form a flaky crust.

IMG_6122

Now, is this not a thing of beauty and a joy forever?

Not only is the crust a pleasure to roll (no tearing or falling apart); and large enough to cover the pan, even with a nice, tall crimp…

IMG_7824

…it makes a dynamite pie.

Now, this picture will never appear on the cover of Saveur

IMG_1539

…but look at that texture!

Now THAT’S a tender, flaky pie crust.

Go thou, my children, and do likewise.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel was born in Wisconsin, grew up in New England, and graduated from Brown University. She was a journalist in Massachusetts and Maine before joining the King Arthur Flour Company in 1990, where she's been ever since. Author or co-author of three King Arthur ...

comments

  1. Dianemw

    Wow! PJ, you have inspired me to try a crust one more time! I avoid making pie because my crusts are awful. I’m one of those who keeps adding a little more water to hold the dough together. Could never figure out why something with so few ingredients could be so hard to make!! Your blogs (and King Arthur products) are the BEST!! Thanks!!!!

    Reply
  2. Bridgid

    PJ, thank you! Instead of making pie crust, I have been making “tart crust” for the past few years. Easy. Simple. Delicious. And every once in a while, concrete. Now I know why! And it makes perfect sense. I am willing to try your recipe. I love the leaf cutouts on the pie…absolutely beautiful. But it is the last picture that got me drooling. I want a piece of that NOW! Is it a variation of pecan pie? What kind of pie is it, and can we please please please have the recipe? Thank you in advance.

    Reply
  3. Peggy Semmler

    Thanks for the great picture tutorial! I love your blog because you always show how things should look as you work through the recipe. I make my pie crust the same way you do and it always comes out great. The only difference is that instead of using shortening (I don’t want to use hydrogenated fats and reformulated Crisco doesn’t come out the same as it used to anyway) I use rendered leaf lard with the butter. I could never get all butter crusts to come out right and the Spectrum non hydrogenated shortening didn’t work out all that great for me either. After I found the fats information KAF has here online and found out that rendered leaf lard has healthier fats than butter, I had to try it and it works great.

    Reply
    1. MaryJane Robbins

      Thanks for sharing your experiences Peggy. I too use lard in my crusts and in my biscuits. I use equal parts shortening, lard and butter. That reminds me, it’s shortcake season!! ~ MJ

  4. Gloria

    I love baking but pie crust has traditionally been my nemesis. It always seems so dry and crumbly and when I try to roll it out it falls apart. This post is making me want to try again. All those pictures are very reassuring! The only thing is I wish there were more pictures of the post-chill rolling-and-moving process. In the past, if I get so far as chilling the dough, when I take it out of the fridge again it’s as hard as a rock; rolling it out makes it crack and break into pieces. If I let it rest on the counter for a few minutes, by the time I’ve rolled it out it’s so soft that it usually breaks when transferring it to my pie pan!

    Any tips to make rolling and transferring pie dough easier? I’ve tried the wrap-it-around-the-rolling-pin trick, and it usually cracks and falls.
    Hi, Gloria. If you want to work with the dough right out of the frige, you can put it on a floured surface (flour the top, as well).
    I often roll pie dough on a piece of floured parchment, flour the top, and put a food storage bag (heavier plastic) that’s been slit down the side and had the bottom seam cut off over it. Lightly tap the dough with your rolling pin. You’ll see it begin to flatten out and expand, becoming more pliable and ready to roll.
    Remove the plastic and dust the dough with a little more flour if you need to; the dough should slide around between the parchment and the plastic.
    Roll between the two, from the center out, until the dough is big enough to fit in your pan. To transfer to your pie plate, just peel off the plastic, pick up the dough with the parchment underneath it, and flip it over into the pan. Susan

    Reply
  5. cwcdesign

    I think even I could handle this pie crust. I’m also checking to see if my posting abilities have returned.

    Reply
  6. Mia

    I’ve never heard the spray bottle idea. I will definitely give this recipe a try! I am definitely one of those who used to be a great (well, very good) pie crust maker and now I really struggle. I’m not sure if its the humidity in my newly adopted midwestern “hometown” or the fact that I can’t find my old recipe, but I am definitely keen to try this!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Well hopefully we’ll have you back on track with this recipe in no time! Let our Baker’s Hotline know if you need any help along the way (1-855-371-2253). Happy Baking! Jocelyn@KAF

  7. BETH

    I HAD NO IDEA THERE WAS SO MUCH DIFFERENCE IN FLOURS !! DO REMEMBER MY MAMA SAYING FLOURS ARE SO DIFFERENT NOW I KNOW WHAT SHE MEANT. AREA WHERE ONE LIVES MAKES A DIFFERENT AND WHEN AND WHERE THE FLOUR WAS MILLED. I ALSO HAVE STOPPED TRYING TO MAKE PIE DOUGH WHICH I MADE FOR 50 YRS.USING REG LARD –BEST PIE CRUSTS EVER ! WHERE DOES ONE PURCHASE THE RENDERED LEAF LARD? THANKS WILL SURE TRY USING YOUR METHOD .

    Reply
  8. Claire Gawinowicz

    I too gave up on pies – my crust was terrible. I will try the spray bottle method. And interestingly, I just read an article that said using half vodka and half water in a pie crust will make it flaky. Something about the vodka that does the trick. The alcohol cooks out when you bake the pie. That’s a new one!

    Reply
    1. MaryJane Robbins

      I’m glad you aren’t giving up Claire. We’re here if you need us, just call out! ~ MJ

    2. CHERYL AMODEO

      I use the vodka method all the time…it really works well. Not to brag, but I always get the best compliments. Some times I don’t get the right ratio of thickner to berries, but no one complains cause the crust is sooo good.

  9. Jillybean

    Love love love your recipes. You remind me of my Gramma. She could make an old boot taste good. I will try your pie crust, and hope for the best. I will post if it turns out. I’m better in the garden than the kitchen. :))

    Reply
  10. Mary Grabowski

    I have used oil to make my crust for over 50 years. It does work well most of the time but I wonder if I put it in the refrigerator, as you do for your crust will it improve the texture? I use the oil crust recipe that is in an old Betty Crocker cook book I use this recipe for health reasons.

    Reply
    1. MaryJane Robbins

      Hi Mary,
      I believe oil crusts aren’t really supposed to be put in the fridge, but more of a Make and Bake type. Anyone else have experience with this? ~ MJ

  11. Melanie

    Have been using shortening and milk for years and have had flaky pie crusts without chilling. It is an old world trick that was given to me. Try it and you will also like it.

    Reply
  12. Paula Benshoff

    Here’s another method for flaky crusts: Leave the butter out when you make the dough. Let the butter soften at room temperature. Roll out the dough and spread the butter over top. Fold the dough into half, then quarters until you have a 3-4″ square of dough. Chill it in the fridge. Then roll it out and bake. You will get a flaky crust that is a cross between pie dough and french pastry.

    Reply
  13. Charles Moore

    Another tip, courtesy of Christopher Kimball of America’s Home Kitchen is to use cold vodka in place of water. I have found it to work beautifully.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Charles, I don’t notice any difference in flakiness or tenderness using vodka, but it was noticeably easier to roll out – so if rolling is an issue, vodka is a good choice. Thanks for the suggestion – PJH

  14. Rae

    I have been using the pie crust recipe KA suggest to make a galette. I believe it is called a “rustic pie.” The crust is flaky and excellent. I think the “secret ingredient” is buttermilk powder which I add to 1 1/4 cup KA flour, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 cup cold butter and 1/4 cup vegetable shortening. To this I add about 3 TBS ice water and form the crust. It works every time and I can fool myself that I am reducing the caloric content by not having a top crust. I fill the galette with peaches when in season or apples when not along with some sugar, instant clear jel and some cinnamon or nutmeg. I have not used this crust recipe to make a regular pie, but I don’t see why it would not work. i love all of KA recipes and print them out on a regular basis.

    Reply
  15. Marilyn Keagle

    I had a very successful recipe that I have used once I decided that it was possible to do pies (25 yr old)
    1 crust: 1C flour, 1/2 t salt, 1/3 C + 1T crisco, 3 T COLD water (from ice in water) frigerate 30 min. (double for 2 crust)
    Tried Martha’s butter flop
    Cook’s magazine first suggested the 50/50 butter/ crisco though I haven’t tried it now that it has been suggested here I look forward to trying it. I live in CO most of the time so my kitchen is on the cool side, but now we have a winter home in FL and the heat and humidity makes it a whole different ball game. My biggest problem has always been transfering it from the counter to the pie plate. Once you have a successful pie, you feel good too, as does the family.

    Reply
  16. Nelson

    My brother recommended I would possibly like this web site. He was entirely right. This post truly made my day. You can not consider simply how a lot time I had spent for this info! Thanks!

    Reply

Post a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *