You see that plaid pattern woven onto that pie that’s going to be eaten in less than an hour? That takes about thirty minutes to accomplish. That’s with a stand-up pie dough recipe that won’t flake out on you (no pun intended). I know how long this pattern takes because I was cussing myself out for doing it when I had an entire Thanksgiving meal to cook. Because my family and my husband’s Soldiers actually care about intricate designs in pie dough, right? No. No, they don’t. But I do. So, today, I’m sharing with you everything I know about making a Flaky Pie Dough from scratch.
This. This is all it takes to make an amazingly flaky pie crust. Sure, you can make it fancy with other fats or liquids, but I want my pie to be simple and straightforward. In a word, I want my pie crust like home. My mother never made pies, and since I didn’t know my grandmothers well, I have no idea if they ever did. I do know that when I take a bite of a well-made pie, I shimmy a little. Pie makes me feel comfort, so I don’t need frill. Basic, simple, perfection. That’s all I need and for that, so shortening, butter, flour, water, and salt are all you need for it too.
COLD butter, shortening, flour, water and salt. Cold is king in this recipe. So important, the temperature of your dough is, that I refrigerate any, and every, ingredient that I can. I chill it up until the very last minute. Yes, even my flour gets the cold shoulder. Why? Because a cold dough loses its ever-loving mind when introduced to a hot oven. The water in the fats are zapped with heat, which causes them to evaporate so quickly, they leave pockets of air in the dough. You know what that “air” becomes? Flakes. You know what flakes are? Angel dandruff. They’re holy goodness, is what they are.
Unlike most pie dough recipes, this one uses a blend of flour instead of just all-purpose flour. Yes, there are different types of flour. Each flour in the bakeshop has a specific purpose based on its structure and how much gluten it will, or won’t, develop when it’s manipulated.
All-purpose is a combination of hard and soft wheats. It’s just plain ol’ flour. Since it’s protein content is relatively low compared to the two other, harder flours, it’s perfect for your everyday baking. Cake flour, on the other hand is a softer wheat with the lowest protein of all the flours in use. Because it doesn’t develop that much gluten, it’s what we typically use when making cakes. Fancy that, given the name, huh? After semolina flour, bread flour has the highest protein content of flours in the kitchen. Although I often use it when making pies, I have recently begun to use it solely for heartier pies like chicken pot pie, or savory tarts.
Pastry flour is a mix of cake and all-purpose; it also has a slightly higher protein content as a result. It’s great for danishes and the like, but since it’s not readily available outside of commercial kitchens, I use the next best thing. My own mix of cake and all-purpose. The mix of proteins gives you just the right amount of structure without creating a crust that is tough. Flaky and tender are the goal, remember?
Cold ingredients. The right flours. The proper fats.
All these things are adding up to excellence. Some pie makers swear by using all-butter. I find that theory to be a recipe for disaster- literally. Butter is a fickle creature and does not play well with heat. The pastry will taste amazing, no doubt, but that’s if you can get it out of the oven unscathed. All sorts of mishaps are bound to occur, from scorching due to the butter fat solids being burned, to your crust flopping over into oblivion. Eliminating this threat of pie-heartbreak is accomplished by using a mix of a high-heat fat and a delectably-tasting fat (butter). You can use lard if you want a really flaky crust. I, personally, am not a fan of the taste of a pie made with a lard crust, which is why I stick with shortening.
While we can’t use butter, exclusively, butter is a must. There is no better way to envelop a pie filling than with a buttery crust. Throw out the “butter-flavored” shortening, because that just won’t cut it. Use pure, unsalted butter; nothing else will do. Cut it into a small dice to make incorporating it into the flour easy going.
Now’s when we put those forearms to work. Toss the fats into the flours to get them coated. Cut the fats into the flour by pinching them in between your fingers. You can also use a pastry blender. I, personally, don’t use a pastry blender because I have an aversion to cleaning them. Something about it makes me cringe- don’t ask. It’s weird, I know. Anyway, you’re goal is a coarse, cornmeal-like mixture. Super-big chunks of fat will steam, instead of “poof”, and the “poof” is what we need for those pockets of air. Poof!
This is a bad “poof”. Make sure you keep your flour in the bowl and not on you. I’m so cool.
Keep cutting in your fats until you have a mixture that resembles this. A few chunks larger than this is okay, but for the most part, you want smaller pieces of fat.
Now what we are adding here is ice water that has salt dissolved-ish in it. I use that extremely made up word because the salt will not fully dissolve in ice-cold water, but will become sludgy. This ice cold water keeps the dough from warming up and the fickle butter from melting. It also keeps the gluten strands in check, thereby preventing the dough from becoming overworked and tough.
We gather the dough together until it forms a ball, then knead it gently until it holds together- tie up all the loose ends, so to speak. Messing around with the dough too much gets those gluten strands excited and causes them to become stronger and stronger. Just knead the dough until it holds together without crumbling apart. If you feel the dough is too dry, add a tbsp of ice cold water to it. Don’t add too much, though, as the dough will hydrate as it rests in the fridge. You don’t want it to be too wet when you go to use it.
Now cut the dough into 1/2- 1lb portions using a bench scraper, or a knife.
Form it into a disc, perfection isn’t important, the least amount of handling is. You should see streaks of fat running throughout your disc of dough. It should not feel sticky, but instead smooth and supple. Wrap your disc in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour before using. Alternatively, you can wrap the discs in plastic and place them in zip-top freezer bags to freeze. These pie discs will freeze for up to two months. Just thaw them for 24 hours in the fridge, or an hour on the countertop, when ready to use.
Flakiest Pie Dough Ever!
Yield 4 9" pie crusts
Create the tastiest, flakiest pie crust with my tried and true recipe and tips.
1lb all-purpose flour
9oz cake flour
5 oz shortening
1lb cold unsalted butter (small diced)
2/3 cup ice water
2 tsp kosher salt
- In a pitcher, combine the ice water and the salt. Stir to dissolve the salt. Set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl combine the flours.
- Cut in the fats using your fingers or a pastry cutter.
- Add the water (straining the ice out), and mix to hydrate the flour. Gather the flour together to bind it into a mass.
- Once the dough has formed into a non-sticky ball, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface.
- Knead it gently until it comes together with no dry crumbs.
- Press flat to create a disc and divide it into four equal portions. Form each portion into a flat disc.
- Wrap each disc in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. You can either use immediately after the rest period, or place in a freezer bag and freeze for up to two months.
Try these other flaky recipes!