Flaky, tender pie crust: two quick tips

Who makes perfectly flaky, tender 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?

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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.

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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.

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Divide the dough in half.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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…it makes a dynamite pie.

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

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…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 grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

  1. Brooke Witham

    What if you add the water at the same time as the flour and butter, and then mix it?
    Is that going to result in bad crust?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Brooke, this approach will result in a tough crust. You want to add the butter to the dry flour first because that helps coat the flour and prevents gluten from forming when the water is added. This is the best way to achieve a tender, delicate crust. Kye@KAF

  2. aja

    ok im gonna try this. the crazy thing is that i used to make really good pie crusts and i just seem to have lost my pie crust mojo. i am vegan so i also used earth balance instead of butter and no shortening so i need to reconsider my fats. thanks for the tips!

    Reply
  3. Julie

    I just tried this method… it was messy. After resting in the refrigerator, the end product was still to dry to roll, the sides cracked and I had to make a patchwork fill. The second dough I just threw out. I will go back to using tried and true, mixing in the bowl, measuring and eyeballing results. TERRIBLE!!!!

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid

      Julie, it sounds like you just didn’t have enough water to start with. Trust your hands- if the dough doesn’t feel damp when you have your hands in it, it needs more water. Susan

  4. Roger White

    If my wife wants a pie I am called to do the crust. I also use butter or a combination of butter and lard. I never use water though. I always have used straight vodka as the alcohol helps to keep the gluten from forming. I also put the flour and butter in to the freezer to chill them and use a cheese grater for the butter. Divide the dough in two parts, wrap in saran wrap and refrigerate over night

    Reply
  5. Amy

    The recipe is great except that no where does it actually tell you to use a spray bottle to add water to the dough. With both additions of water the action is to toss it in. Since you would be adding an additional 2 -6 tablespoons of water, how much is each spray? Guess it depends on your spray bottle. The blog post does but that is not what I am looking at when actually making the recipe, nor with flour hands, would I be tapping back and forth between pages for complete directions.

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid

      Amy, add just enough water to the point where the dough just stays together when pressed between your hands. For more detailed instructions, all in one place, check out this post. Susan

  6. Karen

    I can’t wait to try this recipe and methods. I’m never happy with my piecrusts. I would love to be able to make a flaky delicious pie crust for thanksgiving this year. How much lard should I add if I want to try that and do I decrease the shortening or butter? Thanks!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Use the same amount of lard to butter or shortening, Karen. If one were to make a huge batch such as in a commercial setting, adjustments to the recipe would be needed. Happy pie making! Elisabeth@KAF

  7. Maureen Anderson

    Wow!!! Im glad to find this blog! I’ve been making oil crusts for a long time so I don’t struggle with how much water to add. I like them but I’ve been told they are not flaky. Have you tried an oil crust and how did you like it?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Oil crusts are a great, short pie crust. However, they have more of a crumbly texture in comparison to the flakes from pies made from solid fat. Both are fine, just different. Jon@KAF

  8. Gina Haines

    I have been making pie crusts for over 30 years. And you nailed it in your first paragraph. Honed, lost and rediscovered. I always used lard for my crust, back when you could get good lard in the grocery store. Over the years, they started adding a lot of water and the trouble began. A couple years ago, my nephew, found a local meat market that renders their own. Even that is not consistent. In the last year, while searching for a more modern recipe, I discovered that a combo of butter and fat, without a doubt, makes the BEST crust! And I don’t have problems with rolling (too wet, too dry, etc.).

    If you haven’t tried this recipe, take my word for it, you will not be disappointed. My family said my pies with this recipe are the best ever! And that is why I make pies. 🙂

    Reply
  9. SONJA HANSEN

    I like the shortening and butter combo but have dairy issues. Is there a good substitute for the butter? Thanks for great lessons.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      You might consider Earth Balance Buttery Sticks for the butter in the recipe – or use a recipe like this blue ribbon recipewhere the crust can be made with either butter or shortening. Happy Baking!Irene@KAF

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