How to Make a Tender, Flaky Pie Crust

How to Make a Tender, Flaky Pie Crust

The key to tenderness and flakiness is keeping everything cold, particularly the butter, shortening, or other fats. Cold fat makes steam in the oven, which puffs the layers apart and makes a flaky pastry. If the fat warms up during handling, it will melt and be absorbed by the flour, creating a tough, chewy pie crust.

  • Chill all your equipment in the refrigerator for 30 minutes before using; mixing bowl or food processor bowl and blade, pastry cutter, rolling pin, and pastry board. Avoid working in a hot room or near a hot oven.

  • Use cold butter and minimize handling. Use a metal bench scraper or sharp knife to quickly cut a stick or butter into 1/4" cubes. After chopping the butter, chill it for 20 minutes before cutting it into the flour.

  • If you have warm hands, chill them under cold running water or in a bowl of ice water. Dry thoroughly before making the pastry.

  • If it's taking too long to cut the butter into the flour (especially by hand), refrigerate the mixture for 20 minutes.

  • Mix the dough quickly in a food processor instead of by hand. You're less likely to overwork the dough, warm it, or add water, all of which can make a tough and chewy crust.

  • If you don't have a food processor, use a pastry cutter. This inexpensive kitchen tool works much more efficiently than the last-resort option of using the tines of a fork or 2 table knives. If you prefer to use your fingertips, you'll need to keep them cold and work quickly.

  • While cutting the butter into the flour, constantly keep the butter covered with flour to help avoid mashing the butter. The goal is a coarse mixture in which the flour-coated butter pieces are about the size of small peas. Avoid cutting in the butter too finely.

  • As you add water or other liquid to gather the dough into a ball, work quickly and with a gentle hand. Handle the dough as little as possible - just enough for it to come together. Little gobs of butter in the formed dough are a good sign.

  • Over-handling dough develops excess gluten, a network of protein strands that makes tough pie dough. To help prevent gluten development, add a bit of lemon juice as you gather the dough into a ball.

  • Press the ball of pastry into a flattened disk and chill for 20 minutes. Then, let it soften until it can be gently squeezed (10 minutes or so at room temperature) before rolling it out. This keeps the fat cold and makes the pastry easier to roll.

  • Roll out the pastry on a marble slab, if possible. Marble is always at least 10 degrees cooler than its surroundings.

  • Avoid overworking dough. Flour the work surface just enough to avoid sticking.

  • Roll dough from the center outward rather than back and forth. Turn the dough (or pastry board) clockwise a little each time you roll. Ease up slightly on the rolling pin as you near the edge of the dough to prevent flattening the edges.

  • If the dough feels difficult to roll out, let it rest in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.

  • After placing the pastry in the pie pan, chill it for 20 minutes before filling and baking.

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