Friday, February 15, 2013

The Perfect Flaky Pie Crust!

Ok, so your grandmother made the most delicious and perfectly flaky pie crust - but you can never duplicate it for some reason (even with HER recipe)? The secret is in the BUTTER!! Why? Butter has water and when you give butter enough surface area, the water spreads out into thin layers. When it is baked, the water creates steam and STEAM = FLAKES! :)  

  • Most recipes tell you to break up the butter into "pea-sized" pieces. That's the first issue. In order to solve this issue, you need to have the butter in larger pieces. Slice the chilled butter into pats and break them in half. Then press each piece as flat as possible. When you incorporate the butter into the flour, about half of the butter is lightly incorporated and the other half is just lightly tossed together in the mix.
  • After your dough is made and you have chilled it (chilling helps set the dough & helps the proteins relax to make it tender), it will be a little strange to roll it out (because you will be thinking - what am I going to do with these chunks of butter?!). Be gentle when rolling it out and if there are chunks of butter on the very outside edge of the crust, just tuck them in. Be sure to use flour when rolling it out because the butter will tend to stick to your rolling pin or surface. You may also roll it between two sheets of plastic wrap if desired. This is also why chilled dough is important - to help prevent sticking.
  • The third tip is to chill the dough after putting it in the pie tin. This is another critical step!  I actually put mine in the freezer until set. The premise behind this is to set the fat/butter in the crust so that when you do bake it, the butter will sear and hold its shape - not slowly heat, melt and slump down the side of the pie pan.
  • The fourth tip is to sear the crust first in your oven. If a recipe states to bake at 350 degrees F, bump the temperature up to 400 degrees or 425 degrees F for the first few minutes of baking, then turn down the heat to 350 for the remaining time. This literally sets the crust and helps it to hold its shape. Having a cold crust helps with this step so it can hold together for the first few minutes of searing. 
  • There are two types of crust: hearty/flaky and shortbread-based. This recipe is for hearty/flaky pies such as apple pie. Although this type of recipe can be used for a cream pie, those type of pies actually benefit from having a shortbread-style crust (for flavor and texture purposes).
  • This crust will also be crumbly, much like a store-bought pie crust. If you would like a little more heartiness, simply decrease the shortening by 1 Tbsp. You will be absolutely amazed at the difference 1 Tbsp. can make! If you remove that 1 Tbsp., you will have flaky layers instead of flaky crumbles. Depending on which style you prefer, prepare the crust accordingly.
Now that you have all of the right tips, here's one of the recipes that I use all of the time. By the way, this is NOT lo-cal or low fat but will definitely be delicious! :) Happy Baking!! ~Cathy     

The Perfect Flaky Pie Crust
Yeilds 1 double crust (for average to small sized pie pans)

2 1/2 cups All-Purpose Flour, plus more for dusting
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup + 1 Tbsp. shortening
1 1/2 sticks salted butter, chilled
ice water, as needed

Place flour in a large bowl. Add salt and shortening. Fully incorporate the shortening in with your fingers making sure that there are no lumps left.

Slice chilled butter into pats about 1/8"-1/4" wide. Break the pats in half and flatten with your fingers to make them as thin as possible. Add pats to the flour and lightly toss just to coat the butter. Mix in about half of that butter lightly by hand. Try to leave the other half with bigger pieces of butter.

Slowly add ice water (not the ice cubes) to the dough until the mixture starts to come together. This dough will actually appear as though it is ready, when it actually needs more water. About 1/2 cup or so is a good estimate. The dough should not be too sticky but this dough may be slightly sticky.

Once the dough comes together, split the dough in two balls. Form each into the shape of a hamburger patty (and square off the edges by rolling it on the counter like a wheel).  Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 60 minutes. Chilling is another critical step to the success of this recipe.

Once dough is completely chilled, roll one out onto a floured surface (leave the other in the refrigerator). Be sure to use enough flour and you can add flour underneath the dough as you go along. The butter will look like streaks in the dough. Once rolled out, roll over your rolling pin and brush off excess flour with a pastry brush. Lay into a pan sprayed/greased pie tin. Cut edges, leaving about 2" overhang.

Chill bottom pie crust until set. Fill with desired pie ingredients then roll out the other dough patty the same as the first one, brushing off any excess flour before laying over the top of the pie. Cut edges to match bottom crust. Tuck edges under and pinch together to the bottom crust (I use my thumb and index finger on one hand and index finger on my other hand to pinch edges). Cut vent holes in the pie. Be sure to chill the pie again before baking. I actually put mine in the freezer to speed up the process.

When baking the pie according to your pie recipe, bump up the temperature of the pie 25-50 degrees F for the first 10-15 minutes of baking to sear the crust. After searing, turn the temperature back down to the original temperature on the recipe and bake for the remaining amount of time.

Note: If you are using a large pie pan to bake in (such as a 10-inch pan with 2-inch sides), I suggest making 1 1/2 times this recipe so that the crust will be large enough to fill the pan.


  1. Perfection step-by-step tutorial...and precisely the way my mother-in-law has always advised....EXCEPT...She used lard instead of shortening...and swears by it as a key ingredient...thoughts?

    In Europe...I cannot obtain any Crisco variant...although there is a solid white rectangular "thing" called Vegeteline...which I believe to be hydrogenated palm oil...Could white, clarified lard (sold in the same size/format as butter...aka "Saindoux" in instead of your shortening component? Thanks for any enlightenment!

    1. Hi Donna! Thanks for checking out my blog!:) Lard is actually the optimal product to use for texture and flavor, although in the US, a lot of people are scared of the thought of "lard" because it is a saturated fat (so that's why this particular recipe reads Crisco).

      Many years ago it used to be a staple and even still today, my grandmother uses it in her kitchen. Although I am not a huge fan of Crisco, it is about the closest thing that we have to lard that would be considered "mainstream" and accessible here.

      If I had a choice, I would choose lard over Crisco or anything artificially hydrogenated. Anything hydrogenated always poses health concerns when compared to items that come from natural sources. It has air forced into it and makes it turn into a solid (kind of scary when you think about it that way). I would most definitely choose lard over hydrogenated palm oil only due to the fact that lard is natural an unadulterated. Lard will also create the perfect texture.

      Thanks again for your question. Best wishes and happy baking! :)