By Kate Davies
Pie evokes some strong feelings for many of us. Whether it conjures memories of summer fruit, christmas dinners, or childhood happiness, pie can pack a lot of emotional punch. When a gorgeous pie comes to the table, everyone is anxious for that first bite. How often have you taken that bite, only to be disappointed by soggy or tough crust? Too often, this is the weak link. A dull, chewy crust can be a frustrating distraction, especially when your recipe turned out perfectly last time! There are some variables that are typically to blame, and these are easy to minimize with a few good habits.
Be consistent with your ingredients. Always use the same type of flour, butter, and/or shortening. All-purpose white flour has the proper amount of protein, and it is the default flour for most recipes. Unsalted butter can vary in water content, so find a brand you like and stick with it (Plugra works very well). If you use it, vegetable shortening can vary in consistency; some all-natural brands seem more solid at room temperature than mainstream supermarket brands. I prefer organic shortening for this reason. If you can find a source of high-quality lard, by all means tell me about it, and then use it to make a killer crust.
Keep your measurements consistent. Measure flour by weight whenever possible (you can find a good digital scale on Amazon for less than $20/£15). In baking, measuring your ingredients by weight yields more precise measurements, and thus more consistent results. It also allows you to access a wider range of recipes, as many countries use weight as the primary measuring tool. Use a sharp knife to cut your butter into same-size pieces, preferably the size of a pencil eraser (a bit bigger is ok, but consistency is what you want). If you use shortening (as I do), try to break it into pieces with your fingers, and immediately toss the pieces in flour.
Finally (and this is key!): KEEP EVERYTHING COLD! I scale my flour into my metal mixing bowl, add my butter/shortening, and throw the whole thing in the fridge while I get everything else ready. Whether you use butter, shortening, or lard, you want to create small pockets of fat that are coated in flour. If your fat melts, you lose this crucial component. Keeping everything cold allows you to maintain these layers of fat surrounded by flour, and when you bake the dough those layers turn into the flaky crust you so desire. You may have heard that vodka or brandy can make a superior crust, but I use water and save the alcohol for cocktail time.
As I mix my dough, I look for the ingredients to form a ‘shaggy mass’. You’ll know it when you see it; the mass of dough has just come together, but with dry bits here and there that make the dough look like a giant half-mixed mess. Fear not! As you work your dough, it continues to mix. Over-mixing your dough is a common cause of toughness.
Now it’s time to fold your dough. By folding your dough like a letter (called a three-fold), you give those bits of fat a few extra layers to kick things off. Shape your shaggy mass into a rough rectangle about 6″ x 8″. Using a spatula or bowl scraper, coax the dough into a three-fold. Roll the folded dough back into a rectangle of the same dimensions. Rotate your dough 90°, then repeat.
By your second round of folding and rolling, your dough should hold together well, but still with some visible chunks of butter. While it rests, the dough will lose some of its crumbly texture as the flour absorbs more moisture.
Wrap and chill your dough for at least 1 hour before rolling it out. Until your pie goes into the oven, continue to keep the dough cool enough to avoid melting those buttery layers. Bake your shell according to your pie recipe, and enjoy!
Flaky Pie CrustPrint Recipe
- 1.5lb/680g All-Purpose White Flour
- .5lb/227g butter
- .5lb/227g vegetable shortening
- 8 oz/236ml ice water
- 1/2 tsp salt
Scale (weigh) flour into a metal mixing bowl
Cut butter and/or shortening into even-sized pieces
Toss the butter/shortening to coat with with flour
Set aside to chill for at least 15 minutes
While mixing on medium low speed, add the ice water
Mix until the dough just comes together as a shaggy mass
Form a 6x8 rectangle
Roll to form a 6x8 rectangle
Wrap, chill, rest for at least an hour
Make some pie!