Sept. 16, 2019
Written By: Adriana
Everyone has their own take on a pie crust, and there are so many great ones out there it's not necessary to reinvent the wheel.
Instead, I find it is better to understand every ingredients and how each contributes to a good pie crust. In this post I go through all the different things I looked at while making pies. Lots of them!
Feel free to scroll down to the final recipe based on my observations, as well as some videos showing how to make the pie crust and some recipes to use them in, including my Salted Caramel Apple Pie or Peach Pie using Frozen Peaches.
These are the characteristics I'm looking for:
Now that I've defined what I'm looking for in the perfect crust, I went on to design 'experiments'.
I tested six variables:
I analyzed the effects of each component listed above on its contribution to flakiness and taste. (Side note: I'd say these were experiments with air quotes. Although I used scientific methods to design these experiments, the outcomes were pretty subjective, because in the end, my household was tasting and judging the crusts. But, it's safe to say that we like a crispy, buttery, flaky crust like any other person with a sweet tooth.)
To start off, I wanted a pie crust recipe used one stick (113g, or 1/2 cup) of butter for one dough. (enough to line one 9 inch pie pan or double the recipe for a double crust pie) In general, baking requires so much precision and measuring. I like having these little shortcuts.
The ratio of butter to flour varied between various baking sources. (Ratios are weight-based, e.g., 1.6X flour to butter equals 184 grams of flour to 113 grams of butter.)
Here are some examples:
Each ratio will result in a different texture to the dough, and a different workability.
The goal is to achieve balance. We want to maximize flakiness, but minimize stickiness.
I've found that the sweet spot is a range of 1.25X to 1.5X flour to fat.
Going below this ratio will yield a dough that is crispy due to all the butter, but not have enough flour to build the flakes and structure needed for a pie crust. It is also a stickt mess to work with.
Conversely, going higher than 1.5 will yield a crumbly dough will little flakage, and will border on being chalky, dense, and cracker-like.
Takeaway: Stay within 1.25-1.5X flour to butter. The less flour you use, the more flaky your crust.
Pro-tip: There are two ways to stay in this range.
Some recipes use pastry flour in place of all purpose. Pastry flour can be difficult to find - but is great due to its low protein content.
It's added extra that I incorporate if I have pastry flour on hand and when I really want to get into making a super tender crust.
In my experiments, however, I found that the results were minimal at best.
Takeaway: The increase in flakiness and flavor were negligible, and using all-purpose flour is just fine for most of your pie baking.
Protip: An awesome hack in making your own pastry flour (from The pie and pastry bible) is to use 1/3 cake flour and 2/3 all-purpose flour.
I wanted to play with water amounts because this is such a tricky element in making pie dough. Exact amounts of water are never specified because there are variables in your kitchen uncontrollable, such as temperature and humidity, both of which can affect how 'dry' your dough feels.
How much water to add to dough is often described like this:
"... until you can shape it into a ball";
"...when it feels like damp sand";
"...until it just comes together";
and so on...
I therefore observe the effects on under-watering or over-watering the dough.
The most obvious side effect of water content was in rolling out the dough. If the dough is too dry, it will not roll out evenly, crumble, and crack in places. If the dough is too wet - it will be horrible to work with, sticking to every surface.
So how to know how much to add? First off, I never add my water using the food processor. As many times as I've made doughs, I always want to be able to monitor the dough as it takes in water, and so I always pour out my mixture into a large bowl and stir with a spatula.
Second, I always add the smallest amount first and work my way up to a dough that easily comes together and looks wet. In my experiments, you have a bit of wiggle room and the dough will remain quite flaky. Add enough water until you feel comfortable you can roll it out without it crumbling. If you add too much water, using the method above with extra flour will help you get to a more workable state.
Takeaway: Manually add water to your dough using a bowl and spatula until it errs on the side of being wet. Use the extra flour method above if it is too sticky when rolling.
Some recipes add vinegar to their dough to inhibit gluten formation.
In my experiments, adding vinegar added a bit of improvement. Everyone has vinegar in their cabinet, right?
Takeaway: Doesn't hurt, may help, easy enough to add.
I varied the size of the butter chunks by testing one inch, 3/4 inch, and 1/2 inch.
Generally speaking, we want to see bits of butter in the dough, but not huge blobs. If I learned anything from changing this variable, its that leaving blobs will eventually turn into holes in your dough. What happens is that the butter melts away leaving these ugly holes in your finished crust.
Takeaway: About 1/2 inch chunks are fine; no need to be precise.
Pro-tip: Take a stick of butter. Cut it in half lengthwise. Flip the butter, cut it again in half lengthwise. Then cut it in half width wise, and cut the halves into halves. Easy and done.
The Pie and Pastry Bible has a method that first fully incorporates 1/3 of the butter in the flour by processing for a straight 20 seconds. This creates a very loose flour-butter mixture, which you then pulse the remaining butter into.
My results showed a slight decrease in flakiness. I think also you could run the risk of over-processing the flour-butter mixture, eliminating any chunks of butter that may contribute to overall flakiness.
Takeaway: Pre-processing 1/3 of the butter didn't increase flakiness or flavor, so omit this step.
To freeze or not to freeze butter before processing? I tested freezing the butter chunks 30 minutes before using.
Like the experiments on butter size above, using larger frozen chunks left pieces of butter in the dough, which can also end up leaving holes in the baked crust.
Something you may also want to consider in the temperature of your kitchen. In the throes of summer, it may be wise to freeze your butter in general when making crust.
Takeaway: Refrigerated butter is great if you can work relatively quick in a moderate temperature kitchen; frozen is good for hot summers and kitchens.
Pro-tip: When you start your dough, first cut up your butter into chunks and place it in the freezer while you prep your other ingredients. 5-10 minutes should be sufficient to keep it really cold for your preparation of your dough.
Pie Crust by hand:
Pie crust using a food processor:
... the nerdy baker behind the videos and recipes here. I coded this site to not only share my recipes with you but also to build some helpful tools for bakers.Read more here!