Pie crust is typically made with just a few ingredients: flour, water, salt and fat. The fat is usually butter or shortening, and occasionally a little bit of sugar or cinnamon makes its way into the crust for flavor. It’s a simple recipe and it should be simple to make, but the reality is that it can be tricky to make a perfectly flaky pie crust. That said, it certainly doesn’t have to be tricky.
Butter is the ingredient that makes pie crusts flaky. When the pie crust bakes, the butter melts into the dough and two things happen. The fat from the butter tenderizes the dough, making it tender, and the water in the butter evaporates, creating a little air pocket in the dough, making it flaky. You need that puff of air from escaping steam to create flaky layers, and this is why all butter recipes are the best for other super flaky recipes, such as puff pastry and croissants. Shortening and lard are solid fats that make crusts tender, but do not add flakiness because they do not have the water content that butter – which is about 80% fat and 20% water – does.
When you cut in the butter, whether you’re working by hand or pulsing your dough in a food processor, you want your dough to be sandy and have pieces of butter about the size of a large pea still in it. Larger pieces of fat in the crust will result in a flakier texture. For this reason, it is good to stir in the water in the recipe by hand, rather than adding it into a food processor where it could become overmixed. Don’t use too much water or the dough will become tough, so add it in gradually.
Practice makes perfect when it comes to pie crusts, but using a recipe that is mostly butter, or all butter, is going to get you the flakiest crust every time.
More pie-making tips:
- Why do pie crust recipes approximate the amount of water?
- Butter vs Shortening in pie crust
- How to make a lattice pie crust
- How to patch pie dough
Double Pie Crust
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
3/4 cup butter, cut into 1 inch cubes and chilled
1/4 cup shortening, chilled
6-8 tbsp ice water
Whisk together flour, salt and sugar in a large bowl. Toss butter and shortening in the flour mixture, then rub in with your finger tips until mixture is coarse and no chunks larger than a large pea remain. Add in water and stir with a fork until dough starts to come together, then press dough into a ball with the palms of your hands. If dough is dry, add an additional tablespoon or two of water to pull the dough together.
Divide dough into two balls and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least one hour, and up to two days. Dough can be frozen for at least 2 months, well wrapped.
Makes 2 pie crusts.
Note: I usually use all purpose flour for pie crusts. You can also get great, flaky results with a blend of all purpose and whole wheat flour if you want to try a Whole Wheat Pie Crust recipe.