Flaky Pie Crust Recipe

We’ve been making pie dough the same way in our kitchen for years. We cut butter (or other solid fat) into flour until the butter and flour looks crumbly and has pieces of butter the size of peas. Then, we add just enough water to form the dough into a ball.

We’ve found a better way. A pie crust recipe, rather pie crust method, that’s consistent and makes dough that’s a dream to roll out.

Flaky Pie Crust

It’s not that our previous method failed us. We just came across another way of how to make it. A while back Cooks Illustrated reworked pie dough. You may have heard of it — they added vodka to their recipe. (We don’t add vodka — I’ll get to that in a minute).

How We Make Our Pie Crust Now

Basically, Cooks Illustrated looked at the science behind pie crust — and it made sense. Our high school science teachers would be proud.

Here’s all you really need to know: Gluten is an enemy to pie crust. Some gluten is okay and actually needed for structure, but too much can really mess things up. So, remember this: less gluten formation = flakier and more tender pie crusts.

Back to the vodka. That’s what got all the hype — why wouldn’t it, right?

In their recipe, the vodka replaced some of the water. The theory is that vodka doesn’t promote gluten formation, whereas water does. So, by replacing part of the water with vodka, it helps the pie crust become flakier and more tender.

We love the idea and many swear it works, but adding a 1/4 cup of vodka to our homemade pie dough recipe just didn’t sit well with us. It’s not something we store in our home often and it’s expensive. (If you want to see the recipe from Cook’s Illustrated, Serious Eats has it here).

Perfect, Flaky Pie Crust Recipe — It’s About the Method

What’s more important than the vodka is the way you combine the flour and fat.

Remember that gluten is our enemy when it comes to pie dough? Well, Cook’s Illustrated found that if you thoroughly mix part of the flour with the fat (butter) and make a flour-butter paste first, every particle of that flour becomes coated in fat. Think of each particle of flour with butter raincoats. These raincoats make it very difficult for the flour to absorb water. In other words, it helps to prevent the development of too much gluten.

Then, you can add the remaining flour so the perfect amount of gluten develops. This means perfect pie crust, every time.

What We’re Looking For

To us, great pie crust doesn’t become all soggy from juicy fillings, but is light enough to flake.

Flaky Pie Crust

It isn’t crumbly, instead it’s made of long, thin layers of dough (see photo). It should stand up to fillings, but shouldn’t be chewy, hard or heavy.

So, after all that talk — did it work?

Yes. It really did. Our pie crust was tender with long thin layers of dough, making it perfectly flaky.

We love this method for two reasons — First, it’s consistent. By adding part of the flour to the butter first, combing them into a paste then adding the remaining flour, the recipe determines how much flour is being used for the formation of gluten. The dough is the same, every time.

Second, that butter and flour paste really helps when it comes to working with the dough. Since it’s more pliable, the dough is easily rolled out.

Making the Dough – By Food Processor or by Hand

The folks at Cooks Illustrated insist on using a food processor for this method. We sort of agree — It makes making the flour and butter paste easy.

Use the food processor to make the paste then add the remaining flour. Pulse a few times then transfer everything to a bowl and add water until the dough comes together. (You don’t want to add water to the food processor — that can overwork the dough and lead to extra gluten formation).

Using the food processor eliminates variability. If you have one, use it.

With all that said, we hate cleaning dishes and since a food processor means 5 parts to clean (yes we counted) we tried this method by hand.

It worked.

We used a pastry cutter to cut the butter into part of the flour and made as close to a paste as possible. The flour was moistened by the butter and the mixture looked like fresh breadcrumbs — it was not powdery from flour. Then, we cut in the remaining flour and added water until the dough came together.

The dough made by hand was just as easy to roll out and turned out just as flaky. In fact, the photo above is actually from dough made by hand, not the food processor. So, if you don’t have a food processor or are like us and hate the extra dishes, give making it by hand a go.

Flaky Pie Crust Recipe

How do you make pie crust? Do you have any tips to share. Please share in the comments below.

You May Also Like

  • This pie crust recipe from Simply Recipes is great. It uses a food processor.
  • If you like to use shortening in your pie crust, try this recipe from The Pioneer Woman.
  • Here are a few more tips for rolling out pie dough — Another option when rolling out the dough is to roll the dough out between two pieces of parchment or wax paper instead of using flour. Learn about this by reading Dori Greenspan’s post.
5.0 from 12 reviews
Flaky Pie Crust Recipe
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Why we love this recipe. This pie crust recipe, rather pie crust method makes consistent dough and makes dough that's a dream to roll out.

What you need to know. Using a food processor in this recipe eliminates variability. If you have one, use it. With that said, you can do this method by hand. Directions are provided below for using a processor and by hand.

Equipment you’ll need. If making with food processor, you will need a food processor, rubber spatula, chef’s knife, measuring cups, spoons and a medium bowl. If making by hand, you will need a chef’s knife, medium bowl, pastry blender (cutter), rubber spatula, measuring cups and spoons.
Created By:
Yield: One 9-inch double crust pie
You Will Need
  • 2 1/2 cups (360 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar, optional
  • 1 cup (227 grams) very cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (2 sticks)
  • 6 to 8 tablespoons ice water
Directions
If Making by Food Processor
  1. Add 1 1/2 cups flour, salt and sugar (optional) to a food processor. Pulse 2 to 3 times until combined.
  2. Scatter butter cubes over flour and process until a dough or paste begins to form, about 15 seconds. (There should be no uncoated flour).
  3. Scrape bowl, redistribute the flour-butter mixture then add remaining 1 cup of flour. Pulse 4 to 5 times until flour is evenly distributed. (Dough should look broken up and a little crumbly).
  4. Transfer to a medium bowl then sprinkle 6 tablespoons of ice water over mixture. Using a rubber spatula, press the dough into itself. The crumbs should begin to form larger clusters. If you pinch some of the dough and it holds together, it's ready. If the dough falls apart, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of extra water and continue to press until dough comes together.
  5. Remove dough from bowl and place in a mound on a clean surface. Work the dough just enough to form a ball. Cut ball in half then form each half into discs. Wrap each disc with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour, and up to 2 days. You can also freeze it for up to 3 months (just thaw it overnight in the fridge before using).
If Making by Hand
  1. Add 1 1/2 cups flour, salt and sugar (optional) to a medium bowl. Stir 2 to 3 times until combined.
  2. Scatter butter cubes over flour and mix briefly with a fork or spatula to coat the butter with flour.
  3. Cut the butter into the flour with a pastry blender, working mixture until the flour has a coarse, mealy texture similar to fresh bread crumbs. About 1 - 2 minutes.
  4. Add remaining 1 cup of flour. Work butter and flour with the pastry blender until flour is evenly distributed. About 20 seconds. (Dough should look crumbly with pea-sized pieces).
  5. Sprinkle 6 tablespoons of ice water over mixture. Using a rubber spatula, press the dough into itself. The crumbs should begin to form larger clusters. If you pinch some of the dough and it holds together, it's ready. If the dough falls apart, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of extra water and continue to press until dough comes together.
  6. Remove dough from bowl and place in a mound on a clean surface. Work the dough just enough to form a ball. Cut ball in half then form each half into discs. Wrap each disc with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour, and up to 2 days. You can also freeze it for up to 3 months (just thaw it overnight in the fridge before using).
How to Roll Out Dough
  1. Remove one of the dough discs from the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for 5 minutes.
  2. Lightly flour work surface, top of dough and rolling pin. Then use rolling pin to roll out dough to a 12-inch circle (about 1/8-inch thick). Be sure to check if the dough is sticking to the surface below -- add a small amount of flour when necessary.
  3. Check for size by inverting pie dish over dough round. Look for a 1-inch edge around the pie dish.
  4. To transfer dough to dish, starting at one end, roll dough around rolling pin then unroll over dish.
  5. Gently press dough down into dish so that it lines the bottom and sides of the dish. (Be careful not to pull or stretch the dough). Then, use a knife or pair of kitchen scissors to trim dough to within 1/2-inch of the edge of the dish.
  6. Fold edge of dough underneath itself so that it creates a thicker, 1/4-inch border that rests on the lip of the dish. Then, crimp edges by pressing the pointer finger of one hand against the edge of the dough from the inside of the dish while gently pressing with two knuckles of the other hand from the outside. Refrigerate dough at least 20 minutes or freeze for 5 minutes before baking.
  7. If making a double crust pie, do not crimp edges yet. Roll out second dough disc, fill pie then top with second dough round. Trim the edges then crimp.
How to Pre-Bake a Crust for a Single-Crust Pie (Perfect for quiches, custard, and cream pies)
  1. Heat the oven to 425º F. Place a baking sheet on a middle oven rack.
  2. Roll out enough dough to make one 9-inch crust (1 dough disk). Pierce the bottom of the crust with a fork (this prevent air pockets or bubbles from forming while baking). Line the crust with two sheets of aluminum foil. (Be sure to push foil against the edges of the crust). Then, fill foil with dried rice, dried beans or pie weights. Refrigerate 30 minutes or freeze for 10 minutes, or until firm to the touch.
  3. Place pie crust onto preheated baking sheet and reduce oven temperature to 400 degrees F (200 C). Bake 20 to 30 minutes or until the crust is golden.
  4. Make an egg wash by whisking one egg yolk and 1 tablespoon of cream in a small bowl. Then, remove rice, beans or pie weights and foil from pie crust. Brush the bottom and sides of the crust with egg wash. Bake until egg wash is dry and shiny, 3 to 5 minutes. Cool crust completely before filling.

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103 comments… Leave a Comment
  • Megan June 20, 2016, 5:31 pm

    In making this dough recipe, I added the six tablespoons of ice water and the dough subsequently became sticky. Will it solidify more after refrigeration or should I add more flour?

    Reply
    • Joanne June 21, 2016, 2:59 pm

      Hi Megan, I don’t recommend adding more flour. Refrigerating the dough for 20 to 30 minutes to firm up should help.

      Reply
  • Jess June 14, 2016, 10:35 pm

    I had to come back here just to say this is the best pie crust recipe ever!!! I never thought I liked pie until I used this recipe!!!

    Reply
  • Lexi March 25, 2016, 7:22 pm

    Hi Adam and Joanne! I’m a big fan of your cooking!

    If I am going to make this dough tonight, and I am going to make the pies on Easter Sunday (that is in two days), then, after I make the dough, should I leave it in the fridge as the little discs, or should I pre-roll the dough into the pans? I need help!

    Reply
    • Joanne May 19, 2016, 1:12 pm

      Hi Lexi, sorry for the late response. I usually leave the pastry in thin disks and wrap them really well with plastic wrap.

      Reply

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