Juicy, fruity pie in a crisp, buttery crust is enough to set any mouth watering. Yet even many experienced bakers get a little nervous at the prospect of handling, rolling and shaping homemade pastry. And for every “expert” you ask, you’ll get a dozen pie crust tips and countless points of view on the best approach to achieving flawless flakiness.
We’ve met those who swear by shortening, butter loyalists, and those who insist on lard. (Yes, lard.) Some blend with forks, some with knives, some with special cutters and some with the gentle power of bare hands. Some even believe that a splash of vodka in the dough boosts tenderness! But no matter what your recipe or preferred technique, a few key pie crust tips stand firm.
Read on for our three Commandments of Crust
Keep it cold
When it comes to working with pie dough, heat is a baker’s worst enemy. Not only is a dough that has been kept cool firmer and easier to handle, but it also bakes up flakier and more tender.
To make your life easier, use nice firm butter (or your fat of choice) and consider chilling your flour in the freezer for a half hour or so before mixing the dough. Make sure any liquid added is nice and cold too. Always chill the dough well between mixing and rolling, and if you have lined pie pans waiting around to be filled, pop them in the fridge or freezer in the meantime.
Respect the power of flour
A dusting of flour of a must to prevent sticking while you roll out dough, but don’t overdo it. Piling on too much flour leads to a tough crust. If you’re struggling with stickiness, try placing the dough on a cookie sheet and popping it back in the fridge to cool down for five minutes, then give it another try.
Be scrap savvy
Gathering up and re-rolling scraps reduces waste, but keep in mind that dough becomes a little less delicate and tender every time it gets worked — so one round of scrap-rolling is probably enough if you’re aiming for a super-flaky finish.
But that doesn’t mean you have to throw those last bits away. Even the most tired remnants make fantastic cookies when rolled, cut in shapes and brushed with milk or cream and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. As the baker, you get the first bite out of the oven!
More Tips from Pastry Chef Gesine Bullock-Prado
See what else Gesine has to share in her new class, Pies & Tarts for Every Season.