Yes, you can always purchase a frozen pie crust at the market. Or use frozen puff pastry for a tart, but sometimes it's gratifying to know exactly how to make a fabulous buttery flaky pie crust all by ourselves. The type that makes friends and family ask in stunned disbelief, " You made this pie crust yourself? It's fabulous!".
And you know what? It's not at all difficult. And it takes very little real effort on your part - most of the time is either chill time in the refrigerator, or bake time in the oven.
But there are some secrets to its success. Let's start with the 5 ingredients you need.
Buttery Flaky Pie Crust Ingredients
King Arthur Flour is my go-to flour for any baking. It's higher protein count versus other flours promotes a nice rise in any baked good. Additionally it's manufactured to the tightest parameters of any flour I'm aware of. This means consistency every time you make something with it.
Always go with unsalted butter. You'll add salt to the crust, but if have salted butter you have no way of knowing how much salt is already included.
It's also important that the butter be well chilled, fresh from the refrigerator.
Note: There are a lot of fans of shortening or butter and shortening as shortening promotes a flaky crust. And it's true. But I use a technique that results in the same flaky crust without using a hydrogenated product.
I use kosher salt for everything as it's more forgiving only because of its texture. When you grab a pinch of it from a bowl to sprinkle over something on the stove, you use less overall salt than you might with table salt. Because table salt is so much more fine, a good rule of thumb is to use half as much table salt as called for kosher salt.
Vinegar makes a crust tender. Vodka does the same thing, I've heard, although I've not used it. Use either an unflavored vinegar or one that's fairly neutral, such as a citrus infused vinegar.
Plunk a few ice cubes into a measuring cup or bowl, and add water. Set it aside until you need it.
Next are the kitchen tools you need to make the perfect buttery flaky crust. None of them are expensive, and all of them will last a very long time. And most of them you likely have already.
Kitchen Tools You Need To Make Buttery Flaky Crust Like a Pro
Kitchen Scales - Weighing the flour is the best way to get a consistent crust, and to avoid adding too much flour.
Now, the techniques. Besides weighing the flour, this is where the secrets to success lie.
Techniques for a Perfect Buttery Flaky Crust Dough
Step #1. Weigh the Flour and Add the Salt.
If there's nothing else you purchase this year for your kitchen, buy kitchen scales if you plan to do any baking.
Place the empty bowl on the scales, and zero out the scales. Then measure the flour. Add the salt, and swirl it around with your hands.
Step #2. Add the Butter
Slice the butter into ½" cubes using a sharp knife, and pile them onto the flour.
Alternatively, freeze the butter for 30 minutes or until it's firm, and grate it into a bowl using the largest cheese grater holes on your grater. Return the grated butter to the freezer for another 10-15 minutes.
Mix the butter into the flour with your hands to coat the pieces with flour.
Step #3. Add the Vinegar and Ice Water
First stir in the vinegar, using the spatula. Then add 3 tablespoons of ice water. Stir with the spatula to mix in. If the dough is still dry, continue stirring in water, 1 tablespoon at a time. You may assist with the stirring with your left hand, while stirring with the right. When the dough becomes slightly raggedy, stop adding water.
Perform a pinch test by grabbing some of the flour mixture and pinching it together. If it holds, you've added enough water. (Be certain you're not only grabbing a piece of butter, since the butter pieces will still be mostly whole.)
Step #4. Fraisage and Form a Disc
This step is the true secret for the perfect buttery flaky crust. Still photos do not do justice to this French technique, and it's what creates the layers of butter that you want. Therefore, this video does a great job of showing this fraisage process.
As a brief explanation, spill out the flour mixture onto a work space (I use my kitchen counter). Using the heel of your hand, smear the pile away from you on the counter. Pile up the flour and butter pieces again using the bench scraper, and repeat with the heel of your hand. Repeat several times, just until a dough forms that can be made into a disc with your hands.
When finished, you should still see pieces of butter in the dough. Wrap the disc in wax paper (or plastic wrap) and chill for 20 minutes in the refrigerator.
Can I Use a Food Processor to Make My Pie Dough?
Yes, I've made mine often in my food processor when I'm in a hurry. It's not a method, however, that results in a flaky crust IMHO. It's so easy for the dough to become well mixed, that any attempt at fraisage is useless.
Easiest Way to Roll Out Dough For a Buttery Flaky Pie Crust
You might already have a way of rolling out dough that you like. If so, you can skip this section.
If not, here is the easiest way to keep the dough from getting overworked and over-floured. And it's my FASTEST way of rolling it out.
Pro-Tip: Overworked and over-floured doughs both lead to a tougher crusts and greater shrinkage (see the next section: Transferring the Pie Crust Dough to a Pie Pan). Not buttery flaky pie crusts. You could have done everything right up to this point, but if you overwork the dough in rolling it out, you can still end up with a tough crust.
Place the disc of dough between 2 pieces of fresh wax paper, and begin to roll out the dough, keeping in mind the shape you want to end with. In the beginning, it's common to see cracks around the edges. Just peel up the wax paper when you're ready to flip it, and pinch the dough back together. Reapply the wax paper, and flip the dough. You may have to do this the first 2 - 3 flips.
Pro-Tip: Keep the wax paper in place on the counter by draping one end over the counter, and bracing it with your body.
Always roll away from you. Turn the dough to roll it in various directions. Flip it, and roll again.
Don't roll over the edges. This makes the edges thinner than the rest of the rolled dough. It's best to stop just as you reach the edge of the dough.
When flipping the dough, remove the wax paper, and reapply it. Flip and repeat. Then roll again. This keeps the dough from sticking to the wax paper, allowing it to move more easily when rolling it.
If the dough becomes sticky, or the butter too warm, just return it to the refrigerator for a few minutes. Alternatively you can sprinkle a little flour over the warmed butter, and lightly rubbing it into the dough. But the secret is to move quickly so that the dough and butter stays cool.
Before stopping, make sure you have the size and shape you want. Then chill it while still lined with wax paper for 10 minutes. This makes it very easy to work with when fitting it into a pie plate or tart pan.
The Best Way to Transfer Buttery Dough To a Pie Pan
Raise your hand if you've gotten all the way to rolling out a gorgeous dough, and then it completely messes up on the way to the pie pan.
Maybe it's folded in half on itself. Permanently.
Or it stuck to your work space, to the rolling pin, and your shoe. OK, maybe not the last one.
And my favorite - it's not centered properly on the pie pan, and in moving it, it rips. A lot.
In the case of a buttery flaky pie crust dough like this one, it can be very delicate. So, what to do?
I find that two things are your friend:
- Rolling the dough out between wax paper. (See above instructions.) This makes it very easy to pick up the rolled out dough, and center it on the pie pan.
- Chilling the dough for 10 minutes before peeling off the wax paper and arranging into the pan. Hardening up the butter just a little makes your work much easier.
Here are the steps I use:
Step #1. Drape the dough over the tart pan
After a quick 10-minute chill, remove one sheet of wax paper. Center the rolled out dough over the tart pan. Gently drape it over the pan, allowing the majority of the dough to rest on the bottom of the pan. Remove the the other sheet of wax paper. As you do this, gently bend the dough up the sides of the pan.
Pro-Tip: If the butter pieces stick to the wax paper when peeling the paper away, chill the dough for a few more minutes. Try to lay the dough as flat as possible in the refrigerator - but it doesn't need to be perfectly level.
Step #2. Lift and Tuck
Once the wax paper is all removed, lift each side of the dough and tuck it closely back into the edges of the tart pan. The dough should have 100% contact with the pan.
Step #3. Trim the edges
I use a pair of kitchen scissors to cut off the overlong sides.
Step #4. Patch
If one of corners is too short, press a piece of excess dough into the area and gently smooth it in. That's what I did for the upper left corner (above). You can see the patch in the upper right corner in the below photo.
Crimping and Docking Your Buttery Flaky Pie Crust Dough
A tart pan is easy to work with since it already has fluted edges. Use the handle of the spatula that's round to roll the dough into the fluted edges.
Pro-Tip: Have a small glass of flour nearby. Dip the spatula handle into it before rolling it into the dough edges. Continue this until finished to prevent the dough from sticking to the spatula. This is particularly a problem as the dough warms up slightly.
Step #1. Crimp
Flour a spatula round handle and gently roll into the fluted edges.
Step #2. Dock
Dough, especially buttery flaky dough, wants to lift up from a pie plate or tart pan when blind baked (or par-baked). It needs to breath. Using a fork to make pricking marks all over the dough accomplishes this. Make sure the fork goes all the way through to the pan. This process is calling docking.
Step #3. Final Fitting
Not until this point do I do a final trim (with scissors) of the dough, just in case it moves on me during crimping or docking. The dough should be ¼" higher than the pan, as there will be a little shrinkage of the dough as it bakes. Even it out with your fingers.
Pro-Tip: Be sure the dough doesn't hang out over the pie plate or tart pan. Because of the all the butter, it will start to melt, droop, and ultimately fall off into the oven or a baking sheet if using one as a drip tray.
Blind-Baking Your Buttery Flaky Pie Crust
A blind-baked pie or tart shell is sometimes also called pre-baked or par-baked. And just so it's even more complicated, there are partially blind-baked crusts and fully-blind baked crusts. First of all, when do you need to blind bake at all?
What all this means is if you need to pre-baking a pie shell before you fill it. And if you do need to, how much do you need to bake it. Partially blind-baked is for when you just want to give the pie crust a head start because it will take longer to bake than required for the filling. A fully blind-baked crust is when you either want a crisper crust, or the filling doesn't need baking at all.
When Do You Need to Blind Bake a Crust?
Here are some examples of when it's a particularly good idea to blind bake.
Custard Pies (including Pumpkin Pie)
Vegetable Tarts that include vegetables with high moisture content, such as a Zucchini Tart or Tomato Tart.
How To Blind-Bake A Buttery Flaky Pie Crust
Step #1. Chill the Dough
Chilling the dough just before baking it off helps it greatly to keep its shape and not shrink while baking.
Step #2. Preheat the oven to 425˚F
Step #3. Line the pan
Cut a piece of parchment paper a little larger than the bottom of the pie plate or tart pan. Tuck it along the bottom of the tart, gently creasing it up the sides of the pan.
Step #4. Weight the Tart Base
Fill the pie or tart cavity with pie weights. I use a combination of ceramic pie weights and dried chickpeas to ensure the entire sheet is weighted. This helps greatly in keeping the dough from lifting up from the bottom of the pan.
Step #5. Bake
Bake for 20 minutes on the middle rack. Remove the pie weights and parchment paper. The crust should be just starting to set up.
Bake for another 15 - 20 minutes. The crust should be lightly browned at this point.
Pro-Tip: The exact timing will at least partly depend on your altitude. The higher your baking altitude, the longer it takes to brown. I also find a difference between gas and electric ovens, with gas ovens taking longer.
Fill the tart with whatever filling you're using, and complete baking per whatever recipe you're using. Allow the final baked tart to cool for at least 10 minutes before removing the sides of the pan.
To do that, place the tart on a short squat jar and pull down the sides of the tart. Most, if not all, of the tart will have pulled away from the sides of the pan during baking. If this hasn't happened all the way around the tart, use a sharp knife to separate the crust from the pan.
I leave the tart on the pan bottom unless it's fully cooled. When I'm ready to remove it, I use a broad metal spatula.
How Do I Keep My Pie Crust From Shrinking During Baking?
This is a common complaint, and I've suffered for it too. Here are the two things I do to prevent this.
- Don't over-work the dough when rolling it out. This is a big reason why I use wax paper.
- Chill the dough for at least 15 minutes before baking! Longer is even better.
The Perfect Buttery Flaky Crust
Making the Dough
- Weigh the flour in a medium bowl, and stir in the salt. Slice the butter into ½" pieces.
- Add the butter into the flour with a spoon to lightly coat. Avoid using your hands as this warms up the butter more quickly.
- Add the vinegar and stir with a rubber spatula. Pro-Tip: Vinegar makes the crust tender. Add 3 tablespoons of ice water and stir again. If the mixture still looks dry, add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time. Once you get a shaggy looking dough, stop adding water.
- Take a little flour mixture in your hand and pinch it together. If it forms a small piece of dough, you won't need any more water.
- Spill the flour mixture onto a work surface, such a cold kitchen counter. Using the heel of one hand, push into the flour mixture and away from your body to smear it across the counter. Re-pile the flour mixture together using a bench scraper, and repeat until a dough begins to form. This is a French technique called fraisage, and is critical to creating layers of butter. This is what creates a flaky crust. Here is a video showing the process.
- Form the dough into a disc and wrap in wax paper or plastic wrap. Chill for 20 minutes before rolling out.
Rolling Out the Dough
- Remove the dough from the refrigerator and unwrap it. Sandwich it between 2 sheets of wax paper, and begin to roll out the dough. If it cracks around the edges, and it likely will, peel away one sheet of wax paper and pinch the dough back together. Reapply the wax paper.
- When rolling out the dough, drape one end of the wax paper over the counter and anchor it in place with your body. Roll away from you. Turn the dough to roll out all sides to fit the shape of the pie plate or tart pan you plan to use. Peel off the wax paper, reapply it, and flip the dough over. Peel away the second wax sheet, reapply it, and continue to roll out. Peeling away the wax paper in this way allows the dough to move more easily in the sandwich when rolled.
- Place the pie plate or tart pan on the dough to make sure it fits.
- If the dough is soft when you're finished rolling it out, chill for 10 minutes before fitting it into the pie plate or tart pan. This makes it much easier to work with.
Transfer the Dough to a Pie or Tart Pan
- Remove the rolled out dough from the refrigerator and peel off one sheet of wax paper. Center it over the tart pan, and gently drape the dough over the pan, allowing the majority of it to rest on the bottom of the pan. Remove the the other sheet of wax paper. As you do this, gently bend the dough up the sides of the pan.
- Once the wax paper is all removed, lift each side of the dough and tuck it closely back into the edges of the tart pan. The dough should have 100% contact with the pan.
- Use a pair of kitchen scissors to cut off the overlong sides.
- If one of corners is too short, press a piece of excess dough into the area and gently smooth it in. You can see the patch in the upper right corner in the below photo before smoothing it.
Crimping and Docking
- Flour a spatula round handle and gently roll into the fluted edges.
- Use a fork to make pricking marks all over the dough, making sure the fork goes all the way through to the pan. This process is calling docking, and it helps keep the dough from lifting off the pan during baking by letting steam escape from the layers of dough.
- Trim the edges to about ¼" above the height of the tart pan to allow for a little shrinkage.
Blind-Bake the Crust Before Filling
- Preheat the oven to 425˚F. While the oven preheats, chill the dough for at least 15 minutes. Longer is even better. If you plan to chill it longer than 30 minutes, cover it with plastic.
- Cut a piece of parchment paper a little larger than the bottom of the pie plate or tart pan. Tuck it along the bottom of the tart, gently creasing it up the sides of the pan. It needs to be larger than the bottom of the tart pan to make it easy to remove the pie weights (see the next step).
- Fill the pie or tart cavity with pie weights to ensure the entire sheet is weighted down. This helps greatly in keeping the dough from lifting up from the bottom of the pan. I use a combination of ceramic pie weights and dried chickpeas, because that's what I have on hand.
- Bake for 20 minutes on the middle rack. Remove the pie weights and parchment paper. The crust should be just starting to set up.
- Bake for another 15 - 20 minutes. The crust should be lightly browned at this point. Remove from the oven and fill the tart with whatever filling you're using, and complete baking per whatever recipe you're using. Allow the finished tart to cool for at least 10 minutes before removing the sides of the pan.
- Most, if not all, of the tart shell will have pulled away from the sides of the pan during baking. If this hasn't happened all the way around the tart, use a sharp knife to separate the crust from the pan. Then place the tart pan on a short squat jar and pull down the sides of the pan. I leave the baked tart on the pan bottom unless it's fully cooled. When I'm ready to remove it, I use a broad metal spatula.