How to Make Flaky Pie Crust

Nothing beats the feeling you get when you make a pie completely from scratch. However, unless you are a professional baker, pastry can be intimidating. I shied away for years, but now absolutely love baking pies.

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The Science of Flaky Pastry

When the pie goes inside the hot oven, the solid bits of fat layered in the cold dough melts. This creates a hole or air pocket that contributes to a flaky crust.
Also, the water in the pie dough heats up in the oven and becomes steam and creates more air pockets. These reactions result in the opposite of a dense compact crust (think biscuit/cookie).

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An easy way to get into the habit of baking pie and thus improving skill, is to break the process in two:

  • Make ahead and freeze the crust.
  • Assemble and fill the pie later.
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Cut the butter or shortening into the flour.
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You want pea-size bits of fat, smaller than in the picture.
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After adding the liquid, the dough begins to form large clumps.
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Squish and twist and form into a ball.
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Keep in the fridge for up to 5 days or freeze for up to 3 months

I find it helps to prepare 2 or 3 double crusts and have them in the freezer. Defrost the crust in the fridge the night before. And if something comes up on the day and you can’t bake, the crust is good in the fridge for up to 5 days.

A favourite is a mix of shortening (e.g. kimbo) and butter; and not purely because of cost—though that’s always an incentive. The combination of the two fats makes for a flaky and more flavourful crust. However, this recipe is good with either all butter or all shortening.

This recipe is adapted from Helen Rennie’s recipe to work with Kenyan all-purpose flour. However, watch her video because her technique is key.

Homemade Butter Flaky Pie Crust II


Ingredients

  • 350 grams (2 2/3 cups) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 200 grams cold butter cubed (or cold shortening)
  • 1/4 cup vodka
  • 1/4 cup ice cold water (if you don’t have vodka, then 1/2 cup of ice cold water is fine)

Directions

In a bowl, whisk together the 350 grams flour, 1 teaspoon salt and 2 Tablespoons sugar.

Take the chopped cold 200 grams butter/shortening and using a fork or pastry cutter, mix it into the flour. Your hands shouldn’t touch the mixture because you will warm and melt the butter/shortening.

You still want to be left with visible solid bits of butter (pea size), that will melt into flaky goodness. (Alternatively, you could do a few quick blitzes in a food processor.)

Still using your fork, mix in the 1/4 cup of ice cold water and quarter cup vodka or, simply 1/2 cup of ice water. The water is just enough to moisturise the flour. It is enough because when you pick up a handful of dough and squeeze it, it stays together. But it is not a cohesive dough (like chapo).

Gluten does not develop in alcohol, and the alcohol evaporates in the oven.

Pour the crumbly mixture on to a floured surface. Bring it together in a squeezing/squishing motion.  Then twist it until it holds. It will not look exactly like a smooth ball of dough. But trust the process. This should take at most 5minutes.

Wrap tightly in cling film, or a plastic/food bag and chill for at least an hour in the fridge, or freeze until you are ready to bake.

It is a large amount of crust, so divide in two or use for a double crust pie.


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