Homemade 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

Inside the hot oven, the fat layered in the cold dough melts. This creates a hole which is further expanded by the steam from the water in the pie dough. These reactions cause a lift in the pastry, resulting in a flaky crust.

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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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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 like to prepare 2 or 3 double crusts and have them in the freezer. Defrost in the fridge the night before you want to bake.  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 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.

I have altered Helen Rennie’s recipe to work with the flour we get here in Kenya. But more importantly I think I am her number one fan. Her technique is key. Watch this video to learn.

Homemade Butter Flaky Pie Crust II


Ingredients

  • 350 grams (2 3/4 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 and using a fork or pastry cutter, mix it into the flour.  You still want to be left with visible solid bits of butter (pea size), that will melt into flaky goodness. (Alternatively, you could use 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.

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

Pour the crumbly mixture on to a floured surface. Squeeze it together while twisting it until it holds. It will not look exactly like a smooth ball of dough. But trust the process.

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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