pie dough in a pan

The Art of Pie Dough- A Baker’s Formula

Did you know that making pie dough has a baker’s formula/ratio? The baking kitchen typically is made up of many formulas in the form of recipes and ratio’s. Pie dough is one of them and definitely an art.

I’m reminded how pound cake received its signature name by the simple formula that consist of a pound of butter, a pound of flour, and a pound of sugar. No wonder that cake is not a girl’s best friend… However, it sure taste amazing!

Pie dough has an easy formula to remember, 3:2:1  Simple right? Instead of memorizing specific measurements you can work from a ratio which is much easier to remember.

How Does it Work?

3 parts flour (All-purpose or pastry) this is ideal for the structure

2 parts fat ( butter, shortening, lard)

1 part water (always ice-cold)

There are two categories of pie crust, flaky and mealy.  One thing to think about is regardless of the type of crust you will be making, the recipe is the same for both types. It all comes down to the mixing.

Category of Pie Crusts

Pie crust typically fall into two categories depending on the type of filling you will be using. As mentioned above, the recipe is the same for both styles of crusts.

Secondly, the way you differentiate the two is determined by how the fat will be seen in the dough after combined with the dry ingredients. This will be reflected in either pea size consistency or dough that resembles cornmeal.

The two categories of pie crust are:

  • Flakey
  • Mealy

Flakey Crust:

Flakey crusts are typically filled with cream type fillings, fruits, quiches, and cold fillings. Also, I like to use flaky crusts on top of things like chicken pot pie or a traditional pandowdy’s, which is much like a fruit cobbler differing only in how the dough is layered on top.

Flakey crust tend to absorb moisture easier than a mealy crust when baking. I especially love using this crust in two of my favorite pies: Chocolate Cream Pie and Banana Cream Pie. Just to name a few.

Size of the Fat Matters

When making both of these categories of dough, I cut the fat and incorporate that into the flour mixture in larger pieces. Usually, cutting the butter into tablespoons size pieces when adding to the flour.

Flakey dough is when the dough after the fat is mixed into the flour has a look of pea size pieces. Contrast, it will not look as fine as a mealy crust when preparing it. More on that below.

Butter verses Shortening

Personal preference, I like to use half butter and half shortening as my fat. Butter has a low smoke point and will melt faster in the dough and it gives the crust a rich flavor. However, shortening has a higher smoke point and will not melt as fast during baking and gives it a flakey texture.

These two fats produces a flakier crust than just using all butter. But, I like the taste of a butter crust so this gives you the best of both worlds.

Butter pieces on a baking table with a bench scraper
I cut the butter into TBS pieces

Quick Tip

One quick tip is that I cut the butter or shortening into pieces, then place in the refrigerator for 20 minutes or a quick trip in the freezer about 5-10 minutes to really get cold. You can do this step up ahead of time and you will be ready to roll.

Some people like to freeze their butter. Regardless, you definitely want to keep your fat cold when adding to the flour mixture.

Mealy Crust:

This category of crusts usually are filled with custard fillings like a Pumpkin Pie, one of my favorites.

mini pumpkin pies

The mealy version of pie dough produces smaller sizes of fat in the dough.

Similarly, this is basically the same method as making a flakey crust with the exception of how the butter pieces will be seen when mixing the fat into the flour. The finished consistency will have cornmeal like look to once the fat is added to the dry ingredients.

The benefit of this type of crust is it prevents the crust from becoming soggy so that is why it’s perfect for fruit fillings.

Recipe

Here is my all time favorite recipe for pie crust. It works perfect every time. Also, I like using vinegar in the recipe as it does an incredible job at stability of the crust allowing it not to shrink. Ironically, you can’t taste the vinegar but its a wonderful addition to any crust! Mostly, it also makes it super easy to work with and very pliable.

pie dough in a pan decorarted with leaves on the crust
Here is one of my favorite crust for the fall

This makes one, 9″ pie crust

  • 4 TBS butter
  • 4 TBS shortening
  • 1 1/3 cup flour
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3 TBS ice cold water
  • 1 1/2 tsp or 1/2 TBS apple cider vinegar

Preferable Mixing Method

I like to use a food processor for making my dough. Adding all the dry ingredients and mix well. Then, the addition of cold butter and shortening is mixed into the dry. This gets pulsed manually till I see the fat in pea size pieces or cornmeal consistency, according to the type of crust I’m making (flaky vs. mealy).

Water and vinegar together are added and manually pulsed just till the dough comes together. I then pour this on the table and bring it together by hand and flatten into a disk where I then wrap it and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Additional Pie Crust Success Tips:

  • 1. Mix the ingredients just till combined before flattening into a disc to refrigerate.
  • 2. Refrigerate the dough after mixing 30 minutes to allow the fat to firm up and relax the gluten in the dough.
  • 3. Roll the crust to a 1/8″ thickness when placing in a pie pan and refrigerate 10-15 minutes before filling.  This will keep the fats chilled and structure strong.
  • 4. Make sure the filling is cold/cool before placing it into the pie dough or otherwise it will start melting the fat in the crust.
  • 5. Refrigerate the filled pie 15 minutes before putting in the oven to keep the crust firm and formed and prevent shrinking when baking.

Easy Tips

One thing that makes pie crust much easier and faster is having a 10″ ring. Typical pie dishes are about 9″ wide, so this ring I use as a guide as a pattern to cut the pie into a circle.

It works perfectly as it gives enough overlap to be able to make a nice decorated edge. It’s a full proof way to never cut your dough too small, which I use to do as a early pie baker.

What’s even greater is you can use the extra dough to make cut outs to decorate the top of pies and even the crusts.

Quick Fun Fact

One more fun food science fact…… when baking your pie in the oven, the oven acts in a physical capacity to leaven (rise) the ingredients by creating steam and lift.

I hope you become a master pie crust maker and enjoy these tips in all of your awesome creations!

Check out some of my other posts:

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