should pie dough have chunks of butter

The world of pie making abounds in myth, legend, tradition, tall tales, short tales, and other manner of never-been-blind-tested theory. And while learning at your grandmothers (or grandfathers) knee may lead you to excellent pie crust—Im talking all-American, flaky-yet-tender, buttery, rustic pastry here—youre more than likely to pick up a couple of bad habits and un-truths along the way. Today were going to look at a some of the most common myths in the land of pie crust, poke a few holes in those theories, and hopefully come away with some better recipes in the end. Are you ready?

If youve been following my work through the years at Cooks Illustrated, Americas Test Kitchen, and right here at Serious Eats, then youve probably seen my original pie crust recipe or my improved pie crust recipe a number of times. Its a technique Im particularly proud of, since it produces what I believe to be the most foolproof, easy-to-roll, flakiest, tenderest pie crust around. In honor of March 14th, National Pi Day (get it? 3.14…), I figured now was a good time to give you all a quick recap on exactly how it works and bust a few longstanding pie-making myths in the process.

Leaving irregular pieces of butter in the mix will help create flaky layers during baking. Almost every pie dough recipe calls for too little liquid to bring it together.
should pie dough have chunks of butter

Pie Myth #3: If The Dough Is Easy to Roll, You’ve Added Too Much Water

should pie dough have chunks of butter

What Makes Pie Crust Flaky?

Pie crust is essentially made of three ingredients: flour, fat, and water. Everything else (the salt, the sugar, any additional flavors) is just window dressing. Its the seemingly simple interaction between these three ingredients that can make or break a perfect crust.

A classic pie crust is made by cutting a solid fat (generally butter or shortening) into flour until the mixture resembles very coarse meal, then adding in just enough ice cold water to get the mixture to hold together when you squeeze it in your hand. This dough is then formed into a ball, allowed to rest for half an hour or so to fully hydrate and chill, then rolled out. Rolling flattens out and stretches the various regions of fat, flour, and wet flour until it forms many distinct layers.

should pie dough have chunks of butter

If all goes well, after baking you end up with layers of flaky, crisp pastry that have a rich buttery flavor and a tender texture. The sad truth is that more often than not, even at professional bakeries, things dont go so well. I cant tell you the number of pie crusts Ive had with leathery, plastic-like, tough, or pasty crusts, but the odds for getting a decent pie when eating out are not good.

To figure out where crusts go wrong, I started by examining the very basics of pie crust, teasing and testing to separate fact from fiction.

How To Mix Butter Into Pie Dough


Should pie crust have chunks of butter?

You knead bread dough to develop and stretch the gluten. In pie crust, you don’t want gluten to form so you don’t want to mix too much and overwork the dough. For a flaky crust, cut the butter so that chunks of butter about the size of walnut halves remain. The chunks of cold butter create the layers in the dough.

Why is the butter coming out of my pie crust?

If there are giant pieces of butter in the dough, it will leak out as it melts in the oven, so make sure they are no larger than a pea. Freeze the pie before baking, so the butter and dough are set hard. Make sure the oven is nice and HOT so the dough will set right away and give the crust structure.

Why is butter not recommended in the preparation a pie dough?

Despite the great taste of butter, some bakers don’t like to use it for pie crusts because it’s difficult to handle. “Butter is harder to work with than shortening because it melts at a lower temperature,” Huntsberger said. It can be hard to get a flaky pie crust with butter if the butter isn’t handled very carefully.

What happens if butter melts in pie crust?

With cold butter, your pie crust will be light and flaky (that’s because as the cold butter melts in the oven, it produces steam that creates flaky layers). With melted butter, your pie crust will be thicker, sturdier, and reminiscent of shortbread cookies: tender, buttery, and flavorful.

Does butter make a good pie crust?

The general rule of thumb is that smaller pieces of butter will result in a more mealy textured crust that holds up better to custard fillings. Larger chunks of butter will yield a flakier crust better suited for fruit fillings. Larger chunks also run the risk of creating pools of butter as your pie dough bakes.

What kind of butter do you put in a pie dough?

You want chunks of fat in your pie dough, which in this case is the butter. The processed or cut-in butter chunks in the dry dough should be the size of cornmeal, peas, almonds and walnuts, aka a mixture of smooth, small, and big chunks of butter for the flakiest texture. Process the butter in stages.

How do you make pie dough flaky?

A traditional way to make pie dough flaky is by leaving large chunks of butter in the dough. However, that can make it difficult when trying to roll and shape the crust. We have solved that problem by adding baking powder to the recipe. The baking powder aerates the pie crust and provides small air pockets that make the crust flaky.

How do you make pie dough with butter & flour?

Drizzle the cold water over the butter-flour mixture and pulse 3-4 more times. To make the pie dough in a bowl, mix together the flour, salt and sugar. Add the butter, separating the pieces if they’re stuck together, and toss them with the flour mixture.

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