Learn the ground rules for making a flaky pie crust from scratch, from choosing the right ingredients and equipment to learning how to blind bake your dough.
My method for pie dough is as bare bones as they come. Made with equal weights of butter and flour, the recipe all comes down to technique. In a system that simple, every detail matters. For some, that can make the recipe seem like a fussy, high-pressure affair. But to me, it provides a comforting framework for success—nothing is random, and everything is within my control.
So whether it’s a technique you’re still working to master or one you’re about to try for the first time, it helps to understand the ground rules going in.
Low-Protein Flour and American Butter Are Key
My old-fashioned flaky pie dough works best with all-purpose flours with a protein content around 10% (brands like Gold Medal, Pillsbury, and Immaculate) and no-frills, American-style butter. This is true for all of my recipes, but they make a particular difference when it comes to pie dough.
So what’s the deal?
Pantry staples like refined white sugar, pure salt, and baking soda have chemical definitions (C12H22O11, NaCl, and NaHCO3, respectively), so one brand is as good as another. Underneath the spiffy packaging, they’re all the same (well, in some cases different brands can have different densities, but this isn’t an issue if you weigh your ingredients instead of measuring them by volume).
None of that’s the case with butter and flour, whose composition can differ drastically from brand to brand. Such differences can average out in more complex recipes, where those ingredients may only play a supporting role, but in a pie crust the characteristics of butter and flour will be on full display.
Some brands of all-purpose flour, like White Lily, use 100% soft white wheat, for a starchy, low-protein profile similar to that of cake flour, making it perfect for high-rising biscuits and cake, but too low in gluten-forming proteins for a well-structured pie dough.
Other brands, like King Arthur, use 100% hard red wheat, for a relatively low-starch, high-protein product similar to that of bread flour, making it perfect for chewy sandwich loaves and crunchy crackers, but too high in gluten-forming proteins for a tender crust.
My favorite brand of flour, Gold Medal’s Blue Label, falls between those two extremes with a blend of white and red wheat, so it has the right balance of starch and protein for a wide range of baking projects—including pie crust.
With this style of all-purpose flour, the dough won’t fall apart when transferred from the counter to the pan (a symptom of low gluten development), nor will it bake up greasy and tough (a sign of low starch and excess gluten development). It has just the right balance of protein and starch to make a dough that’s sturdy and easy to handle, but bakes up flaky, tender, and light.
A similar level of variation plays out in butter, with American styles clocking in at about 80% milk fat and European styles coming in a tad higher at 82%. Aside from a richer composition, the longer churning method gives European styles a slightly softer consistency. The softer structure and higher fat content are ideal for laminated doughs like croissants, but can wreak havoc on recipes developed with American butter in mind (i.e., literally all of my recipes; I’m an American pastry chef writing about American recipes on an American site).
With extra fat and a creamier consistency, European-style butters can make my old-fashioned pie dough a soft and squishy mess to roll, one that contains more fat than the flour can handle, resulting in a dough that bakes into a greasy puddle—a problem that will only be magnified when paired with a high-protein, low-starch flour.