Flakiest, All-Butter Pie Dough

Rustic Citrus Almond Tart

When I got to pastry school, I expected to be handed a binder of “the best” recipes in existence. Finally I would be able to bake definitively fudgy brownies, the softest, chewiest chocolate chip cookies, and pie dough that flaked effortlessly.

Roasted Eggplant Tomato Tart

Unfortunately, my teacher, Claire had other ideas.

Meyer Lemon Buttermilk Pie

“I’m not giving you my recipes!” she said, after I found out that the croissant recipe she’d given us wasn’t her favorite. Instead, the recipes we received from Claire’s pastry schooling several years earlier resulted in genoise that was flat as a pancake, ice cream that was overly eggy, and croissants that were hard.

Apple Huckleberry Pie

When I specifically asked Claire for her insanely good pie dough recipe, which, she intimated, contained a secret ingredient that was not vinegar, she said solemnly, “No. Pie dough is sacred.” She then added, “Some things, you have to work for.”

Maple Bourbon Pecan Pie

But over the years, with inspiration from many different sources, I’ve learned to make beautifully flaky pie dough. It isn’t exactly effortless, but after a few tries you’ll be fraisage-ing and rolling out layers of dough like a pro. These few extra steps, detailed below, are well worth the lovely layers.

Cranberry Apple Crumble Pie

The science behind pie dough is this: sheets of butter layer with sheets of water and flour. When the the dough hits the oven, the butter releases steam, which elevates the layer of dough above it. The more defined layers you have, the more flaky, puffy and layered your dough is.

Persimmon Galettes

The key to getting these layers involves leaving big chunks of cold butter in the dough that can become sheets, and creating multiple, stacked layers of these butter sheets. Additionally, keeping the dough tender ensures a finished product that will flake delicately at the touch of a fork.

Zucchini Tomato Tart
Apple Custard Tart

Ways to keep the dough tender are:

1) Keep the dough on the dry side, since water activates the glutens which toughen the dough.

2) Don’t overwork the dough, as this not only develops the glutens, it also makes the butter chunks disappear into the dough, resulting in fewer and less-well-defined layers.

3) Add something acidic to the dough to help tenderize the glutens, such as sugar, lemon juice, vinegar, sourdough starter (recipe here) or cultured dairy. Buttermilk seems to give me the best dough, but sour cream or plain yogurt will work, too. (And Heidi Swanson uses beer for her liquid.)

Creamiest Pumpkin Pie

I like to use some whole grain flour in my dough for depth of flavor, usually spelt as it is low in gluten and full of healthy fiber and vitamins. I primarily like the flavor, but it also makes me feel a little less guilty about eating all that butter. However, using all white flour will create an even lighter and puffier dough, but it will taste more bland, in my opinion. Feel free to experiment with other flours, such as rye, barley, cornmeal, whole wheat, graham, or kamut. And this looks like a good gluten-free variation.

Pear, Blue Cheese and Hazelnut Tart

Below is a step by step pictorial for making the flakiest and most flavorful all-butter pie dough that I know how to make. (If you’re already a pie dough making fool, skip to the recipe and short version of the instructions below.)

Apricot Cherry Foldover Pie

1) Start with good ingredients. Fresh, European-style butter with a higher fat content than the standard stuff will make the richest and most flavorful crust. Use sea salt or kosher salt, which tastes milder than harsh table salt. And be sure your flours are fresh, too.

2) Make ice water. Fill a 1 cup measuring pitcher with ice, then top with water. Let it do its thing while you…

3) Incorporate the butter. Cut the butter into 1/4″ slices, re-chill for 10 minutes if they have softened, then add the butter to the other ingredients. I like to use a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, as it quickly breaks up the butter pieces, and I have more control than with a food processor. Alternately, use your fingertips, a pastry cutter, or two butter knives. Break up the butter until the texture looks like gravel, with many large chunks of butter that are the size of peas or almonds (about 1/4″).

4) Add the liquid. In another measuring pitcher, combine the buttermilk and ice water, 1/4 cup of each. It is best to incorporate the liquid by hand until you get a feel for it; then you can dribble it right into the mixer running on the slowest speed. For now, use a sturdy silicone spatula to toss the dough around as you slowly dribble in the liquid. Add the liquid directly to the dry bits, which like to hang out at the bottom of the bowl. When the dough has enough moisture, you can squeeze a bit in your hand and it will stay clumped together. You want enough moisture so that the dough holds together and rolls easily, but if you add too much, you will get a tough dough, and your dough will spring back when you roll it out.

Now you have a choice: you can stop here, and have a tender dough that is mostly crumbly with some flake. In this case, gather the dough into a ball, flatten it into a disc, slip it into a plastic bag, and chill it for an hour.

For a flakier dough, proceed to the next step.

5) Voulez-vous fraisage avec moi? Fraisage is the fancy French term for scraping the dough across the counter with the heel of your hand. This step starts to create a network of layers and bring the dough together; I now always fraisage. Divide the dough roughly into 12 portions, and scrape each across the counter with the heel of your hand. This flattens the butter chunks into sheets. As you fraisage, work quickly so that the butter stays cold. (If at any point the butter starts to feel sticky, no worries – just stick it back in the fridge for 10 minutes or so.) Use a plastic or metal bench scraper to scrape up the dough into a ball. Flatten the ball into a disc and slip in into a plastic bag to chill in the fridge. You can stop here for a pretty flaky, tender crust, or continue to the next step for the flakiest dough of all.

6) Roll, fold roll. This is the technique used to make croissant dough, danish dough, and puff pastry, and it creates more and thinner layers for dough that is super flaky and tender. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out into a large rectangle that is about 18x 12″, and 1/4″ thick. Use just enough flour on the counter, rolling pin, and your hands to prevent the dough from sticking. Roll in long strokes, starting in the center and pushing away from you to the outer edge. Flip and turn the dough as you work, trying to keep it as even as possible. Use a dry pastry brush to brush off excess flour from the dough as you work.

Fold the dough into thirds lengthwise, like folding a letter, then start with a skinny end and roll the dough up into a loose spiral. Work quickly, and if the dough starts to get sticky or springy at any point, place it back in the fridge for 15 minutes or so. For the ultimately flaky dough, similar to puff pastry, repeat the roll, fold, roll process a second time. Flatten the dough slightly, slip into a plastic bag, and chill.

7) Now that you have beautiful, layered dough, you can use it now, or save it for later. The dough will keep for up to 2 days in the fridge, but it will oxidize and turn an unappealing grey if left for much longer. Alternately, double wrap the dough in freezer-safe bags and freeze for up to several months. (In this case, defrost in the fridge for 12 hours before using.) If using the dough now, chill it for an hour to relax the glutens and chill the butter.

8) Put it in a pie pan. Roll the dough out into a rough rectangle, then cut it in half. Put one half on a lightly floured counter and roll the dough out into a 12″ round. This dough will want to be rectangular, but that’s ok – we have enough to cut off the corners and still have enough in the pan. See directions in step 6 for tips on rolling out dough.

When the dough has been rolled out, pick it up and put it in your 9″ pie pan. (Note: the material of your pan will conduct heat differently, making for different baking times. I use a glass pie pan, and the baking times here are for glass. Metal pans will probably have shorter baking times.) If your dough has been properly moistened, fraisaged and folded, it should be easy to move. If the dough tears, don’t worry – just press it back together, or use dough scraps to patch the holes. Ease the dough into the pie pan. Try not to stretch the dough, rather cram it in the pan so that there’s enough excess as possible to allow for shrinkage, which will occur in the oven. If you’re making a double crust pie, our work here is done; see instructions in your recipe. If making a single crust pie, proceed to step 9.

9) Make it pretty. Once the dough is in the pan, trim the overhang to 1 inch. Tuck the overhang under the lip of the dough.

Flute the edge by using the thumb and forefinger of your left hand and the thumb of your right hand to press the dough into a pretty shape. Save the scraps in case you need to patch the dough after it parbakes. (Or press them together, roll them into a rectangle, sprinkle them with cinnamon sugar, and slice them into mini cinnamon swirls. Bake these alongside the crust for a pre-pie treat.)

10) Chill. Once the dough is in the pan, it is very important to let it chill. Chilling relaxes the glutens and allows the starches in the dough to absorb moisture; both help prevent the dough from shrinking. Nothing sucks more than shrunken dough after all this hard work! Chill the dough in the fridge for 20 minutes, then freeze it for 20 minutes. The first chilling allows the dough absorb moisture and relax the glutens, and the freezing makes the crust sturdier and helps it better hold its shape.

11) What’s up, dock? Docking the dough means pricking it all over with the tines of a fork. This will prevent it from puffing and bubbling up in the oven. Don’t worry about the tiny holes, they’ll seal themselves up as the dough bakes. Continue on to the next step if you need to blind bake (bake the crust by itself) your crust. Parbaking is usually a good idea as it gives the dough a head start in creating a crisp barrier for moist pie fillings, which will otherwise make it soggy.

11) It ain’t heavy, it’s my pie weights. You need something in your crust to help hold the sides up so they don’t slip down when the butter in the dough melts in the oven. Line the dough with a sheet of parchment paper (my preference) or aluminum foil, and fill to the top with pie weights (my preference), dried beans, or clean pennies, pressing them into the corners and sides. Pie weights are little ceramic balls that are heavy and expensive, but they last indefinitely and work the best for keeping your dough aloft. I use a combination of pie weights and garbanzo beans that have been around for longer than I want to think about.

12) Get baked. Position a rack in the lower third of your oven and preheat to 400ºF. If you have a baking stone, put it on the rack; it will help get your dough bottom hot ASAP. Place the pie pan on a rimmed baking sheet to catch any butter drips. Bake the crust until the edges are golden and the bottom is dry; you’ll have to peek under the parchment to find out. Err on the side of overbaking here, as underbaked edges will slump down once you remove the weights. When the bottom is dry, remove the weights, and bake the crust until lightly golden, another 5-10 minutes (for a parbaked crust that will get baked more once filled) or until deeply golden, another 10-15 minutes (for a fully baked crust).

13) Protect the edges. If your parbaked dough needs a long bake once filled, say more than 45 minutes, you can easily protect the edges from burning. Cut two 15″ long rectangles of foil and place them on the counter in a criss-cross. Place the pie pan in the center of the cross, and fold up the edges of foil, crimping and folding them so that they cover just the edges. (Note: this is easier to do when the crust is cool.)

Cranberry Apple Crumble Pie

Congratulations, you did it!

Cranberry Apple Crumble Pie

Here are some uses for your beautiful pie dough (a.k.a. Ins-pie-ration):

Meyer Lemon Buttermilk Pie
Cranberry Apple Crumble Pie
Creamiest Pumpkin Pie
Pecan-Topped Sweet Potato Pie
Maple Bourbon Pecan Pie
Berry Crumble Pie
Nectarine Crème Fraîche Pie
Apricot Cherry Foldover Pie
Apple Huckleberry Pie
Huckleberry Fig Crumble Tart
Roasted Eggplant Tomato Tart
Zucchini Tomato Tart
Bacon, Leek and Fennel Quiche
Roasted Winter Squash and Sage Tart
Pear, Blue Cheese and Hazelnut Tart
Apple Custard Tart
Persimmon Galettes
Rhubarb Chèvre Galettes
Apple Rhubarb Pandowdy

Nectarine Crème Fraîche Pie
Berry Crumble Pie

Flakiest All-Butter Pie Dough

With inspiration drawn from Smitten Kitchen, Martha Stewart, Baking Illustrated, and Heidi Swanson.

If you lack buttermilk, substitute sour cream, plain yogurt, or just more ice water.

You can make the pie dough in a stand mixer, with a paddle attachment, on low speed if you prefer. If only making a single crust pie, keep the extra portion of dough double-wrapped in the freezer for up to a couple of months. (Defrost in the fridge overnight, then roll it out and proceed with any single-crust pie recipe.)

I use a glass pie pan, and the baking times here are for glass. Metal pans will likely have shorter baking times, as metal conducts heat better than glass, so keep an eye on your pie if using a metal pan.

I haven’t braved gluten-free pie dough yet, but these are two recipes that look like good ones to try.

Makes enough for 2 single crust pies, or 1 double crust pie

Flakiest, all-butter pie crust:
1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 cup (4 1/2 ounces) whole spelt (or whole wheat pastry) flour
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon fine sea or kosher salt
8 ounces (16 tablespoons/2 sticks) cold, unsalted butter, sliced 1/4″ thick and chilled
1/4 cup (2 ounces) well-shaken buttermilk
1/4 cup (2 ounces) ice water, more as needed

Make the crust:

In a large bowl (or in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment), stir together the flours, sugar and salt to combine. Scatter the butter slices over the flour, and rub in with your fingertips until the mixture resembles sand with lots of pea- and almond-sized butter chunks. Stir together the buttermilk and ice water. Drizzle this mixture over the flour mixture, 1 tablespoon at a time, tossing with a rubber spatula, until the dough will hold together when you give it a squeeze, adding more ice water by the teaspoon directly to the dry bits as needed.

You can call it here, or you can do either or both of the steps below for extra flake:

Option 1 – fraisage:
Dump the dough out onto a counter, divide it roughly into 12 portions, and fraisage by dragging a portion of dough across the counter using the heel of your hand. Scrape up the dough (a metal bench scraper works well here), gently press it into a ball and flatten into a disc. Slip it into a plastic bag, and chill for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 days.

Option 2 – roll, fold, roll:
On a lightly floured surface, roll the chilled dough out into a rough square that is about 1/4″ thick. Fold it in thirds like you’re folding a letter, then roll up from a skinny end into a loose spiral. Gently press to flatten it slightly, and chill for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Remove the dough from the fridge, unwrap, and place on a lightly floured surface. Roll out the dough into a 12″ circle, dusting the dough lightly with flour as needed, rotating and flipping it to prevent it from sticking. Ease the dough into a 9″ glass pie plate, fit it into the corners, and trim it to a 1″ overhang.

If making a double-crust pie, stop here and consult your recipe. For a single crust pie, proceed as directed.

Fold the overhang of the crust under, and flute the crust by pressing it between the thumb of one hand and the index finger and thumb of the other hand.

Chill the crust for 20 minutes, then freeze it for at least 20 minutes, until solid.

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 400º. Remove all other racks from the oven. If you have a baking stone, put it on the rack.

Place the frozen crust on a rimmed baking sheet. Line it with a piece of parchment paper, and fill to the top with pie weights, dry beans, or clean pennies, pressing the weights into the sides and corners of the crust.

Bake the crust for 15-20 minutes, until the dough will hold its shape when you lift off the parchment, then carefully remove the weights and parchment and bake until the bottom is dry and lightly golden, about 5 minutes longer (for a parbaked crust) or until deeply golden, 10-15 minutes (for a fully baked crust).

Strawberry Rhubarb Crème Fraîche Crumble Pie

37 thoughts on “Flakiest, All-Butter Pie Dough”

  1. One of the most gorgeous and informative posts I've ever read anywhere.

    Fie on all those Claire's who fail to recognize that even the most neurotically weighed ingredients act differently, in different hands.Never mind the million ways we each give something our signature flair.

    I'm a veteran crust maker, always willing to try to do better.

    Thanks for a rafter of great new ideas and techniques.

    On this day of giving thanks, your post is a gift.

  2. Not so sure that Claire was a very good lecturer to be honest! How mean spirited of her not to share! It's not like you were going to take over her patch or anything… At least you overcame your mean lecturer and decided to share with the world. I PROMISE not to take over your patch ;)

    1. Sorry if I made Claire sound mean-spirited – she was actually a great teacher, and I appreciated her tough love. I even went on to do my school internship at her bakery. And I completely respect her not giving away all of her secrets – I may not give away all of mine, either ;).

  3. Alanna, whenever I make pie, I consult your crusts! None better! And, I agree that these things should be shared and not kept to one's self… Thanks for such a great tutorial all in one place.

  4. Here is an interesting take on a French Tart. Kinda scoffs in the face of technique.
    But ohh how sweet the outcome.

    French Pastry Tart

    Butter, cut into pieces. 90g
    Canola Oil 14g
    Water 45g
    Sugar 13g
    Salt 1/8t
    Flour 150g

    Preheat the oven to 410º F (210º C).

    combine the butter, oil, water, sugar, and salt in heat resistant bowl
    Place the bowl in the oven for 15 minutes.
    Add flour to bowl and stir it in quickly, until it comes together and forms a ball which pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Transfer the dough to a 9-inch tart mold with a removable bottom and spread it a bit with a spatula. Once the dough is cool enough to handle, pat it into the shell with the heel of your and, and use your fingers to press it up the sides of the tart mold. Reserve a small piece of dough, about the size of a raspberry, for patching any cracks.
    Dock dough bake 15 minutes, or until the dough is golden brown.

  5. Alanna, I am going to use your recipe for my Thanksgiving pies…. but I have one question: Can I use all spelt flour and no all-purpose? I am trying to cut white flours out of our diet. I hope you can respond quickly, as I need to begin my pie crust prep in a couple of days. Thank you so much for such a detailed and helpful post!

    1. Hi! You can certainly give it a try, but the texture will likely be more dense and heavy. It will probably still be buttery and delicious, though, and should hold a pie filling well. Please let me know what you end up trying!

    2. Thank you for your quick response! I am getting ready to make my pie crusts – I think I will use your recipe as written – it sounds wonderful. Thanks for such an informative post. If I ever decide to try it with all spelt flour, I will let you know the results. Thank you again!

      1. I used this recipe, and all spelt flour (no all-purpose), because my family has also cut out white flour. I just wanted to say that while the crust was likely more dense than the original recipe, as you suggested, it was also very very good. My husband doesn’t normally like pies, because he’s not a fan of the crust, and he couldn’t get enough of this. I had to stop him from eating all of the crust from the edge of the pie. Thank you for an amazing recipe filled with so much information. I can only imagine how amazing this tastes when made exactly as written. Thank you!

  6. Made this today and it rolled out beautifully and turned out super flaky! you can see the layers. I was very pleased till I taste it.
    The texture!?!? bizarrely turned out super crunchy and makes it seem like it’s stale (Bleh!) I won’t be making this crust again.

  7. Wonderful, detailed instructions :-) Next time, maybe my crust will turn eatable. The last one had too much salt and crumbled after parbaking.

    But please, be nice to this French-native here: “fraisage” is similar to “frais-ing” in English, and it’s I “fraise”, you “fraises”, and “voulez-vous fraiser”.

  8. I can’t wait to try this recipe!

    According to the full, detailed instructions above, you say that for the flakiest pie crust, similar to a puff pastry kind, I would fraisage, then roll, fold, roll? Is that correct? In the written recipe below without pictures, it says Option 1 and Option 2 so I am not sure if I am supposed to do both, or only one or the other. Can you please clarify?

    Sorry, newbie at pie crusts here. :)

    1. Great question and sorry for the confusion! Yes, both is optimal, but you can just do one or the other if pressed for time. Let me know how it turns out! :)

  9. Thought this would make better crust. It didn’t. It insisted on rising up, and the sides slumped down. I usually make crust in the kitchenaid and it turns out a lot better.

    1. Hi Ann, I’m surprised to hear that – I always have good success with this recipe and so have other readers. I’d love to hear more about your process to figure out what went wrong. I did give instructions on how to make this in a stand mixer, so I’m a bit confused by your comment about the kitchenaid. And if you use pie weights that are pressed in snugly and go all the way up the pan as instructed, the crust shouldn’t slump on the sides or buckle up on the bottom.

    2. I had the same problem–crust slumped into a blob with a pool of oil on top. I noticed afterwards that this recipe calls for 16 tablespoons of butter, whereas my normal go-to recipe only has 12. Is this an error?

      1. I take that back–Cook’s Illustrated has 12 tbsp butter + 8 tbsp shortening. So with the buttermilk this one has about the same amount. Maybe the dough just wasn’t cold enough? I really appreciate your time in writing all of the details, by the way…will definitely try again.

        1. Oh no, I’m sorry that happened! It could definitely have been too-warm dough, or a not hot enough oven (do you have an oven thermometer?) Did you use pie weights? Those really help a lot too, especially if they go all the way up the sides. Let me know if you give it another go!

  10. so grateful to find this recipe!!! I’ve been searching for years for the perfect pie crust, and this is it! thank you thank you!

  11. This is a timeless blog post. I’ve slowly been coming to a similar conclusion that pastry school didn’t provide me with the recipes that I will use for the rest of my life. Each baker has to develop then perfect recipes that can showcase his or her skills and talents. Thank you for describing your experience and for the wonderful recipe and photos!

  12. Funny after all of these years, the technique I have been using out of necessity on my favorite classic French dough recipe, which ironically I learned in my very first class in culinary school, actually is a thing and has a fancy French name! Thank you, great post!

  13. Hi,
    Thank you for this detailed and informative post (which is also beautifully written). The one thing about fraisage that always given me pause is that the smearing happens AFTER the liquid is added, as opposed to before. I totally agree that creating thin sheets of fat are key to the flakiest crust (and just like you, I also like incorporating a few puff pastry folds*), but wouldn’t it be better to “smear”** BEFORE you add the water, so that you get the desired butter flakes without the unwanted result of developing the gluten? I know there must be something I am missing because fraisage is such a widely revered technique. I would love to understand it better, specifically what I am missing in terms of the benefits of incorporating the fat in this way, i.e., into a wet as opposed to a dry dough.

    Many thanks,

    * For what it’s worth, what I do is cut up the butter into cubes, toss in very cold flour, then flatten the butter pieces using the palms of my hands, toss back into flour, then add my liquid all at once, bring the mixture together into a ball, and finish with one or two letter or book folds.
    ** I use the term “smear” here more broadly to mean the creation of flat butter flakes, not the specific smearing motion that is unique to fraisage. I understand the exact fraisage motion wouldn’t work without water (as the flour/butter mixture wouldn’t have the correct consistency to allow for the one-handed, across the counter fraisage smearing.)

    1. I totally get what you’re asking. I have seen the technique that you use, but I haven’t tried a side-by-side so I don’t know how they compare. You do want a bit of gluten development in pie dough so that the gluteny layers trap the steam that has risen below them to make flaky layers. But I can’t say which technique is better. I’d love to see a side-by-side test! Now that I pretty much only make gluten-free pie dough, I don’t have to worry about gluten anymore! ;)

  14. Alanna,
    Sorry for my second repetitive comment- you can delete – it was from an accidental hand click. My cat jumped had just in my lap so you can blame her! :)

    ~ Rachel

  15. It’s a shame you don’t have a donate button! I’d most certainly donate
    to this fantastic blog! I suppose for now i’ll settle for bookmarking and adding your RSS feed to my Google account.
    I look forward to fresh updates and will talk about this website with my Facebook
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  16. I did a search for this kind of pie crust after watching Food Networks show Buddy vs. Duff Last Sunday night. Duff made a pastry crust a lot like yours and looked like it wasn’t going to work. When he explained to Buddy it would be flakier and a lot like making croissants I was sold that he would win. So I went on a search to see if he had a recipe on line for this type of pastry crust and wasn’t able to find one. So I resorted to search Google,hoping to find info and found your page! I am grateful you have shared this recipe! All these years and not knowing a crust made this way existed is my loss. I cannot stand grocery store and most restaurant pie crusts. Nothing like a good homemade buttery pie crust,but to discover a better more flakier crust is priceless!
    I will soon be giving this a try.
    Thanks you!

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